For those who are unaware, depression is a chronic and pervasive mental health problem in America. And there are plenty of studies that support this unfortunate and equally unsettling fact. One such study, which was published by the National Institute of Mental Health, revealed that over 17 million adults in America reported having at least one major depressive episode in 2017. While we are on the topic, depression appears to be more common among women than men. The same study found that 8.7 percent of women admitted to struggling with this particular mental health disorder compared to 5.3 percent of men. Also noteworthy, major depressive episodes are especially common among men and women between the ages of 18 and 25. Many of these same individuals will often turn to antidepressants to combat feelings of sadness and hopelessness only to find themselves psychologically dependent on them.

What You May Not Know About Antidepressants but Probably Should

Just as there are many people in America struggling with depression, there are many prescription-based antidepressant medications that are routinely prescribed by physicians to help them. According to the National Library of Medicine, the most commonly prescribed antidepressants include Celexa, Prozac, Zoloft, and Lexapro. Along with depression, antidepressant medications can also benefit individuals struggling with anxiety, which happens to be yet another chronic and pervasive mental health problem in America. To substantiate this claim, we need only take a look at a study published by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. The study found that anxiety even outranks depression in terms of the most prominent mental health disorder in America, with 18.1 percent of adults reportedly affected by social anxiety, generalized anxiety (GAD), and the like. And not unlike depression, some individuals who take antidepressants to help with feelings of anxiety eventually develop a psychological dependence on them.

What You Should Know About Antidepressant Withdrawal Symptoms

Cognizant of their dependence on antidepressant medications, such as Celexa, Prozac, Zoloft, and Lexapro, for example, some individuals will suddenly stop taking them, believing that they have too much of a hold on their life. Meanwhile, others may suddenly stop taking them once feelings of depression or anxiety start to subside. Of course, some will also stop taking these medications if they don’t see immediate improvements in their overall mental state, according to a 2008 study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

In all cases, however, abruptly quitting antidepressants is ill-advised as doing so can trigger a wave of unpleasant symptoms, according to most physicians. This same sentiment is shared by many mental health experts as well. Now, before detailing the symptoms associated with the sudden cessation of these medications, let’s take a moment to go over how they work.

In short, antidepressant medications help balance chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters, which play a critical role in terms of emotions and overall mood. This is important since, for many people, anxiety or depression is a byproduct of a chemical imbalance. After taking antidepressant medications, most people report the following benefits:

  • Improvements in overall mood
  • Improved concentration
  • Better sleep
  • An increase in appetite

What Happens When You Suddenly Stop Taking Antidepressants?

Ideally, individuals who are prepared to stop taking antidepressants should titrate down based on the recommendations of a licensed physician. Multiple studies show that abrupt cessation of most antidepressants can trigger a chemical imbalance in the brain that is often worse than the one that contributed to feelings of anxiety or depression in the first place. According to many physicians, addiction experts, and mental health professionals, individuals who suddenly quit antidepressants, especially after taking them for six weeks or longer, are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms than those who wean themselves off of them gradually. That said, some of the antidepressant withdrawal symptoms that some might encounter when they suddenly stop taking Celexa, Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, and the like include the following:

  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Extreme nausea
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Vivid dreams

While there are many other antidepressant withdrawal symptoms that individuals might face, those listed in this article are among the ones reported by physicians and psychiatrists the most. 

What Is the Difference Between Benzodiazepine and Antidepressant Withdrawal Symptoms?

Although both are frequently prescribed by physicians and psychiatrists to help patients overcome anxiety or depression, benzodiazepines are not the same as antidepressants. According to helpguide.org, a website that covers topics related to mental, emotional, and social help for those struggling with depression or anxiety, benzodiazepines present a much higher risk for psychological dependence than antidepressants. And they are also very physically addictive. Even though abrupt benzodiazepine cessation causes many of the same symptoms associated with abruptly quitting antidepressants, those symptoms are often more severe and can even be life-threatening.

How to Safely Stop Taking Antidepressants and What to Expect While Doing So

Having made clear that abrupt antidepressant cessation can trigger numerous withdrawal symptoms and should be avoided, let’s turn our attention to how individuals can go about quitting them safely. According to a study published by Harvard Health Publishing, individuals coming off any antidepressant medication should lower their dose in small increments, which is typically a reduction of 10mg every 2 to 6 weeks. Of course, this down-titration and ultimate discontinuance of antidepressants as a way to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on how long an individual has been taking them and several other factors. As such, those ready to end their relationship with these medications should seek the advice of a licensed physician. Nonetheless, here is what can be expected while coming off of prescription-based antidepressants:

Days 1 to 3 – Even when taking a smaller dose of these medications, most individuals will still experience, albeit milder, withdrawal symptoms detailed in this article.

Days 4 to 5 – Though most would think it would be the other way around, days 4 to 5 are marked by even more intense withdrawal symptoms as individuals work to break free from antidepressants. During this time, most people complain of tremors, dizziness, nausea, and fever, according to several studies.

Weeks 1 thru 3 – During this stage, the withdrawal symptoms associated with coming off of antidepressants start to subside considerably.

Week 4 – While certainly not the case for everyone, at week 4, most individuals can stop taking antidepressants completely without experiencing any withdrawal symptoms whatsoever.

Should Individuals Who Are Ready to Stop Taking Antidepressants Seek Help From a Rehab Facility?

Generally speaking, individuals who gradually wean themselves off of antidepressants, as recommended by a physician, won’t need to go to rehab. However, it is worth noting that the counselor at these facilities can help individuals identify the root cause of their depression and also show them how to cope with negative emotions without having to resort to taking antidepressants. Rehab can also benefit individuals who, in addition to their struggles with antidepressants, also have a problem with alcohol or other substances.

Bottom Line

In summary, antidepressants are effective in helping individuals who are moderately or even chronically depressed; however, as noted throughout this article, regardless of the reason for doing so, there is a right and wrong way to go about coming off of these types of prescription medications.

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