Desipramine (Norpramin) Side Effects & Uses in Addiction Treatment

2 min read · 6 sections
Desipramine is an antidepressant and nerve pain medication that treats symptoms associated with major depression, as well as neuropathic pain, ADHD, insomnia, and other problems. It is sold under the brand names Norpramin and Pertofrane.

How Does Desipramine Work?

When people suffer from depression, they often have abnormal levels of messenger chemicals called neurotransmitters in their brains. According to Harvard Medical School, neurotransmitters are what keep movements, senses, and moods moving along at a balanced pace. But sometimes, something can happen that throws off this delicate system. When this happens, it can cause severe depression or mania.

According to the Addiction Recovery Guide, long-term use drug use is one way the production of neurotransmitters in the brain can become suppressed, which makes someone who struggles with addiction more likely to suffer from depression due to damage in the brain. Many people who are struggling with addiction also experience anhedonia when they stop using alcohol or drugs. Anhedonia is the inability to feel happiness or satisfaction, and it is marked by feelings of intense boredom and depression. Consequently, not only are these people struggling with the physical symptoms of withdrawal, but they also oftentimes are dealing with a major imbalance in their brains, which can make recovery that much more of an uphill battle.

Desipramine can help those fighting this battle by increasing the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain, which can help depression by regulating sleep, appetite, and mood.

Desipramine History & FDA Approval

DesipramineDesipramine is a tricyclic antidepressant that was approved by the FDA in 1964. It was derived from imipramine, which was the first tricyclic antidepressant to be manufactured. Desipramine is one of many tricyclic antidepressants, and this type of antidepressant gets its name due to its three-ring chemical structure.

In the late 1980s, desipramine, imipramine, and other tricyclic antidepressants were the primary options for medication to treat major depression. Since then, many more depression medications have become available, but desipramine still remains an effective treatment option for depression.

In addition to helping combat the depression associated with withdrawal that many on the path to recovery face, desipramine has also been tested as a way to ease cravings for cocaine in recovery.

It has been shown effective when given in combination with voucher-based reinforcement therapy (VBRT), which rewards vouchers redeemable for goods and services in the community to people who achieve predetermined goals. In a 2003 study cited in the journal Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, patients given either desipramine or VBRT increased their frequency of urine samples containing no abused drug more rapidly than patients given neither, and those treated with both desipramine and VBRT produced the most negative samples of any group.

The ability of desipramine to combat the powerful effects to the mind and body that addictive substances have is still being explored.

It’s also important to note that each person who has struggled with the difficulties of addiction may react differently to this drug.

Desipramine Use in Detox

Because of the strong physical and mental effects that withdrawal can have on the body, desipramine can be very effective when used in a medical detox setting due to its ability to alleviate depression and anxiety in those withdrawing from highly addictive substances. Detox is a process that safely withdraws people from addictive drugs. Because using drugs over a prolonged period of time can cause powerful withdrawal symptoms and a strong physical dependence on drugs, it’s important to be comfortable and in the presence of people you trust. This process usually happens under the care of a physician.

Detox treats the immediate bodily effects of stopping drug use, and removes the toxins left in the body as a result of prolonged drug or alcohol abuse, but it is not a complete treatment in and of itself. It should be followed by comprehensive therapy to address the reasons behind addiction.

Desipramine Side Effects

Common side effects of desipramine can include:

  • Bewilderment
  • Sleep issues
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Intestinal issues
  • Vision problems
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Breast swelling in both sexes
  • Lowered sex drive

Other Desipramine Uses

If you are suffering from addiction or depression, it is important to talk to a health professional to determine whether desipramine has the potential to help your symptoms.
Depression and addiction often result in, or from, chemical imbalances in the brain, which desipramine can help to regulate.

Since desipramine was first introduced as an antidepressant in 1964, the public has come a long way in its understanding of depression and addiction. Because depression can be the result of abnormal levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, an antidepressant such as desipramine can really help people suffering from this imbalance to feel better. According to Stanford Medicine, this drug is typically used to treat the following conditions:

  • Major depression, including melancholia, psychotic depression, and the depressed phase of manic depression
  • Cocaine cravings
  • Syndromes associated with chronic pain
  • Resistant malaria
  • Bulimia-related binge eating

It has also been said to help those suffering from enuresis, which is involuntary urination especially by children at night, and ADHD. That being said, it should be prescribed to children rarely and only under the recommendation of a child psychologist, as children as more easily susceptible to side effects.

Desipramine Dosing & Timeline

Desipramine is available in its brand name of Norpramin in tablets of 10, 25, 50, 75, 100, and 150 mg. To reduce side effects, the initial dose is usually low, and it is increased as necessary until the intended effects are achieved. The maximum dose is 300 mg daily, but the usual adult dose is 100-200 mg. This can be taken every night at bedtime or, it can be divided into doses taken every 12 hours. Older people generally should take smaller doses of 25-100 mg per day.

Although some people may start feeling more alert and energetic right away, it can take up to two weeks until they start to feel better. Due to genetic differences, the rate at which people are affected by desipramine and the dose they require will vary from person to person.

The best dose is the one that provides the intended effect, and it’s acceptable to individualize your dosing regimen, with the help of your doctor, depending on what works for you. Finding the perfect dosing regimen for your system might take some time.

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