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Seroquel (Quetiapine) Side Effects: Long-Term & Short-Term

Seroquel is a brand name for a generic drug called quetiapine. This medication belongs to a class of drugs called antipsychotics. However, Seroquel (or quetiapine) is an atypical antipsychotic drug with strong sedative and anxiolytic properties. If used as prescribed, it is indicated for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (both manic and depressive episodes).1

New evidence suggests that diversion and abuse of this drug are becoming more frequent and that associated harm is also increasing. Most individuals who abuse this drug obtain it by completely fabricating or exaggerating their symptoms so they can get a prescription, while others are buying it illegally, as a street drug.2

Seroquel Abuse

Seroquel is generally misused for its euphoric effects or as a form of self-medication to ease feelings of anxiety or insomnia. Research suggests that it is the most misused antipsychotic among people who use methadone for opioid addiction. Over 20% of people who misuse quetiapine don’t have a prescription and are mostly males in their mid-30s. About half of them already have a history of substance abuse or dependence. Some use multiple psychoactive drugs, both prescribed and illegally obtained.2

Intranasal misuse has also been detected in patients with a history of substance abuse.3 It’s mainly abused as a ‘downer’ (after stimulant drugs), due to similar, but more intense effects than those of Xanax. Its effects are compared to those of heroin (street names include ‘baby heroin,’ Suzie Q, Q Ball, or quell), and the feeling of euphoria can be achieved with large doses.4

What Are the Short-Term Side Effects of Seroquel (Quetiapine)?

Most prescription medications, even when used as prescribed by a medical practitioner, carry the risk of adverse effects. When it comes to Seroquel, while it can be highly beneficial for the indicated conditions, certain unwanted short-term effects can occur. The most common ones are:5

  • Indigestion.
  • Headaches.
  • Dizziness or fainting.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Indigestion
  • Constipation.
  • Dry Mouth
  • Irritability, anger, or mood swings.
  • Confusion.
  • Sleepiness/drowsiness.

How Long Does Seroquel Drowsiness Last?

Drowsiness that occurs as a short-term side effect of Seroquel use generally doesn’t present a significant danger to most patients and usually doesn’t require any medical attention. This is one of the side effects that usually goes away after several days of treatment as your body adjusts to the medicine. Your doctor can adjust the dosage to mitigate this symptom by raising it gradually until the necessary one is achieved without major discomfort to the patient. Your doctor may also explain how to prevent or reduce drowsiness or other less severe side effects.5

Quetiapine is the active ingredient in Seroquel, with a half-life of 6-7 hours. That’s how long it takes the body to eliminate half of the dose from the system. It takes about 30 hours to eliminate an entire dose. Drowsiness, one of the most common side effects, will fade during that time. When it comes to continuous use, most of the less severe side effects will dissipate within a week.6

What Are the Severe Side Effects of Seroquel (Quetiapine)?

Seroquel, like all prescription medications, may cause a more severe adverse reaction when used by particularly sensitive population groups. Caution is required when used by:6

  • Elderly patients with dementia, as it may increase the risk of death. They are generally prescribed lower doses by their doctors.
  • Pregnant women shouldn’t use this medication unless its benefits outweigh the risks. 
  • Use by breastfeeding women is also not recommended as Seroquel passes into breast milk and may harm the infant.
  • Children and adolescents should be carefully monitored by parents/caretakers and healthcare providers for potential signs of suicidal ideation.

Serious side effects can occur with healthy people as well. Some of them could be delayed or long-term, and may include:5

  • Chest pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Balance problems
  • Muscle damage
  • Worsening of depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Low white blood cell count
  • Diabetes
  • Metabolic changes, weight gain.
  • Severe allergic reactions

What are the Seroquel (Quetiapine) Long-Term Side Effects?

