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Antidepressant withdrawal, more correctly called antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, refers to a unique set of symptoms that can develop after you stop taking an antidepressant. It most often occurs in those who abruptly quit the medication. About one in five people who take an antidepressant for six or more weeks will experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking the medicine. Tapering down your medication gradually under the supervision of your health care provider can help avoid or minimize symptoms. However, it is still possible in those who decrease their dose too rapidly or sometimes even slowly quit the medicine. Even missing a dose for a few days may trigger discontinuation symptoms.
Your doctor may diagnose you with antidepressant withdrawal if:
You suddenly develop symptoms days after stopping an antidepressant
Symptoms rapidly go away when you start taking the antidepressant again
It's important to note that withdrawal symptoms do not mean you are addicted to the antidepressant. The National Institutes of Health says you can't get "hooked on" antidepressants, and that they aren't habit forming.
What Causes Antidepressant Withdrawal?
There's no way to predict if you will have withdrawal symptoms after quitting an antidepressant. Scientists are not exactly sure why some people develop antidepressant discontinuation syndrome while others do not.
Antidepressants help restore the balance of naturally occurring, mood-regulating substances in the brain, called neurotransmitters, including serotonin and norepinephrine. Some mental health experts theorize that abruptly quitting an antidepressant simply does not give your brain time to adjust to the rapid changes.
All depression drugs can potentially lead to withdrawal symptoms. In fact, antidepressant labels often warn that stopping the medication too quickly may lead to bothersome symptoms. However, withdrawal symptoms are more likely with antidepressants that stay in your body for a shorter period of time, especially those that affect both serotonin and norepinephrine, such as Effexor (venlafaxine) and Cymbalta (duloxetine). Other short-acting medications that affect mainly serotonin include: