Withdrawal From Antidepressant Medication Depression Medication

Depression is a severe mental condition characterized by feelings of prolonged sadness, hopelessness and despair. In most cases, depression can be effectively treated with antidepressant medication. However, abruptly stopping antidepressant treatment can cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from antidepressant medication is also known as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.

Some antidepressants, such as Prozac©, are less likely to cause withdrawal symptoms because they remain in the system longer than other antidepressants after a person stops treatment. Paxil¨ and many other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) exit the body quickly, leading to acute onset of withdrawal symptoms.

Many people believe that withdrawal side effects mean that antidepressants are addictive. They’re not. Addictive chemicals cause cravings and physical dependence, and people often build up a tolerance to these substances. Depression medication, on the other hand, causes withdrawal symptoms because they alter the balance of chemicals in the brain, and reverting back to the status quo can cause some disagreeable side effects.

Symptoms of Withdrawal from Depression Medication

Antidepressant withdrawal symptoms usually last one to two weeks, although in some cases they can last for a month or longer. Antidepressant side effects related to withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Muscle pains
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness.

In some extreme cases, people experience flu-like symptoms, blurred vision, hallucinations, balance problems and tingling sensations. However, these severe withdrawal symptoms are rare.

How to Avoid Withdrawal Antidepressant Side Effects

First, never stop taking depression medication without first clearing it with your doctor. If you both decide that it’s time to end your treatment, work out a gradual cessation program with your doctor. For example, allow a small dose reduction every one to two weeks. If a smaller dose is not an option, allow a day or two in between doses. Also, donÕt add other medications or supplements to your regimen.

Usually, mild tapering reduces or eliminates withdrawal antidepressant side effects. However, if withdrawal symptoms become severe, your doctor may increase the dosage slightly until the symptoms subside, and then resume tapering. You can manage symptoms of withdrawal from antidepressant medication by:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising
  • Having a supportive network of friends and family
  • Practicing yoga or meditation.

Some people experience a resurgence of depression and anxiety after ending treatment with depression medication. Unfortunately, depression and anxiety disorders can return in some instances, but the resurgence of these symptoms is not a typical result of withdrawal from antidepressant medication. If you feel your depression symptoms returning, tell your doctor immediately. Cognitive therapy may help, or you may need to continue taking your depression medication for the time being.

Finally, remember that if you do experience withdrawal symptoms, no matter how severe, they are temporary. Eventually, the body is able to clear itself of the depression medication, and the withdrawal symptoms will wane.

Resources

Croft, H. (2010). Getting off antidepressants. Retrieved May 11, 2010, from the Healthy Place website: www.healthyplace.com/depression/antidepressants/getting-off-antidepressants/menu-id-68/.

Depression Guide Staff. (2005). Antidepressant withdrawal. Retrieved May 11, 2010, from the Depression Guide website: www.depression-guide.com/antidepressant-withdrawal.htm.

Hall-Flavin, D.K. (2008). Antidepressant withdrawal: Is there such a thing? Retrieved May 11, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website: www.mayoclinic.com/health/antidepressant-withdrawal/AN01425.