The long-term side effects of Seroquel are not fully understood, but it is known that some of the more serious ones may occur as well. They usually involve metabolic effects like elevated levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, thyroid issues, or weight gain. Some may take longer to return to normal while others (diabetes, for example) could develop into lasting conditions.5

The most common serious side effects of Seroquel include:5

  • Weight Gain. This type of atypical antipsychotic is frequently associated with changes in metabolism, leading to weight gain. Other consequences of metabolic changes are high blood sugar and high cholesterol, both of which can lead to severe conditions. Patients are therefore monitored for weight changes.
  • Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) usually occurs in people already suffering from diabetes, but it may also happen to individuals who never had these issues. Most common symptoms include:7
    • Increased thirst and hunger
    • Frequent urination
    • Tiredness
    • Confusion

Patients who experience these symptoms should call their healthcare provider immediately. Since high blood sugar levels can lead to life-threatening complications (even coma and death), patients with diabetes or those in the high-risk category need to be closely monitored for any changes in blood sugar levels.7

  • Abnormal liver function can show up on tests as a common unwanted effect of Seroquel treatment. There are usually no symptoms, and the abnormal values can show up quickly and often return to normal. However, the liver function still needs to be monitored regularly during treatment. Those with existing liver problems will be prescribed lower doses and monitored closely by their doctors.5
  • Movement issues are more likely to happen at higher doses. As Seroquel and similar drugs block dopamine, this can lead to a wide range of movement disorders (extrapyramidal effects). Patients may experience:5
    • Muscle contractions.
    • Muscle twitching.
    • Facial and neck muscles jerking.
    • Restless movements of legs, fingers, squirming, teeth grinding.
    • Symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease, like tremors or muscle stiffness.

What Are the Psychological Effects of Seroquel (Quetiapine)?

Seroquel is a powerful antipsychotic drug that affects brain chemistry. It affects various neurotransmitters in the human brain, like serotonin and dopamine, to stabilize mood and stop harmful thought patterns. This is what makes it effective in the treatment of serious conditions like schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorders.6

This effect can create a specific type of paradox because Seroquel side effects can include anger and schizophrenic episodes during treatment. This is why sticking to a consistent daily medication routine is of utmost importance – it helps patients avoid withdrawal-induced relapses. This can, however, present quite a challenge for patients with serious mental health and memory issues.5

Some of the most common psychological effects related to Seroquel use are:5

  • Depression. People with a major depressive disorder who begin using Seroquel may report worsening depression symptoms that can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors which may result in suicide. These side effects seem to be prevalent in adolescents and younger adults.
  • Schizophrenia. The truth is that there is no known cure for schizophrenia. Medication can mitigate symptoms and keep them under control – however, this doesn’t work for all people. For some, Seroquel can impair judgment and affect decision-making skills, which is particularly dangerous since the main characteristics of this disorder are distorted perception and cognition.8 Some studies even suggest that antipsychotic drug use is associated with loss of gray or white brain matter in patients with schizophrenia.9
  • Bipolar disorder. Antipsychotics calm the brain by blocking the neurotransmitter dopamine and reducing overexcitement which causes most of the symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar mania. Due to this effect on brain functioning, Seroquel may not be suitable for some people with existing medical conditions, as drug interactions may cause worsening of the symptoms.
  • Anxiety. Research shows that even though Seroquel might be effective for anxiety, people with anxiety disorders who use this medication might experience severe side effects. Seroquel should be considered as an alternative treatment for anxiety only when other anxiety medications like Prozac, Zoloft, or Celexa have already proven to be ineffective.10
  • Memory problems. Seroquel has the potential to affect memory through its disruption of natural dopamine balance.

When Should I Call a Doctor About Quetiapine Side Effects?

There are certain serious Seroquel adverse effects listed above that require immediate medical treatment. It’s sometimes necessary to stop the treatment so these symptoms can improve. You should call your doctor for advice and seek medical treatment in case of:1

  • Uncontrolled muscle movements.
  • Severe allergic reactions.
  • Irregular heart rate. 
  • Low white blood cell count.
  • Light-headedness.
  • Severe constipation.

It is particularly important to seek emergency medical treatment in the case of overdose symptoms that include:1

  • Drowsiness
  • Sedation
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Delirium
  • Coma.

