Duloxetine Drug Class: Is Cymbalta a Controlled Substance?

Last Updated: June 16, 2021

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Cymbalta is a commonly prescribed antidepressant. However, knowing that Cymbalta drug class is an antidepressant does not tell the entire story. That is because there are several types of antidepressant drugs.

Is Duloxetine a narcotic? Or is it a benzodiazepine? And is it a controlled substance? Here is what users should know about the duloxetine drug class.

Is Duloxetine a Narcotic?

Duloxetine, generic for Cymbalta, is well known for treating depression and anxiety disorder. However, many drugs can fall into multiple drug classes. People often wonder if Duloxetine is a narcotic. Narcotics are usually opioid painkillers. Although Cymbalta for pain is sometimes used off-label, it doesn’t bind to opioid receptors in the brain. Therefore, it is not a narcotic.

Is Cymbalta a Controlled Substance?

The answer to this question depends on how users think of controlled substances. If using the definition provided by the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United States, it is not; Duloxetine is not on the DEA list of controlled substances.

Doctor writing a prescription for Cymbalta.

However, the term “controlled substance” is also used to indicate any medication that is available by prescription only. Under this definition, all the drugs in the Cymbalta drug class would be controlled substances. This is because duloxetine side effects are too dangerous to allow patients to manage them on their own. Moreover, this drug carries a risk of dependence and can cause withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. These withdrawal symptoms can include rebound depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

Is Duloxetine a Benzodiazepine?

Duloxetine can be used to treat a variety of behavioral health concerns, including anxiety. Because of this, some people believe that it is a benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines are also used in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. However, this is not the duloxetine class. Despite the variety of Cymbalta uses, it has only one drug class. That class is not a benzodiazepine.

Is Duloxetine an Opioid?

Much like this question of the medication being a narcotic, there is a concern of whether it is an opioid since it is used to treat nerve pain. For a medication to be classed as an opioid, it must bind to the opioid receptors somewhere in the body. Duloxetine does not; thus, the Cymbalta drug class is not opioid. However, the lower rate of addiction and price can make it an excellent alternative to opioid medications for those dealing with nerve pain.

Is Duloxetine a Stimulant?

Because the medication makes people feel better, users often wonder if this drug is a stimulant. While it may have an uplifting effect on some users, the duloxetine class is not a stimulant. In fact, the drug can even turn fatal when combined with stimulant medications. In case of overdose or severe reactions, patients should seek immediate professional help and treatment.

Cymbalta pills in the bottle.

Is Cymbalta An Antidepressant?

At this point, it is clear that the Duloxetine drug class is an antidepressant. However, just knowing that it is an antidepressant does not tell the entire story. Antidepressants can be divided into subclasses based on the way they act on the body. Some of them affect the reuptake of serotonin, others serotonin and norepinephrine. Depending on what subclass it belongs to, Cymbalta erectile dysfunction could be a problem. Another concern is the Cymbalta side effect of weight gain. As such, users should know the correct subclass and what it could mean for them.

Is It an MAOI?

MAOI stands for monoamine oxidase inhibitor. These antidepressant drugs level the user’s mood by inhibiting the activity of one or both monoamine oxidase enzymes the body produces. For those wondering if this medicine is an MAOI, the answer is no. Duloxetine is not an MAOI because it does not work to inhibit monoamine oxidase enzymes.

Medications that Are MAOIs Include:

  • Rasagiline (Azilect)
  • Selegiline (Eldepryl, Zelapar)
  • Isocarboxazid (Marplan)
  • Phenelzine (Nardil)
  • Tranylcypromine (Parnate)

Is It a Tricyclic Antidepressant?

Tricyclic antidepressants are the oldest drugs in the class. They are not named based on how they work on the body but rather their chemical structure, which has three rings of atoms. The medication is not a tricyclic antidepressant because it does not have this three-ringed chemical structure needed to be part of the subclass.

Drugs that Do Fall Into this Class Include:

  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Desipramine (Norpramin)
  • Doxepin (Sinequan)
  • Imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
  • Protriptyline (Vivactil)
  • Trimipramine (Surmontil)

Is Cymbalta an SSRI?

SSRI stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. SSRIs work by inhibiting the body’s reuptake of serotonin to the degree that elevates the mood without flooding the body with the chemical, which can be deadly.

So, is Cymbalta an SSRI? The answer is no. Cymbalta is not an SSRI.

Examples of SSRI Antidepressants Include:

Is Cymbalta an SNRI?

Yes, the Duloxetine drug class is an SNRI. SNRIs are another class of antidepressants that stands for serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. SNRI antidepressants inhibit the reuptake of both norepinephrine and serotonin. This way, they cause changes in the brain chemistry and regulate mood.

Woman taking a pill with a glass of water.

It is important to note that there are other subclasses of antidepressants, but they tend to be less common. Still, users should learn more about them so they can evaluate which medication is best for them. For example, they might want to consider Cymbalta vs. Effexor to avoid certain side effects.

When Use Becomes Problematic

Cymbalta is part of the antidepressant drug class, which means it can help many people live better lives and cope with their depression. Although antidepressant drugs are not considered chemically addictive, users can abuse them. If someone is misusing the medication, they should seek help from a drug rehabilitation center. Stopping the drug abruptly and without medical help will cause Cymbalta withdrawal symptoms. Self-medication of these symptoms can be dangerous to one’s health. Not to get in trouble and ensure that the treatment is effective, contact a drug rehabilitation center. Depending on each unique situation, professionals will offer addiction treatment options that suit you the most.

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Page Sources

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  2. Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Organization, Drug Fact Sheet: Narcotics, 2020. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Narcotics-2020.pdf
  3. Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Organization, Controlled Substance Schedules. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/schedules/
  4. Henssler, J., Heinz, A., Brandt, L., & Bschor, T. (2019). Antidepressant withdrawal and rebound phenomena. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, 116(20), 355. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6637660/
  5. Sub Laban T, Saadabadi A. Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI) [Updated 2021 Apr 16]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539848/
  6. Moraczewski J, Aedma KK. Tricyclic Antidepressants. [Updated 2020 Dec 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557791/

Published on: May 30th, 2019

Updated on: June 16th, 2021

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.