Medications such as antidepressants are prescribed to help you feel better about a particular condition you may be experiencing. When it is time to stop using the drug, though, it’s best to understand the antidepressant withdrawal timeline, symptoms, and support you may need to get through the process safely.
Treating Depression and Other Conditions
Antidepressants are prescribed by a healthcare professional for mental health conditions, including depression. Most of these drugs work by increasing the amount of serotonin in your brain, which can reduce the symptoms you feel. Depending on the type of antidepressant, they can also alter the levels of the chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters that attach to receptors on your nerve cells, influencing their activity.
Almost 8% of the population over the age of 12 in the US used antidepressants in any given month in the early 2000s. That figure increased to almost 13% by 2014. Since the mid-2000s, the average duration of antidepressant use has more than doubled. Approximately one half of the people using antidepressants have been taking the medication for at least five years.
Antidepressant Withdrawal Symptoms
Deciding to stop using antidepressants should be a decision made with your healthcare professional, so you can get the support you need to withdraw from the medication safely. Symptoms will vary depending on the type of antidepressant you have been taking. Even if you have only been taking antidepressants for a few weeks, they have caused your serotonin levels to increase. Stopping the medication can cause those levels to fall, resulting in withdrawal symptoms.
Your symptoms might include:
- Sleep difficulties
- Dizziness or confusion
- Stomach issues, including loss of appetite
- Head and body aches
- Mood swings
- Sensory disturbances, such as greater sensitivity to light or sound.
Over half of the people who have stopped using antidepressants describe their symptoms as being severe. Your symptoms will depend on the antidepressant drug itself. Older classes of the medication, known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, can cause more concerning withdrawal symptoms. In addition to those listed, you might also experience paranoid delusions or hallucinations.
Withdrawal Can Mimic Depression
One symptom of antidepressant withdrawal is that it can look very much like depression itself, as you may experience feelings of depression or anxiety when stopping the medication. While this may cause you to fear that you are relapsing, there are ways to determine whether the symptoms you are experiencing are because you have stopped using the drug.
The timeline of withdrawal symptoms and the return of depression differ. If your symptoms begin to emerge within days or weeks after stopping the medication, they are probably from withdrawal and not a return of your depression, which will take longer to develop and will return gradually.
The physical symptoms of withdrawal aren’t commonly found in depression. These symptoms will disappear quickly if you take another dose of your antidepressant, while the treatment of depression will take weeks to take effect. Your withdrawal symptoms will resolve as your body adjusts, whereas symptoms of depression will continue to get worse.
Once you stop taking your antidepressant, you can expect withdrawal symptoms to begin with two to four days. They can then last for several weeks. Rarely, symptoms may continue for up to a year after your last dose. More commonly, symptoms will last for several weeks or months.
One approach to helping you withdraw, providing support for managing your symptoms, is referred to as tapering. This involves gradually reducing your dosage over weeks or months, under the supervision of a medical professional. With tapering, your symptoms should be less severe than if you suddenly stopped using the medication.
Tapering usually lasts about two to four weeks. However, longer durations may be even more effective in helping to reduce your risk of withdrawal symptoms. The specific approach you and your provider take will depend on the type of antidepressant you’ve been taking as well as your current dosage and how long you’ve been taking the medication.
Contact Recovery Without Walls for Prescription Drug Help
At Recovery Without Walls, we understand that it can be difficult and even dangerous to stop abusing prescription drugs without help. We are here to guide you through safe and effective withdrawal from prescription medications such as antidepressants. We personalize your treatment based on evidence-informed research, exceptional psychotherapy, nutritional support, and integrative healing methods designed to treat your whole body. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.