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Antidepressant Withdrawal

Your doctor prescribed an antidepressant to help boost your mood or ease your anxiety. But, as soon as you feel better, you figure you no longer need the medicine. So you stop taking it.

And suddenly, you feel like you have the flu, or a stomach bug, or perhaps you find it hard to think and have disturbing thoughts.

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You’re probably having antidepressant withdrawal.

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.

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.

 

Hardest-to-Quit Antidepressants

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:

Withdrawal is less common with medications that take longer for the body to clear, such as Prozac (fluoxetine). However, longer-acting antidepressants may still cause withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms have also been reported in people trying to quit older types of antidepressant medications, including tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

 

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