Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to prescription medication.
Zoloft is an FDA-approved medication that's typically prescribed for its antidepressant effects. However, the drug is also approved to treat other mental health conditions including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The generic form of the drug is called sertraline. These two terms refer to the same active drug ingredient, so we'll use them interchangeably throughout this article.
But how much can Zoloft really reduce depression symptoms based on clinical research? How does the drug compare to other antidepressants? Does it cause side effects? And how do real users rate its effects?
In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more as we review clinical studies on Zoloft to determine if it's an effective antidepressant, document its side effects and interactions, compare the drug to other leading antidepressants and share real, unsponsored user reviews of Zoloft.
How Effective is Zoloft for Depression?
Zoloft has been tested in hundreds of clinical trials for its effectiveness as an antidepressant.
A medical review published in the Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy journal found that Zoloft "offers several advantages over older antidepressants" because the drug is equally effective to older antidepressants but has a more favorable side effect profile including a lower risk of addiction.
A 2019 clinical trial tested the efficacy of Zoloft on clinically depressed patients. The trial was funded by the National Institute for Health Research so it was unbiased.
After 12 weeks, 73% of patients on Zoloft experienced a partial or full reduction of depression symptoms. This sounds impressive, but 65% of patients taking placebo pills experienced the same, which suggests a "true" effectiveness rate of only 8%. The study authors even concluded that there was not convincing evidence that Zoloft was more effective than placebo in this trial.
A different clinical trial found Zoloft to be significantly more effective than placebo for reducing symptoms of depression.
Overall we will conclude that Zoloft is effective for treating depression.
Zoloft Side Effects
As shown above, Zoloft's FDA label has a black box warning indicating an increased risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviors in children, adolescents and young adults.
A medical review of the side effect risk of various antidepressants, published in the Chonnam Medical Journal, found that Zoloft conferred the highest risk of seizure and sexual dysfunction compared with other medications.
The most common side effects of Zoloft are more mild. StatPearls, which is a medical database, describes the primary side effects of Zoloft to be fainting, lightheadedness, diarrhea and nausea.
We strongly recommend that patients (especially younger patients) considering Zoloft speak with their doctor about any personal or family history of suicidal thoughts. It may be worthwhile for young adult patients to ask their doctor about antidepressant medications that do not increase the risk of suicidal thoughts.
Real, Unsponsored Zoloft User Review
One of the most popular YouTube videos on Zoloft is published by a creator named Nurse Liz. She documents her experience using Zoloft after 6 months, explaining why she chose to increase her dose, whether or not the drug was effective and whether it caused weight gain.
The video is unsponsored:
Zoloft Vs. Lexapro
Patients are often curious about whether Lexapro or Zoloft is more effective for depression, given that both drugs are commonly prescribed to treat this condition. As we highlighted in our Lexapro review, there have actually been medical studies directly comparing the effectiveness and safety of Zoloft and Lexapro.
Lexapro generally outperforms Zoloft because it tends to have fewer significant adverse effects.
A comparative study found that Lexapro and Zoloft were similarly effective, but the side effect rate for Zoloft was 56%, while the side effect rate for Lexapro was only 45%. This suggests that Lexapro is a superior option.
We recommend that patients speak with their doctor about Lexapro rather than Zoloft in light of this information.
Does Zoloft Reduce Anxiety?
Zoloft is not FDA-approved for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), but patients are often curious if the drug is clinically shown to reduce anxiety symptoms, given that many depressed patients also suffer from anxiety.
A clinical trial published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry tested the effectiveness of Zoloft for treating anxiety symptoms. The researchers found that Zoloft reduced anxiety in 59.2% of patients while placebo pills reduced anxiety in only 48.2% of patients.
The drug was found to be more effective for patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD), which is why it's FDA-approved for treating that condition. A 2003 clinical trial evaluated Zoloft in patients with severe social anxiety, and after 12 weeks 55.6% of patients on Zoloft had reduced symptoms compared to only 29% of patients taking placebo pills.
We would not recommend taking Zoloft for anxiety alone, given that the drug is not approved for that purpose, but it does seem to reduce anxiety somewhat. Patients with both depression and anxiety may experience relief from both conditions when taking Zoloft.
