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antidepressant abuse facts

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People who take antidepressants are almost always instructed to never stop taking their medication abruptly without first talking to their doctor. Quitting antidepressants suddenly can throw off chemical balance in the brain, leading to withdrawal symptoms or “discontinuation syndrome.” While people don’t get psychologically addicted to these medications, antidepressant withdrawal symptoms can be serious and difficult to deal with alone. Fortunately, antidepressant detox by means of tapering can prevent serious symptoms and make quitting antidepressants far easier.

Can You Get Addicted to Antidepressants?

Antidepressant medications are prescribed to people struggling with depression symptoms. There are hundreds of different antidepressants out there, so not all act the same way. These drugs work to correct a chemical imbalance in the brain to help reduce symptoms of depression. 

While antidepressants aren’t necessarily addictive, it takes the brain time to adjust when someone stops using them. This is why many medical professionals steer away from using the term “withdrawal symptoms” and opt for using the term “discontinuation syndrome” instead. However, other medical professionals believe that calling this discontinuation syndrome is dangerous because it undermines the severity of quitting antidepressant medications.

Put simply, antidepressants don’t produce a high or euphoria, and they are taken as prescribed, so they aren’t addictive. At the same time, just because people don’t get addicted to antidepressants doesn’t mean their bodies don’t need time to adjust when getting off of their medication. Rather than stopping antidepressants alone, people should always speak with their doctor about the best way to detox.

symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal

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Antidepressants produce similar withdrawal symptoms as benzodiazepines, just less intense. The longer a person takes their medication and the higher dose they take, the worse their symptoms will be. 

Common symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal are:

  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Realistic dreams
  • Confusion
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Ataxia
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or actions

One well-known antidepressant withdrawal symptom is referred to as “brain zaps.” Brain zaps are unique to quitting antidepressants and they refer to a phenomenon that feels like an electric shock sensation shooting through the brain. 

Getting off antidepressants is a serious matter that should not be taken lightly. It is never advised to stop taking antidepressants without first speaking with a doctor and developing a detox plan.

antidepressant withdrawal timeline

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When symptoms begin and how long they last vary from person to person and from one pill to the next. Some antidepressants like Prozac or Zoloft have long half-lives that can produce symptoms for weeks. Other antidepressants like Effexor have a shorter half-life, so withdrawal symptoms will be over within a week or two. 

Within the first 1-3 days, most people will begin seeing the first signs of withdrawal. Some symptoms may even appear when tapering off an antidepressant. After 4-5 days, symptoms will become more intense and peak. People may experience brain zaps, trembling, nausea, fever, and more. People who took antidepressants for a longer amount of time or at higher doses will experience more intense and long-lasting symptoms.

Antidepressant withdrawal symptoms can last for 2-3 weeks. However, after the first week, peak symptoms will begin to fade. After 4 weeks, most people will have completely overcome their withdrawals.

symptoms of antidepressant detox

Abuse facts  |  Withdrawal symptoms  |  Withdrawal timeline  |  Back to top

Medical detox centers are able to help manage and reduce antidepressant withdrawal symptoms. Usually, antidepressant detox involves slowly tapering off of the medication so the individual can safely stop taking their medication. Tapering is the process of gradually decreasing a person’s dose until they stop taking the medication completely. 

Since antidepressant detox involves a carefully developed tapering schedule, most people will experience little to no symptoms at all. As a result, antidepressant detox usually happens on an outpatient basis, as there is no need for inpatient care. 

Furthermore, since there is no exact recipe regarding how to taper someone off antidepressants, this will look different for everyone. Some people may taper down as quickly as a month while others will taper slowly over the course of 3-6 months. Throughout the entire process, the prescribing doctor should monitor and track the patient’s symptoms and adjust their dose accordingly.

Find an Antidepressant Detox Center Near You

If you’re thinking about quitting antidepressants, you should always talk to your doctor first. If your antidepressants aren’t working, they can try another medication. If you no longer feel as though you need them, you can work with your doctor to set up a tapering schedule to quit safely. 

Whether you need help giving up antidepressants, drugs, or alcohol, reach out to one of our dedicated treatment providers today to locate a detox program near you.