Antidepressant Withdrawal and How Drug Detox Can Help You Get Past It

Antidepressant Withdrawal and How Drug Detox Can Help You Get Past It

Quitting antidepressants as soon as you feel better is never a good idea – not unless you opt for drug detox. While these medications help ease depression and related mental disorders, suddenly stopping treatment may cause antidepressant withdrawal.

It produces symptoms that are very similar to drug withdrawal, hence the name. The experience itself is nasty. But what makes it worse is the possibility that you might relapse into depression.

This is where detox comes in handy.

Detoxification minimizes your withdrawal symptoms and risk for rebound depression. Besides ensuring your safety and comfort throughout the process, this treatment can help you…

  • Quit antidepressants so you no longer have to depend on them
  • Easily transition to more well-rounded approaches in improving your mental health

Am I At Risk of Antidepressant Withdrawal?

Antidepressants are prescribed as a primary treatment for clinical depression in adults. However, it is also used to treat various conditions including:

  • Anxiety and panic disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Severe phobias (i.e. agoraphobia)
  • Eating disorders (i.e. bulimia)
  • Chronic nerve pain (i.e. sciatica)

If you’ve been taking antidepressants to treat any of the above, you may be at risk of antidepressant withdrawal.

What is Antidepressant Withdrawal?

Otherwise known as discontinuation syndrome, it is a type of drug withdrawal that occurs when you suddenly quit antidepressants after long-term use. When you take them for weeks, months, or years, your body gets used to their effects – that when you stop, it throws off your brain into a state of chemical imbalance.

What Are the Symptoms of Antidepressant Withdrawal?

Quitting antidepressants produces symptoms that are similar to substance abuse withdrawal. Its effects include:

  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • “Brain zaps” or electric shock-like sensations in the head
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor muscle coordination
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Mood swings
  • Vivid dreams
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms will vary across individuals and can range from acute to severe. How bad these symptoms are will depend on two main factors: (1) the type of antidepressant being used and (2) how long you’ve been taking it.

Types of Antidepressants and How They Affect Withdrawal 

Certain antidepressants cause stronger withdrawal symptoms than others. For instance, new generation antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are usually accompanied by milder symptoms than older generations such as:

  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

Antidepressants with shorter half-lives also tend to produce more unpleasant symptoms than those with longer half-lives. For reference, here is a list of the most commonly used antidepressants and their estimated half-lives:

  • Venlafaxine (Effexor) – 6 hours
  • Sertraline (Zoloft) – 24 hours
  • Paroxetine (Paxil) – 29 hours
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro) – 30 hours
  • Citalopram (Celexa) – 36 hours
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac) – 5 days

When an antidepressant has a short half-life, it leaves your body faster. As soon as you stop treatment, there will be little to no medication left to regulate your brain chemicals. This imbalance will quickly lead to drug withdrawal. You can also expect its symptoms to be unforgiving given the sudden change in your brain chemistry.

An antidepressant with a long half-life will linger. Withdrawal won’t be as horrible. But as your body takes time to metabolize any leftover medication, your symptoms will also last longer.

In spite of these, it doesn’t mean that SSRI antidepressants are safer or that you’re better off taking antidepressants with longer half-lives. Paroxetine is an SSRI with a long half-life. And yet somehow, studies show that it produces serious and prolonged withdrawal symptoms much like venlafaxine, an SNRI type drug with a very short half-life.

Long-term Antidepressant Use and Withdrawal

Doctors do agree on one thing. The longer you take antidepressants, the worse the withdrawal. A person who has been taking them for two years will likely experience more intense symptoms than someone who’s still 6 months into their treatment.

Antidepressant Withdrawal: Onset and Duration of Symptoms

Drug withdrawal is different for everyone. Some people will show signs within a few days of quitting antidepressants, while others may take weeks before they start experiencing withdrawal. There will be people whose symptoms will disappear in weeks and others who will continue to have them for months.

Below is the average timeline of antidepressant withdrawal:

  • Days 1 to 3: Mild symptoms will begin to appear, even if you just tapered off your dose and haven’t really quit.
  • Days 4 to 5: Withdrawal symptoms will become more intense. If you’ve been taking a higher dose of antidepressants for a long time, you will experience worse symptoms during this period.
  • Weeks 1 to 3: Symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal will continue to persist but gradually fade as each week goes by. Most people who quit antidepressants will no longer experience withdrawal symptoms after three weeks.
  • Weeks 4 onwards: Withdrawal symptoms may persist beyond four weeks. Some people report having them for several months.

Antidepressant Withdrawal and Depression

Suddenly stopping your antidepressants may result in one of two types of depression.

  • Rebound depression is when your depression “bounces back” after a period of improvement and recovery. It is a symptom of antidepressant withdrawal that goes away with other symptoms after a month.
  • Relapse is when the depression you’ve been attempting to manage recurs with the discontinuation of treatment. It lasts more than one month and gets worse if left untreated.

A depressive relapse, along with intense and long drawn out withdrawal symptoms, is the reason why people continue taking antidepressants. However, it doesn’t mean you should do it for the rest of your life.

Why You Should Quit Antidepressants Anyway

Throughout most of this article, we’ve talked about the dangers of quitting antidepressants. But you should do it anyway for the following reasons.

Reason #1: Antidepressants don’t really treat your depression

These medications are only meant to keep your symptoms under control. The purpose of antidepressant treatment is so you can live day-by-day with minimal disruptions in your ability to function.

Reason #2: There are better ways to treat depression

Otherwise, doctors wouldn’t prescribe additional therapies alongside antidepressants. People who receive these medications are supposed to get off of them as soon as they show significant progress in mental health.

Reason #3: Because drug detox makes it possible

Drug detox is a process where your antidepressants will be slowly tapered off. Its goal is to reduce withdrawal symptoms as well as your chances of relapsing into depression. 

During treatment, you will also be given medications that relieve withdrawal symptoms. This makes the entire process of quitting antidepressants much more comfortable.

Antidepressant Detox in Long Beach, CA

We at Roots Through Recovery believe that everyone deserves a more well-rounded approach to their mental health. That’s why we offer trauma-based therapies for treating depression.

But first, let us help you get rid of your dependence on antidepressants. Sign up for our drug detox program today and call (562) 473-0827, and we’ll gladly help you on your way!

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction in Long Beach, don’t hesitate to seek help. Visit Roots Through Recovery addiction treatment center in South Bay located at 3939 Atlantic Ave, Suite 102 Long Beach, CA 90807 or call (866) 766-8776.

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