Zoloft appears particularly effective for treating social anxiety disorder.
Is the Generic Form of Zoloft as Effective?
We typically recommend generic drugs over name-brand drugs, because the active chemical compound and dosage is exactly the same.
However, for Zoloft we recommend the name-brand drug over generic sertraline because an extensive medical review documented that users of the generic version had higher rates of psychiatric hospitalizations, suggesting that Zoloft may be safer.
It's unclear how a generic drug could lead to worse outcomes than the branded version. Perhaps the quality controls during manufacturing are less stringent, or potentially there is a placebo effect where users receiving the name-brand medication expect a better outcome.
In any case, given this data it seems logical for patients who can afford it to use the branded Zoloft instead of the generic sertraline.
Can I Drink Alcohol While Taking Zoloft?
Given that many prescription drugs have a negative interaction with alcohol, patients are often curious about whether it's safe to drink alcohol while taking Zoloft.
The medication's drug label explicitly states "Do not drink alcohol while you take Zoloft."
Because Zoloft may cause drowsiness, it appears that using alcohol at the same time may have dangerous effects, because alcohol is also a sedative. It's especially important to avoid driving while using alcohol and Zoloft concurrently.
Given the potential health and safety risks to the use of Zoloft and alcohol, we recommend that patients are honest with their doctor about their alcohol intake. If a patient is unable to refrain from using alcohol, their doctor may be able to prescribe them an antidepressant that does not interact with alcohol.
How Does Zoloft Work?
Zoloft is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medication. This means that it delays the biological processing of serotonin.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that influences mood (among other things), so by delaying its natural processing by the body and allowing its levels to remain artificially increased in the brain, the drug can positively influence mood and decrease depression.
It’s not conclusively proven in medical literature that low serotonin levels are the cause of depression; it’s just a treatment that’s been shown to be relatively effective on average.
It’s likely that there are many different causes of depression across different patients, and pharmaceutical medicine isn’t advanced enough yet to provide individual therapies to patients based on their unique biochemistry.
Our Mental Wellness Recommendation
We recommend a platform called Brightside to patients on a mental health journey. It's an online therapy and medication platform that connects patients with licensed therapists and doctors from the comfort of their home.
A medical review published in the Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy journal found that online therapy was equally effective to in-person therapy for treating depression, anxiety and PTSD. Therapy may be a good first option for patients who want to avoid the side effects of medication.
Brightside also can connect patients with licensed psychiatrists that can prescribe medication. Some patients choose only therapy, some choose only medication, and some choose both. The brand reports that 86% of members feel significantly better within 12 weeks of treatment.
Patients with and without health insurance can use Brightside. For many patients with health insurance, treatment is entirely covered by insurance.
The cost for medication without health insurance is capped at $95/month and the cost for therapy without health insurance is capped at $299/month.
Interested patients can check out Brightside at this link to the brand's website.
Zoloft User Reviews
Zoloft has been reviewed over 1,700 times on Drugs.com at the time of updating this article. This site allows prescription medication users to share their experience and rate the drug(s) they're taking.
The drug has an average rating of 6.8 out of 10 for depression, but better ratings for panic disorder (7.5), OCD (7.9) and social anxiety disorder (7.3).
The top positive review of Zoloft for depression is written by a user named "Saved_MyLife" who claims the drug changed their life and was more effective than Lexapro:
"It helped some and I wanted to “settle” with Lexapro because at least my depression was at bay Two years ago I started Zoloft and it literally saved my life, marriage, memories with my kids, saved me from me. I truly didn’t know what normal life was like until I started Zoloft. It hasn’t changed me, it helped me be the true, happy me that would show up periodically."
The top negative review of Zoloft for depression comes from an anonymous user who gave the drug a 1/10 rating and claims it caused severe side effects:
"The first few days my panic attacks got SEVERE. I had suicidal thoughts I never had before. I was constantly tense with fear, couldn’t eat or sleep. I almost went to the hospital. I was scared to be around family or out in public. It was AWFUL. I felt paralyzed. After 7 days I decided to stop taking it and have been in bed for the last two days. I’m already feeling SO much better"