When discussing the prevalence of prescribed medications within the United States, it’s important to recognize that antidepressants are one of the most widely prescribed groups of medications.
With over 118 million prescriptions written in the U.S. to patients ages 12 and above, antidepressants have been shown to be useful for treating a variety of mental health conditions. Most antidepressant medications work by increasing the amount of serotonin in a person’s brain and, in some cases, other neurotransmitters, depending on the mechanism of the antidepressant.
While this type of reaction can be beneficial, one of the major disadvantages is that some individuals may experience antidepressant withdrawal, or discontinuation syndrome, when they stop taking their medication. While some drugs tend to have higher rates of withdrawal than others, the reality is that it can happen to anyone who consistently takes antidepressants.
Understanding how the different types of antidepressants can affect your mood and overall well-being is important to process before you decide to discontinue use. That way you can know what to expect and how to best prepare your mind and body to manage the potential consequences associated with stopping your medication.
Antidepressant Withdrawal: What Is It and Why Does It Happen?
Studies have shown it takes about six weeks of regular use to become dependent on antidepressant medication. At this point, you can expect to go through withdrawal symptoms if you eventually decrease your usual dosage or try to quit the medication completely.Approximately 20% of people taking antidepressants experience these withdrawal symptoms when they stop or reduce their dose and may even begin taking antidepressants again to treat their symptoms.
This happens because of the way antidepressants impact your serotonin levels. By modifying this neurotransmitter, your brain chemistry is regulated in a way that typically improves depression or anxiety symptoms. The brain will down-regulate the number of receptors in response to the increased volume of serotonin brought on by the medication. It’s a functional balancing act meant to prevent overstimulation of brain cells.
However, when you eventually stop taking the medication, there will be fewer receptors than before and a short-term deficiency of serotonin activity. Your body will typically correct this, but there will be a period of adjustment until you begin to feel completely back to normal.
Antidepressant Medications: Types of Antidepressants and Withdrawal Side Effects
- Prozac (withdrawal symptoms typically last 5 days)
The withdrawal symptoms of Prozac can include nausea, tremors, decreased sex drive and excessive sweating.
Additionally, Prozac is unique among antidepressants because withdrawal symptoms typically won’t appear for several weeks. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword, because Prozac withdrawal symptoms also tend to last longer than other antidepressants. They can include tremors, unusual dreams, agitation, unsteady gait, difficulty walking, suicidal thoughts and ringing in the ears.
- Celexa (withdrawal symptoms typically last 36 hours)
Common symptoms of Celexa withdrawal include dizziness, irritability, sensory and flu-like symptoms. Also, there’s a possibility you could relapse and begin experiencing symptoms of depression again or even experience an increase in suicidal thinking and behavior.
- Lexapro (withdrawal symptoms typically last 30 hours)
The withdrawal symptoms linked with this antidepressant can range from minimal to severe. They can include constipation, heartburn, flu-like symptoms, decreased sex drive, blurred vision, nervousness and minor sleep disturbances.
More severe symptoms can include difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, increased heart rate, seizures, hallucinations and stiff muscles. When you stop or reduces your dose of Lexapro, there’s a risk you may begin to feel intense mood swings and severe suicidal ideation.
- Paxil (withdrawal symptoms typically last 29 hours)
Some of the more common withdrawal symptoms associated with this type of antidepressant may include nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, weakness, constipation or diarrhea, decreased libido, hallucinations and even seizures.
Additionally, Paxil is known as one of the worst to withdraw from due to the manner in which it interacts with brain activity. Withdrawal symptoms can include bizarre sensations (ear ringing or hypersensitivity to sound), tremors, difficulty walking, vomiting, nightmares and excessive sweating.
- Zoloft (withdrawal symptoms typically last 24 hours)
Withdrawal from Zoloft can vary from person to person, with some individuals having no symptoms at all and others experiencing symptoms severe enough to interfere with their daily responsibilities. They can include flu-like symptoms, sensory disturbances, severe anxiety, cramps or vomiting, lightheadedness, nightmares, restless legs, and suicidal ideation.
What Happens When You Stop Taking Antidepressants? Does It Affect Your Mental Health?
Antidepressants work by balancing chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters that affect mood and emotion. When this change occurs too quickly, which happens when a person quits taking their antidepressants suddenly, a wide range of symptoms can arise.
A sudden change in dose can cause your serotonin levels to fall, producing withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms are simply the brain and body’s way of manifesting what’s happening chemically. What’s more, many of the effects of antidepressant withdrawal are similar to the symptoms they treat, such as depression, mood changes, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Addiction, Antidepressant Withdrawal and Mental Health Treatment
If you’re dealing with antidepressant withdrawal and also struggling to manage your substance addiction, it’s important to understand that symptoms are intertwined and connected.
Trying to decipher which came first, emotional struggles or addictive behaviors, can truly be an act of futility. That’s why finding the help you need through a clinical treatment program adept at treating co-occurring disorders and dual diagnoses is so important when you begin your recovery journey.
Addressing symptoms in a comprehensive manner allows you to identify the root of your problem while also developing long-term therapeutic interventions to help you achieve sustained sobriety and a renewed sense of well-being.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment at Fountain Hills Recovery
The self-perpetuating cycle you’re caught up in doesn’t have to rule your life forever.
You can face your co-occurring hurdles head-on with professional help and individualized support at Fountain Hills Recovery.
Learn more about our dual diagnosis treatment programs, or contact us today to get your questions answered and learn about our all-encompassing approach to mental health and drug treatment.
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