SSRI discontinuation syndrome

SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can influence moods, emotions and sleeping patterns. This messenger chemical plays an essential role in your mental and behavioral health. Though it’s too simplistic to say that imbalanced brain chemicals cause depression, many people find their symptoms improve when they take a medication that improves the amount of available serotonin in their brains.

A class of prescription drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can improve depression and anxiety symptoms and make you more responsive to treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy.

How Do SSRIs Work?

Many physicians and psychiatrists prescribe SSRIs because they generally have fewer side effects than other antidepressants. A prescription for these medications will usually start with the lowest possible dose necessary to improve your symptoms. When you begin using them, your doctor may want you to check in regularly to discuss how well the medicine is working.

You’ll usually need to keep taking SSRIs for a few weeks to start feeling relief from your depression. If you’ve been consistently using your medication for more than six weeks without noticing a difference in your mood or behavior, speak to your provider. They may recommend increasing your dose or trying an alternative antidepressant.

Are There Any Risks of Using SSRIs?

Before prescribing antidepressants, your doctor should explain all possible risks associated with the medication, including what could happen if you abruptly stop taking it. About 20% of people who take SSRIs for a month or more experience a phenomenon known as SSRI discontinuation syndrome when they quit using their medications. Symptoms include:

  • Flu-like body aches and pains
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia, which can include vivid nightmares
  • Dizziness, vertigo or lightheadedness
  • Hyperarousal

SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome vs. Withdrawal

While you may hear people call SSRI discontinuation syndrome “antidepressant withdrawal,” experiencing these symptoms after using a prescription medication doesn’t mean you’ve become chemically dependent on your antidepressant. That’s because antidepressant use does not typically cause the intense cravings and loss of control associated with addiction.  

To minimize the risk of SSRI discontinuation syndrome, talk with your prescribing physician before you stop taking your medication. They may recommend gradually tapering off by taking increasingly smaller doses to help your body adjust. In some cases, they might prescribe an alternative medication to decrease your chances of uncomfortable symptoms. If you’re switching antidepressants, your doctor could have you start taking the new medication before you completely stop taking the original prescription.

After you quit using an antidepressant, some of your depression symptoms may return. Keep your doctor informed of your progress and mood. If necessary, your provider might recommend a combination of medication, therapy and lifestyle changes to improve your mental health.

How Integrative Medicine Can Help You

At Recovery Without Walls, our approach allows us to tailor options to each client’s specific needs. Our holistic process combines psychotherapy with nutritional support and evidence-based medicine to help people heal from mood disorders, addiction and chronic pain. To learn more about how and what we treat, please reach out to our team today.