Stopping Antidepressants and Managing Withdrawal
Antidepressants can be a godsend when depression takes over your life and you just don’t have the energy or concentration to complete the everyday tasks that life demands. But when you get back on your feet and start to feel better, you may wonder how to safely stop taking your pills.
Going off antidepressants can be a difficult process and you can experience withdrawal symptoms. Read on to learn more about side effects that you may experience and how to manage any possible withdrawal symptoms.
Symptoms of Antidepressant Withdrawal
If you have been doing well while taking antidepressants, your physician may continue to renew your prescription to prevent a relapse of depression, but some side effects such as headache, insomnia, vivid dreams, and lack of sexual desire may become less tolerable over time and you may want to discontinue your pills.
The decision to go off your antidepressant meds should not be taken lightly and you’ll need the support of your physician and/or psychiatrist to make sure you don’t risk a recurrence of your depression. Your doctor can help you develop a plan that will slowly taper off your meds and help avoid symptoms such as the following:
- Balance issues: Feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness.
- Sleep disturbances: Sleeplessness or have super vivid dreams or nightmares.
- Body temperature control issues: Hot flashes, feeling flushed, or sweating excessively.
- Unwanted Feelings: Mood swings, anxiety, depression, confusion, or even thoughts of suicide.
- Digestive System Issues: Stomach symptoms such as cramps, diarrhea, lack of appetite, or nausea.
- Weird Sensations: Numbness, tingling, ringing in your ears, or sensitivity to sound. You may also experience strange electric shocks or a sensation that some people describe as a “brain shiver.”
As scary as these symptoms may sound, you shouldn’t let it discourage you from going off antidepressants if your doctor gives you the go ahead. Many of these symptoms can be minimized by tapering off your dose of pills over a period of weeks or months, depending on how long you’ve been on antidepressants. Tapering off your dose of antidepressants can also help reduce the risk of returning depression.
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When is it Time to Stop Your Antidepressants?
If you don’t think you need to be taking your antidepressants anymore you should consult with a doctor or psychiatrist as to why you feel this way and find out if it’s a good option for you to discontinue your medication. There are many reasons why you may want to stop taking your medication from undesirable side effects to feeling as though your depression has been cured.
In order to understand when to stop taking antidepressants it’s important to know the phases of antidepressant prescription. Antidepressant usage involves three phases:
Acute Phase: When you first start on antidepressants. This phase lasts four to twelve weeks until the first full benefits are experienced.
Continuation Phase: This phase can last between four months to a year. The goal in this phase is to prevent a relapse and prevent any depressive episodes. If a person is still symptom free after twelve months, they might consider going off their antidepressants at the end of this phase.
Maintenance Phase: Some people may need to stay on antidepressants for a longer period if they meet the following criteria:
- Substance abuse
- Unsatisfactory response to continuation treatment
- Symptoms of seasonal depression
- A current history of anxiety disorder
- History of severe depression
- Family history of mood disorders
If you’re thinking about stopping your antidepressants meet with a doctor to talk about your options and create a plan to slowly decrease your dosage and manage any withdrawal symptoms.
You should never discontinue your medication without first speaking to a doctor.
How Long Will It Take Before You Feel “Normal” Again?
Feeling normal again will depend on several factors that include your history of depression and how long you have been taking your medications.
Typically, symptoms of withdrawal can last for one to two weeks, but it could be longer in some cases and may linger for two or more months. Having the support of your friends and family during this time will be helpful, as well as getting plenty of rest, exercising, and eating a healthy diet.
Once you stop your antidepressants it’s important to pay attention to your mood and livelihood. If you notice symptoms of depression coming back it may be time to meet with a psychiatrist and/or consider getting back on your medication, or another type of antidepressant.
Read More About Mental Health
Please Note: PlushCare does not have online psychiatrists at this time. That said, our primary care physicians are able to prescribe mental health medications such as antidepressants, and if necessary can provide you with a referral to a psychiatrist.