Antidepressant Withdrawal: What You Need to Know

FEATURED
May 2, 2022

Nue Life

Nue Life
8 MIN READ

Top points

  • Nearly 16 million adults in the United States (6.7 percent) have experienced at least one major depressive episode within a year.
  • Antidepressants help with the symptoms of depression, but if or when you decide to stop taking them, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.
  • Ketamine is a proven depression treatment that can decrease or eliminate antidepressant withdrawal symptoms.

Depression affects a large part of the population. It is estimated that nearly 16 million adults in the United States, or 6.7 percent, have experienced at least one major depressive episode within a year. This does not even include the number of children and adolescents that this disorder affects.

Depression is a severe disorder characterized as a depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, which causes significant impairment in everyday life.

This specific disorder is much more than just feeling “sad”; it causes impairment to those who suffer from it. One way that people cope and find relief is through antidepressant medication.

Medication can be an excellent means of treating depression because the neurotransmitters antidepressants provide to the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, are chemicals in charge of feelings of happiness and overall well-being.

Many individuals decide to treat their depression not just through medication but a combined treatment plan of therapy, medication, support groups, and other tools.

Once they begin to feel the impacts of the antidepressants working, they will feel better as they are pulled out of the negative state of mind they were in. As this occurs, many will decide to come off of the medication as they feel they no longer need it. When coming off medication, it is essential to consult your doctor before doing so to be properly monitored.

Whatever your reasoning is for coming off antidepressants, it’s good to be aware that you might experience withdrawal symptoms. Read on to learn more about what happens during withdrawal effects from these medications and how you can reduce such symptoms.

What Causes Antidepressant Withdrawal?

Not every person who abruptly goes off their antidepressants will start to feel withdrawal symptoms. Why is that? Well, doctors and scientists aren’t exactly sure why this occurs. It could be related to many different factors, such as a predisposition through genetics.

Those who do feel antidepressant withdrawal are experiencing antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. A theory by mental health experts is that abruptly stopping your antidepressant doesn’t give your brain enough time to adjust to the new rapid change of going without it.

When antidepressants are stopped, the body responds with physical and emotional symptoms caused by the abrupt absence of increased serotonin levels.

What Are the Side Effects of Coming off Antidepressants?

Symptoms of withdrawal look different for everyone as they depend on the person and the specific medication you have been on. These symptoms usually occur within three to five days of stopping the antidepressant due to the body having time to thoroughly flush out the medication.

Some symptoms include:

  • Loss of energy
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stress and tension
  • Mood swings or agitation
  • Head and neck tension
  • Loss of coordination or dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Trouble sleeping or fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms

These symptoms can occur moderately or severely depending on the individual. It is important to be in contact with your doctor during this withdrawal period for proper observation.

How Long Do Antidepressant Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

As stated previously, each case depends on the individual’s medical history, weight, genetics, and other factors. A rough estimate for how long withdrawal symptoms last from antidepressants is anywhere from one to two weeks.

With that, it’s important to note that some individuals experience severe withdrawal symptoms that last for months. If this begins to occur, seek medical attention from your doctor.

Which Antidepressants Are the Hardest to Stop?

Particular antidepressants are more challenging to wean off of than others. Discontinuation syndrome symptoms are more likely to occur with antidepressants that stay in the body for a shorter period and mainly affect serotonin uptakes.

This would include any antidepressant that is an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). Below are a few antidepressants that have been known to be harder to get off.

Citalopram (Celexa)

Citalophram, also known as Celexa, helps with improving energy levels and feelings of well-being. It’s also an SSRI. This particular medication works by helping to restore the balance of specific brain chemicals, like serotonin.

It is known to cause some people to have rough withdrawal symptoms. Those symptoms include muscle aches, chills, digestive issues, and mood swings.

Escitalopram (Lexapro)

Escitalopram, better known as Lexapro, is an extremely common antidepressant. Lexapro is another SSRI, which causes more chances for withdrawal symptoms to occur.

Said to affect about 44% of its users, the most common symptoms of withdrawal from Lexapro may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Tension in the muscles
  • Sudden chills
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Cognitive issues

Paroxetine (Paxil)

Paroxetine, known as Paxil, helps treat symptoms of depression and generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, and more. This particular antidepressant is included in the SSRI category.

Withdrawal symptoms from Paxil can include:

  • Irritability
  • Dizziness and/or nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Head and neck tension
  • Nightmares
  • Paresthesias (pricking or tingling sensation on the skin)

Sertraline (Zoloft)

Zoloft is another antidepressant that is well-known and is very similar to Paxil in that it is used to treat multiple disorders other than depression, such as panic disorders and eating disorders.

Due to Zoloft being an SSRI, withdrawal symptoms are more common because of the short life within the bloodstream. Meaning after only a few days without it, your body will be struck abruptly with a change or lack of serotonin.

Withdrawal symptoms include harmful thoughts, nausea, vomiting, head and neck tension, and nightmares.

How Can You Reduce Withdrawal Symptoms?

Withdrawing from antidepressants can be scary. There is a possibility of a wide range of side effects that can negatively impact daily life and function. But don’t lose hope — there are solutions and ways to reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Always Talk to Your Doctor

One of the most important things you can do when getting off antidepressants is to consult your doctor. They should be aware of where you are so that they can better assist you in treating your depression and monitoring you through the withdrawal period.

Be open and honest with them about where you’re at. They might suggest that getting off your medication might not be the best decision for you right now. Or they could recommend trying out another one that is known to help better in other ways. But of course, ultimately, it is up to you regarding what you do with your medications.

Taper Your Doses

A safe way to stop taking your antidepressants would be to taper off them gradually. This could mean taking a lower dose for a certain time or taking the same dose but only a few times a week instead of every day.

Do not do this on your own decision or accord, instead ask your doctor the best way to taper off safely. Tapering helps your brain adjust to the chemical imbalance or changes that occur during withdrawal and can help prevent those discontinuation symptoms.

Use Alternative Medications

A great way to decrease or avoid withdrawal symptoms altogether is to use alternative medications. One that is proven to help is ketamine.

Ketamine is well-known as an anesthetic and has proven to be incredibly successful in treating depression. How ketamine works is by directly restoring the number of synapses in the brain that depression has caused your brain to lose.

In scientific terms, it binds the NMDA receptor and releases a glutamate surge, releasing growth factors that help make new synaptic connections in the brain.

Using ketamine to come off of antidepressants might be a strong option for you to experience wellness without risking significant discomfort.

Conclusion

Though deciding to come off of your antidepressants may be scary, there are ways to decrease symptoms. Regardless of your reasonings for choosing to no longer take the specific antidepressant you’re on, you deserve to feel good without all the symptoms of discontinuation syndrome.

Consult your doctor before making the decision and ask them what the best solutions for your particular case might be. After all, we all deserve to discover and grow into the best versions of ourselves.

Treatment at Nue Life

Nue Life believes in holistic treatment. We offer at-home ketamine therapy programs that address multiple aspects of wellness. What happens after your ketamine experience is equally as important as the experience itself. We want to ensure you have meaningful takeaways from your experiences and help you establish positive new neural pathways.

That’s why we provide one-on-one health coaching and integration group sessions with each of our programs. We’re here to help map out the mind and body connections in your brain and help you discover the real insights that lead to real relief.

Sources:

Depression (major depressive disorder) Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Stopping or coming off antidepressants | NHS

Lexapro Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, & Treatment | Very Well Mind

Paxil withdrawal: Symptoms and what to expect | Medical News Today

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