The Brutal Experience of Accutane


Kaitlyn Kittredge

Isotretinoin, commonly known as Accutane, is a powerful drug used in the treatment of acne. With its many side effects, Accutane can take a toll on individuals’ mental health and daily lives.

Mia Tickell, News Editor

Ah, acne. The mere mention of it is enough to make any hormonal teenager cringe with discomfort. I found myself in that dreaded predicament. My once-manageable acne spiraled out of control, and it became impossible to ignore any longer. Despite trying countless treatments, each one more rigorous than the last, I was prescribed Accutane: the infamous medication reserved for only the most severe cases of acne.

Prior to my visit to the dermatologist’s office, I found myself researching the potential side effects of Accutane. I had already heard about the common concerns like dry skin and stomach aches, so what took me by surprise was the lack of information on the emotional effects.

Many patients who have taken Accutane say the initial months of treatment are often the most challenging. This is due to the medication’s strong effects on the body, which can cause a process called the “Accutane Purge,” along with a variety of physical changes. 

“In the beginning months on Accutane, I was pretty much fine on the outside. My lips would just get dry. What I didn’t see coming was the emotional toll. I was getting very stressed and anxious all the time, even when there was no reason to be,” said a student on Accutane who asked to remain anonymous in respect to the privacy of their mental health. “I thought I understood the side effects before I went on it, and I didn’t think anything bad would happen to me.”

I started Accutane when I was 18. The issue was that I had it for most of high school, and I was getting sick of it. Nothing else was working. I decided it was time to take the pill because I had heard it worked for some people.

— Anonymous Student

Undergoing hormonal changes during a pivotal time as a student is stressful on its own, and being prescribed Accutane can feel like adding insult to injury. 

“There were times where I would be home alone, or walking around campus, and my heart would start beating really fast. I knew that my anxiety was causing this, but there was nothing to be anxious about. Once I started to lose sleep, that’s when I got really concerned,” said the anonymous student. 

The exact link between Accutane and the emotional side effects is still unclear, but a study published in 2019 suggested there may be a possible connection between the drug and the central nervous system, which may influence hormonal and emotional fluctuations. 

The anonymous source reported that upon reducing the dosage of the medication, their symptoms of anxiety subsided.

“Ever since I lowered my dosage, I have felt completely normal. Overall, Accutane has made a positive impact on my life, but it is important to know what could happen,” said the anonymous student. “I wish I understood the extent of the emotional damage it could cause. It’s important to look out for those symptoms, so you can find a solution to those types of issues.”

Due to the stigma surrounding acne, many students may feel reluctant to share their personal experiences. It leads me to ask: How many more students who have taken Accutane are experiencing similar negative effects on their mental health? 

Reflecting on this time of my life, I realize how vulnerable I felt – how different I felt.  And although only temporary, the stain of loneliness remains. Every time I see someone else suffering as I did, I stop myself from brushing my face with my fingertips – a subconscious reminder of the emotional scars I endure to this day. 

Acne and Accutane should not prevent us from discussing our experiences and seeking help when needed. High school is a significant time in our lives, and the use of Accutane can intensify negative emotions that we may already be struggling with. By creating a safe and open environment to discuss these issues, we can support each other and encourage each other to seek professional help when necessary.