Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and CNS drug interactions. A critical review of the evidence

Clin Pharmacokinet. 1997 Dec;33(6):454-71. doi: 10.2165/00003088-199733060-00004.


The potential for drug-drug interactions in psychiatric patients is very high as combination psychopharmacotherapy used to treat comorbid psychiatric disorders, to treat the adverse effects of a medication, to augment a medication effect or to treat concomitant medical illnesses. Interactions can be pharmacodynamic or pharmacokinetic in nature. This paper focuses on the metabolic kinetic interactions between selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other central nervous system (CNS) drugs. The evidence for and clinical significance of these interactions are reviewed, with special emphasis on antipsychotics, tricyclic antidepressants and benzodiazepines. Many psychotropic medications have an affinity for the cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes which promote elimination by transforming lipid soluble substances into more polar compounds. SSRIs serve both as substrates and inhibitors of these enzymes. In vitro studies provide a screening method for evaluating drug affinities for substrates, inhibitors or inducers of CYP enzymes. Although in vitro data are important as a starting point for predicting these metabolic kinetic drug interactions, case reports and controlled experimental studies in humans are required to fully evaluate their clinical significance. Several factors must be considered when evaluating the clinical significance of a potential interaction including: (a) the nature of each drugs' activity at an enzyme site (substrate, inhibitor or inducer); (b) the potency estimations for the inhibitor/inducer; (c) the concentration of the inhibitor/inducer at the enzyme site; (d) the saturability of the enzyme; (e) the extent of metabolism of the substrate through this enzyme (versus alternative metabolic routes); (f) the presence of active metabolites of the substrate; (g) the therapeutic window of the substrate; (h) the inherent enzyme activity of the individual, phenotyping/genotyping information; (i) the level of risk of the individual experiencing adverse effects (e.g. the elderly) and (j) from an epidemiological perspective, the probability of concurrent use. This paper systematically reviews both the in vitro and in vivo evidence for drug interactions between SSRIs and other CNS drugs. As potent inhibitors of CYP2D6, both paroxetine and fluoxetine have the potential to increase the plasma concentrations of antipsychotic medications metabolised through this enzyme, including perphenazine, haloperidol, thioridazine and risperidone in patients who are CYP2D6 extensive metabolisers. Controlled studies have demonstrated this for perphenazine with paroxetine and haloperidol with fluoxetine. Fluvoxamine, as a potent inhibitor of CYP1A2, can inhibit the metabolism of clozapine, resulting in higher plasma concentrations. Drug interactions between the SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) can occur. Fluoxetine and paroxetine, as potent inhibitors of CYP2D6, can increase the plasma concentrations of secondary and tertiary tricyclic antidepressants. Sertraline and citalopram are less likely to have this effect. Fluvoxamine can increase the plasma concentrations of tertiary TCAs. Fluvoxamine inhibits, via CYP3A. CYP2C19 and CYP1A2, the metabolism of several benzodiazepines, including alprazolam, bromazepam and diazepam. Fluoxetine increases the plasma concentrations of alprazolam and diazepam by inhibiting CYP3A and CYP2C19, respectively. The clinical importance of the interaction with diazepam is attenuated by the presence of its active metabolite. Sertraline inhibits these enzymes only mildely to moderately at usual therapeutic doses. Therefore the potential for interactions is less; however, the in vivo evidence is minimal. Paroxetine and citalopram are unlikely to cause interactions with benzodiazepines. The evidence is conflicting for an interaction between carbamazepine and the SSRIs fluoxetine and fluvoxamine. These combinations should be used cautiously, and be accompanied by monitoring for adverse events and carb

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Central Nervous System Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme Inhibitors*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use*


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Central Nervous System Agents
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Benzodiazepines