Most patients that had experienced an overdose had no lasting adverse reactions and recovered fully. Uncontrolled muscle movements, on the other hand, can last for years in some cases, even after stopping the use of the medication. Stroke and heart problems can also lead to lifelong complications. It’s important to note that the risk of an overdose and its effects is increased for patients suffering from severe pre-existing cardiovascular disease.5

How Long Do Seroquel Side Effects Last?

Despite being beneficial for some patients when it comes to symptom control, Seroquel, just like most drugs with a sedative effect, has an immense potential of becoming habit-forming, or addictive. This feature of the drug makes patients take it regularly, but it also presents a significant problem for those who want to stop the use due to undesired side effects.11

Since this drug changes serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, dependence is one of its most significant long-term effects. This means that people start needing the drug to be able to function normally. Even when taken as prescribed by a doctor, and not with the intention of ‘getting high,’ the truth is that prescription drugs cause addiction all the same.11

This means that the drug needs to be eliminated from your system which, as mentioned above, takes about 30 hours for an entire dose.1 This can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. After the drug is eliminated, some of the long-term side effects will dissipate over time, but some can cause lasting damage, like involuntary muscle movement issues, stiffness, or trembling.5

Seroquel (Quetiapine) Interactions With Other Drugs

When taking Seroquel make sure to follow the instructions given by the doctor or pharmacist and read the consumer medicine information leaflet carefully in case you forgot to tell your doctor about some of the other drugs you’re taking.5

Certain drugs should under no circumstance be combined with Seroquel:1

  • Antipsychotic medications pimozide and thioridazine would raise the risk and severity of serious side effects.

Some drugs warrant caution or dose adjustment and can be used after a careful evaluation by your healthcare practitioner. They can adjust the dosage to avoid side effects. Those medications include:1

  • Depressants. Central nervous system (CNS) depressants slow down brain functioning to calm schizophrenia and manic episodes, and in doing so significantly increase the sedative effects and drowsiness. They include sleeping pills, anxiety medications, barbiturates, opioid painkillers, muscle relaxants, and alcohol.
  • Antipsychotic drugs. All antipsychotics cause similar side effects as Seroquel, so taking more than one increases their severity.
  • Diabetes medications. Quetiapine can raise blood sugar levels and lower the effectiveness of diabetes drugs.
  • Parkinson’s disease medications. Since Parkinson’s disease is treated by increasing dopamine levels, quetiapine will reduce the effectiveness of such medication because it blocks dopamine, and this can worsen Parkinson’s symptoms.
  • Blood pressure medications and diuretics. Careful monitoring is required because quetiapine can lower blood pressure.

How to Avoid Side Effects of (Seroquel) Quetiapine?

To avoid or mitigate both short-term and long-term side effects of Seroquel, always make sure to:6

  • Take Seroquel exactly as directed by your healthcare practitioner.
  • Don’t hesitate to call your doctor if you’re experiencing any unpleasant or severe side effects, particularly significant mood changes or suicidal thoughts.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol since your cognitive and motor abilities will already be affected by Seroquel, so alcohol and any other CNS depressant use can significantly increase those effects.1

In case of alcohol abuse issues you can reach out to one of the free and confidential alcohol addiction hotlines to get advice about your options.

How to Get Help from Seroquel (Quetiapine) Side Effects?

Since one of the main long-term side effects of Seroquel use includes dependence or addiction to this medication, whether it’s used as therapy prescribed by your doctor, or illegally, stopping its use may require seeking professional help from addiction specialists. A nationwide network of top-rated rehab centers – American Addiction Centers (AAC) – offers scientifically proven addiction treatment programs that can help you overcome your Quetiapine addiction.

Reach out to the AAC helpline to get detailed and accurate information and guidance about prescription drug addiction and possible courses of action. AAC’s admission navigators can direct you to a suitable rehab facility near you and explain the cost of appropriate treatment. They can present you with possible payment options and suggest ways to finance your recovery program. Most insurance providers cover medically necessary rehab programs, and you can verify your coverage by filling out an online form on the AAC website.

AAC offers evidence-based rehab programs and medically monitored detoxification. Depending on the severity of your dependence, after a thorough assessment, you can get a recommendation for an outpatient program that doesn’t require living at the facility, or an inpatient one, in case of more severe addiction.

Frequently Asked Questions