Experts advise a gradual withdrawal from antidepressants to reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms commonly known as: Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome. It’s not unusual for the timeline of withdrawal to be roughly one month of withdrawal for every year of drug exposure. (Eg. If you’ve been taking an antidepressant for 3 years, then typically a MINIMUM of 3 month withdrawal period is advised).
Some people experience only mild withdrawal symptoms throughout their withdrawal period, whilst others experience distressing reactions, as their body-mind system attempts to constantly adjust to each and every reduction of the antidepressant medication. However, the most important rule is to respect your body and stay within your own comfort zone when pacing your withdrawal.
NOTE: Before embarking on any tapering of your drugs, it’s strongly advised you seek the help of an experienced clinician.
SSRI Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome
SSRI Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome, also known as SSRI Withdrawal Syndrome is a condition that can occur following the reduction, interruption or discontinuation of SSRI antidepressant medications (such as: Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, Paxil and Luvox).
A panel of psychiatric experts found that the SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome encompasses the following symptoms:
SSRI Withdrawal Symptoms List
- Dizziness / Vertigo
- Ataxia (lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements that can include gait abnormality, speech changes, and abnormalities in eye movements)
- Gastrointestinal Symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, weight loss)
- Agitation / Irritability / Aggressiveness
- Dramatic crying spells
- Flu-like Symptoms (fatigue, lethargy, myalgia, chills)
- Sensory disturbances (tingling, burning sensations, sensations of electric shock)
- Intense nerve and muscular pains
- Sleep disturbances (insomnia, vivid dreams)
- Depressed mood
- Suicidal ideation
- Memory problems
- Abnormal movements (tremors, spasms, loss of muscular control and visual changes)
- Heavy sweating / Flushing
Evidence suggests that SSRI Withdrawal Syndrome “usually” appears within 1 to 7 days after discontinuation, although symptoms may begin weeks later in the case of long half-life drugs (such as: Prozac).
For the likes of Prozac (and other long half-life drugs) withdrawal symptoms can begin up to 25 days AFTER stopping the drug. This is due to the drug taking longer to leave our system.
On the other hand, SSRI’s with a shorter half-life (such as; Paxil, Luvox and Zoloft) tend to have more severe withdrawal reactions which can occur sooner and more frequently.
SSRI Withdrawal Syndrome can also occur after missing a dose.
How Long Do Antidepressant Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
There are many factors that affect how long antidepressant withdrawal symptoms last. However, research suggests the average antidepressant withdrawal reactions can typically last from just 1 day to 13 weeks. Although, these symptoms seem to be significantly reduced by a truly gradual withdrawal process which lasts for a minimum of 3 months or more.
NOTE: The longer we’ve been taking an antidepressant drug, and the higher the dose, the more gradual our ‘tapering’ or reduction of the drug should be.
What Causes Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome?
Any drug, when introduced into our system changes the internal chemistry and/or functions within our body-mind system. Therefore, the moment we introduce an antidepressant into our system, our internal chemistry and ‘typical’ brain processes naturally alter.
If an antidepressant is suddenly stopped (or withdrawn too quickly), our body-mind system must recalibrate itself to restore ‘normal’ functioning. It’s this process of ‘recalibration’ which can cause physical, cognitive and emotional disturbances, commonly known as: Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome or Antidepressant Withdrawal Syndrome.
Plan Your Antidepressant Drug Withdrawal
A well-planned, gradual Antidepressant Withdrawal Action Plan will increase your chances of success. Here are some suggestions:
11-Step Antidepressant Withdrawal Action Plan
|1. Plan how you’re going to discuss the topic of withdrawal.|
|2. Create a detailed Personal Antidepressant Withdrawal Timeline.|
|3. Start withdrawal process in a safe, supportive environment.|
|4. Implement healthy changes into your diet and exercise regime.|
|5. Expect the unexpected.|
|6. Include depression-busting activities into your daily schedule.|
|7. Don’t be rigid!|
|8. Begin counselling or psychotherapy sessions.|
|9. You are always in charge!|
|10. Focus on your bright future.|
|11. Remember: You CAN do this!|
Here’s The 11-Step Antidepressant Withdrawal Action Plan Expanded
- Plan how you’re going to discuss the topic of withdrawal with your friends, family and health care professionals. Can you foresee any resistance from them? How will you best tackle this? What are your options, if others are not supportive of your choice to withdraw from the drugs?
- Create a detailed Personal Antidepressant Withdrawal Timeline, which includes your tapering schedule, your daily doses of medication and the expected number of weeks you’ll be undergoing the withdrawal process.
- Start the withdrawal process in a safe, secure and supportive environment. (If you’re alone, then search for internet-based support groups to inspire and encourage you throughout this process).
- Implement healthy changes into your diet and exercise regime as this will help to strengthen your entire body-mind system to more efficiently deal with the withdrawal process.
- Expect the unexpected. Prepare for disruptions in your daily schedule. For example, if you’re experiencing some intense withdrawal symptoms then you may need to postpone that event, party, or meeting you were planning to attend. (Don’t feel guilty for not attending or letting others down during this process, it’s mandatory you listen to your body and put your own health and well-being first, during this time).
- Include activities into your daily schedule which are proven to help alleviate the symptoms of depression, anxiety, aggression, overthinking or emotional upheavals, such as; Meditation, creative activities, gratitude techniques, tai chi, yoga, qigong, laughter groups, acupuncture, etc.
- Don’t be rigid! Be prepared to adjust the timeline or action plan, if necessary. Truth is, nobody really knows (not even the experts) how we’re going to react to the tapering off of our antidepressant drug. So, after beginning the withdrawal process, be open to having to adjust or extend the original timeline. Rest assured, this is NOT a sign of failure, it’s slowing the process down to ENSURE YOUR SUCCESS! 😉
- Begin counselling or psychotherapy sessions. When we stop taking antidepressants we tend to see a ‘resurfacing’ of painful emotions from our past. So, if we can get ‘in front of’ these old traumas, emotions, conflicts or painful memories, in other words, we start working with them as we’re withdrawing from the antidepressants, we can lessen their disruptive effect on our lives and proactively empower ourselves to live a richer, more fulfilling depression-free life.
- You are always in charge! Never be bullied into staying on or stopping your antidepressants! Go at a pace that works for you and your body. If the withdrawal symptoms you’re experiencing are too severe, then slow the process down. Remember, only you know what you are experiencing. So, trust yourself, listen to your body and stay in charge of your own health and well-being.
- Focus on your bright future. Imagine your life after this withdrawal process is complete. You’ve accomplished a challenging process and you’re on the other side of it, how great does that feel? How proud and free do you feel? Allow this wonderful vision of your future to help pull you through any difficult times you may face.
- You CAN do this! You can breakthrough the other side of this antidepressant withdrawal process. Yes, of course there’s going to be some challenges along the way, that’s absolutely guaranteed but with the right support, determination and action plan, you CAN succeed! 😉
I hope you found this helpful, if so, let me know in the comments below what your biggest takeaway from this article was.
Of course, this article is for informational purposes only. It’s strongly advised you seek the help of an experienced clinician BEFORE withdrawing from any antidepressant medication.
Take care, talk to you soon! 😉