How to Ease Antidepressant Withdrawal

Three Parts:Developing a Discontinuation PlanCoping with Withdrawal SymptomsBolstering Success with Handling Depression

Whatever your reasons, coming off from antidepressants can be an unpleasant process. It’s important to receive medical supervision throughout the process and monitor changes you experience. Yet, it’s important to realize that you can get through the difficulty and be okay, and effectively discontinue antidepressant usage.

Part 1
Developing a Discontinuation Plan

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    Consult with your physician beforehand.[1] Before discontinuing antidepressant medication, make sure you discuss this with your prescriber first. It is not advised to take yourself off of medication without medical supervision. Your physician may advise you how to decrease and eliminate usage so that you come off safely.
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    Discuss risks with your physician. Prior to discontinuing medication, talk about the risks with your prescriber. Be knowledgeable about the risks and what the process will be like before starting.[2] Talk with your physician about whether or not there are any medical risks of withdrawing from medication.
    • Reconsider discontinuation if your are in the midst of a stressful situation, such as a breakup, change in careers, or move. Post-pone discontinuation until you are stable and in a good place.
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    Avoid stopping “cold turkey”. While this may be one way to stop using other substances, it is strongly advised against when lowering antidepressant medication. Often, physicians will advise you to taper dosage, which means slowly decreasing the amount over time.[3]
    • Make sure that your process is monitored by your prescriber. Generally, it’s recommended that individuals stay on medication for 6-9 months before considering discontinuation.
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    Recognize physical symptoms of withdrawal. While symptoms can vary depending on individual factors and what medication you take, there are some common withdrawal symptoms to look out for. You may be experiencing withdrawal if you encounter the following symptoms while going off of antidepressants:[4][5]
    • Nausea/vomiting
    • Stomach cramps
    • Diarrhea
    • Appetite loss
    • Difficulty regulating body temperature (excessive sweating, hot flashes)
    • Insomnia, increase in nightmares
    • Difficulties with balance
    • Feeling lightheaded
    • Tremors, restless legs
    • Sensations such as tingling, ringing in your ears, feeling shocks
    • Flu-like symptoms
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    Identify emotional symptoms of withdrawal. Along with physical symptoms of withdrawal, emotional symptoms can also occur. Keep an eye out for the following withdrawal symptoms regarding your emotional health:[6][7]
    • Depression
    • Increased anxiety
    • Agitation
    • Aggression
    • Irritability
    • Confusion
    • Mood swings
    • Hallucinations
    • Mania

Part 2
Coping with Withdrawal Symptoms

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    Write down why you chose to discontinue. Prior to discontinuing medication, write down your reasons to go off antidepressant medication.[8] You may feel like you’ve emotionally flat-lined, miss having a normal libido, want to treat depression without medication, or use natural remedies instead of medications. Whatever your reasons are, write them down and refer to the list whenever your withdrawal symptoms are difficult.
    • Think of this list as your motivation to keep going, even when faced with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
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    Keep a journal. Throughout your discontinuation process, it’s advised to keep a record of your symptoms and how they progress, decrease, or change. Share this journal with your physician and/or therapist to monitor withdrawal symptoms.[9]
    • You can also use this journal to help you predict any symptoms as you continue to decrease your dosage, like if you typically get a headache three days after lowering your dose.
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    Note discontinuation symptom duration. Typically, symptoms of discontinuation go away within a matter of a few weeks.[10] However, if your symptoms last longer or are very severe, contact your prescriber and discuss treatment options. You may need to adjust the dosage or slow down your tapering schedule.
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    Ask your physician about treating withdrawal symptoms. Some people experience withdrawal symptoms more severely than others. If your symptoms feel unbearable, ask your physician about recommendations to treat these symptoms. Some prescribers will recommend medications to help with insomnia or nausea to help with discontinuation symptoms.
    • You can find natural remedies and over-the-counter medicines. For difficulties with sleep, try melatonin.[11] For nausea, try adding some ginger to your foods or to tea.[12]
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    Realize that you are not addicted. While you may experience symptoms of withdrawal, this does not indicate an addiction to your antidepressant medication. An addiction occurs when you crave certain substances and need an increasing amount of the substance to attain a certain feeling or response.[13] Your body is adjusting to the different levels of medication in your body.
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    Breathe deeply. If you’re feeling discomfort, focus on your breathing. If you feel intense emotions or intense physical sensations, deep breathing can help work through this intensity.[14] Deep breathing can help ease tension in your body and in your mind.[15]
    • When intensity feels overwhelming, stop what you are doing and put all of your attention on your breath. You may choose to close your eyes. Lengthen each breath, both the inhales and the exhales. Notice any changes in how you relate to your discomfort, if you momentarily forgot about it, or how you feel afterward.
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    Practice mindful exercise. If you feel uncomfortable or in pain, practice engaging in mindfulness. If part of your body is in pain, focus on a part of your body that is not experiencing pain. Relax into the sensation of not being in pain or in discomfort, and focus on this one area of your body over the area that is uncomfortable.[16]
    • Try closing your eyes and imagining going to a favorite place. This can be a beach, a mountain top, or a sporting field. Imagine being in this place and focus your attention on creating this imagery and not on your discomfort.
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    Manage overall stress. Manage everyday stress without letting it build up over time. Set aside time each day to engage in a relaxing environment. You may want to go for a walk, meditate, read, or listen to music. Make time for this activity every day as a way to manage daily stress. This is your opportunity to take a break from your responsibilities and focus on self-care.[17]

Part 3
Bolstering Success with Handling Depression

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    Attend psychotherapy. Less than 20% of antidepressant users engage in therapy. Therapy can be beneficial for discontinuing antidepressants as a way to prevent recurrence. Further, those who receive therapy are less likely to relapse than those who do not.[18]
    • Therapy is an effective way to address recovery and prevent depression. Therapy can help you identify triggers for your depression as well as help you discover ways to cope with your feelings and stress that contribute to depression.[19]
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    Seek social support. The withdrawal process can be difficult, and it’s okay to talk about the discomfort you are experiencing. Confide in a friend, family member, or romantic partner about your struggles. It can be comforting to have someone close that knows what you’re going through to support you.[20]
    • Join an online community of other people also going through discontinuation. It can be helpful to commune with other people who are going through similar experiences.
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    Exercise. Regular exercise can treat depression as effectively as medication.[21] Additionally, people who exercise three or more times per week are less likely to relapse after depression recovery than those who do not. Exercise allows serotonin to be more readily available to find to receptor cells, so it can compensate for changing levels as you taper your medication dosage.[22]
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    Eat a balanced diet. Some foods can help boost your mood, while others can lower it. Support your body throughout the transition process by eating nutritious foods.[23] Eating small, balanced meals throughout each day can help you manage things like mood swings.[24]
    • Moderate your sugar intake, and avoid consuming alcohol or caffeine.
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    Follow up with your physician once you complete discontinuation. Check in with your physician once you complete the tapering process. You may discuss any lingering withdrawal symptoms or concerns you have about easing off of medication. You can also discuss depressive symptoms, if they have returned, and how you are dealing with them.[25]

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Categories: Emotional Health