Many medications can help treat depression, including Effexor. This article looks at how Effexor compares with other options.

Living with a mental health condition like depression can feel isolating — but you’re far from alone.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness every year. After anxiety, depression is the second most common mental health condition in the United States, affecting almost 21 million people.

While living with depression can be challenging, treatment options are available. You might find it helpful to add medication to your depression treatment plan.

If you’re considering asking your doctor about medication, you might be wondering about Effexor for depression. Is it a better option than other antidepressants? And what can you expect when taking it?

Effexor is the brand name of the antidepressant venlafaxine. It’s in a class of antidepressants known as serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves its use for treating major depressive disorder (MDD).

Doctors also prescribe it for:

Doctors prescribe Effexor to millions of Americans each year. And research shows it can be a very effective treatment for depression.

A 2016 study involving 53 people with MDD found that Effexor significantly lessened their depression symptoms, and a larger 2015 Japanese study of over 500 people also found that taking Effexor significantly improved depression symptoms in people with MDD.

One of the main symptoms of depression is feeling low. People with MDD may have lower levels of serotonin, the brain’s “happy chemical.” Effexor helps increase and regulate serotonin levels in the brain, which may help boost your mood.

The most common antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They work to increase serotonin levels and prevent serotonin from leeching into the bloodstream, so more of it stays in the brain.

Effexor is a different kind of antidepressant called an SNRI. It works to regulate both serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating your body’s stress response.

One analysis of studies from 2009 suggests venlafaxine is more effective in treating symptoms of depression than SSRIs.

A more recent 2020 study indicates that SNRIs like Effexor work faster than SSRIs. This might be because of their effect on dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to mood.

How fast Effexor works varies from person to person. Some people might see improvement faster than others, and it may not work for everyone.

Doctors may not prescribe Effexor if you:

  • are under the age of 18
  • have high blood pressure
  • live with a seizure disorder
  • are pregnant or nursing

It’s a good idea to talk with a doctor about your current situation and medical history before taking Effexor.

Some studies suggest SNRIs are better than SSRIs for treating depression, but other research suggests the opposite.

Effexor vs. Zoloft

Zoloft (sertraline) is an FDA-approved medication for depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

A 2016 Iranian study involving a group of 34 people with MDD found Effexor and Zoloft equally effective for reducing depression symptoms. And a 2005 randomized clinical trial found both drugs similarly effective in reducing symptoms and improving quality of life.

But other research suggests Zoloft may be more effective.

A 2009 meta-analysis comparing the effects of 12 different antidepressants suggests sertraline may be “the best choice” because of its overall benefits.

And a 2014 randomized double-blind trial investigating the impact of antidepressants on people with Alzheimer’s disease and depression calls sertraline the most effective option.

Effexor vs. Celexa

How does Celexa (citalopram) compare to Effexor? Research shows somewhat of a mixed picture.

A 2015 placebo-controlled trial involving a small group of postmenopausal women found that venlafaxine had a greater effect on reducing symptoms of depression compared to citalopram.

One 2008 study found both venlafaxine and citalopram effective in treating MDD, though the researchers noted that venlafaxine may be a better option for people with more severe symptoms. A study from 2004 found the two drugs equally effective in treating depression but noted that citalopram is faster-acting.

And more recent 2018 results from a large-scale meta-analysis of 522 clinical trials suggest that while both citalopram and venlafaxine are effective, citalopram may cause fewer side effects overall.

All medications have the potential to cause side effects, and Effexor is no exception.

The most common venlafaxine side effects include:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • insomnia
  • hot flashes
  • dry mouth

While uncommon, severe side effects can occur. These may include:

  • serotonin syndrome
  • muscle pain or weakness
  • changes to your menstrual cycle
  • coughing or urinating blood
  • high blood pressure
  • suicidal thoughts
  • vision changes

It’s also common to experience withdrawal effects when coming off of SNRIs. When weaning off an SNRI, you might experience:

FDA warning:Suicidal behavior

Venlafaxine comes with a boxed warning, which is the most serious warning issued by the FDA.

Children and young adults taking Effexor may have a higher chance of experiencing suicidal thoughts and actions.

If you or someone you know displays new or sudden changes in their mood or behavior while taking venlafaxine, contact a doctor right away.

For immediate support, you can contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call the Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for English or 888-628-9454 for Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Was this helpful?

While research is mixed on whether Effexor is a better option than other antidepressants, many studies suggest it can be a highly effective treatment for depression.

If you’re living with depression and looking for a potential treatment, you may find it helpful to talk with a doctor about Effexor. A doctor can talk with you about the pros and cons of this medication and help you figure out if it’s the best option for your needs.

It may take some trial and error before you find a medication that works for you. You might find it helpful to also incorporate things like therapy and lifestyle changes into your treatment plan. Additionally, joining a support group might help you as you navigate treatment and life overall.