Depression: Coping With Medication Withdrawal

Anti-depressants and anxiety medications aren’t for everyone, but those who have been prescribed them often define them as “life-saving” drugs. Sometimes though, it can take some trial and error to find the medication you get on with best. The difficulty here is that some side effects or medication withdrawal symptoms may crop up. Not always, but sometimes.

If you’re about to change your medication or stop taking medication altogether, it’s best to know how your body may react to the chemical change, and more importantly what you can do to ease the effects of medication withdrawal. Best case scenario; you don’t even need to read this blog post because nothing happens (yay!). Worst case scenario; you have some withdrawal effects, but you’re prepared for them and know they’re only temporary.

depression-coping-with-medication-withdrawal

What to expect from medication withdrawal

Many symptoms echo that of depression or anxiety themselves, so it’s worth monitoring how you’re feeling and how long that goes on for (more on that below). Common withdrawal effects include:

Panic attacks
Poor coordination
Highly emotional
Dizziness or inability to focus
Upset tummy
Insomnia and/or nightmares
Fever
Odd twitches and “shocks”
Loss of appetite
Nausea.

Ok, these don’t sound nice. Withdrawal isn’t a pleasant thing. But if you suffer from any of the above, remember that they’re not going to last forever. It WILL be alright in the end. We have a list of tips and tricks to see you though the worst.

Don’t change medication without guidance from your doctor

It’s easy to think “I won’t bother the doctor with this” and start changing your or stopping medication yourself. But please don’t change anything without guidance from your doctor, even if it’s just a small reduction of your usual medicine. Anti-depressants are helpful but strong, so is really important you consult a professional on the tiniest of changes.

At your doctor’s appointment, ask how best to taper your medication. Normally, your doctor can map out a simple plan for you to gradually reduce your dosage instead of stopping outright. If you’re starting a different medication, it’s likely that will be slowly introduced while you taper off your current medication. This can make medication withdrawal effects much less severe, and is worth doing.

Prepare for panic attacks

You may feel panicky during withdrawal – either in spurts or as a constant undercurrent.

If you’re already familiar with panic attacks, keep to hand anything that usually helps you through. If panic attacks are new to you, keep a clean paper bag by your bed to breathe into should you have an attack. Practice deep breathing and count items in the room until your heartbeat slows. You got this.

Cry it out

This usually comes hand-in-hand with panic attacks. Some medication withdrawal can make you feel extra weepy. Our advice is just to go for it – cry all you need to. There’s no shame in it, and to be honest a good weep can leave you feeling quite cleansed. Don’t be afraid.

Free up some time

Particularly if you’re stopping a medication entirely, try to free up a week or two to ride this out. Even a couple of days will make a difference. Give yourself some time to adjust.

Of course not everyone can simply take time off work willy-nilly, but you could time your taper to start just before the weekend, or at least ensure you’ve cleared your diary. If withdrawal hits, we prescribe as much bed rest as you can handle.

Oh also, get a little food shop in ahead of starting your taper. If you’re dizzy, leaving the house might not be your most favourite thing to do until it subsides.

Remedy fever, nausea and diarrhoea

If you start feeling a bit icky, you can always turn to basic over-the-counter remedies to treat some symptoms. For example:

  • Travel sickness tablets for dizziness
  • Paracetamol for fever and/or headache
  • Dioralyte for upset tummies (though if you really hate drinking the sachets, plenty of water is a must).

Hang on in there!

Remember that you might be able to change or stop medication with no withdrawal whatsoever – there’s nothing to worry about. If you do endure some medication withdrawal, it will only last a tiny amount of time. The more you know and the more you can prepare before you start just in case, the easier those symptoms will be to manage. You’ve been so brave battling mental illness so far – we know you can do this, and we’re here for you if you’re struggling.

Next steps

Consult your doctor about how long any withdrawal might last for, but usually the timescale is 2 days – 3 weeks. Everyone is different. If any withdrawal effects continue longer than that, make another appointment with your doctor and let them know what’s going on.

  • Karen

    I was on 300mg of venlafaxine and have been off them since May. I just about coped with the initial withdrawal. The nausea and tunnel effect were quite bad.
    However every so often I feel really bad. Tearful, angry, and depressed. I read somewhere that the drug leaves your body in stages that can take months. Is that correct?
    I’m not against medication. I’ve taken it for most of the last 22years. But venlafaxine wasn’t right for me.
    I had planned to manage my depression in other ways, but last week was so bad that my family are starting to ask if I should go back on medication. I don’t want it to be a knee-jerk reaction if this is just withdrawal and will pass.
    Thanks!

  • fenellastrange

    As I’m struggling to cope with coming off venlafaxine after 20 years, this article is SO helpful. After a very slow process of reduction, I’m now on my 8th day without taking it at all. I don’t have all the reactions, but tick quite a few and am really hoping it will level off soon. No sign of that yet, but my beloved GP is on holiday so I’m not tempted to go for help – for another week or so at least. But I am puzzled by the statement above that the symptoms of withdrawal can be managed – short of sitting it out, I’m not sure what managing there is to do.

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  • Siân

    This article really helped to prepare me for what to expect through my medication withdrawn, helping me through a difficult time. Another brilliant and helpful article from Blurt. Thank you.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      You’re so welcome Sian, we’re really pleased to hear you felt a little more prepared for the side effects. Wishing you a speedy journey through withdrawal!

  • Sharron Black

    I was on 225mg of venlafaxine per day, for about 10 years, i weaned myself off them ,very slowly, and managed to get off them. I was all prepared for the myriad of side effects that people have documented with this drug, and was fully aware, that it is listed as one of the worse ones to come off. I was lucky enough not to have any of those, due to the very slow way I came off them.
    However what I was not prepared for, was the fact that emotions, that had been…stifled? smothered? dulled? over-ridden by drugs? , for want of a better description…synthetic hormones……for so long, came flooding back, but being as I hadnt had to deal with REAL emotions for so long, they were completely and utterly ALL over the place and so very extreme……
    I literally cried heart rending sobs at silly things like the andrex advert, or a sad eyed child on the save the kids advert, or if i thought one of my pets was unhappy, or i couldnt get the top off the sauce bottle…..

    and i laughed….laughed hysterically at very inappropriate moments, and couldnt stop…the worst one was during sex….i started to laugh and then couldnt stop, no matter how hard i tired…i laughed solidly for about half an hour…over nothing…..much to the annoyance of my hubby!

    and the weirdest one…and here, this might be TMI, but my clitoris started working again….im sure people know just how damn hard antidepressants make it to be able to orgasm, and you can stimulate yourself for ages, and still feel nothing more than a brief flicker of anything approaching an orgasm……well coming off the tabs was an absolute revelation and my clit went into complete over drive and was very sensitive to even the merest stimulation..

    saldy, after a year off the meds, i was back at square one, with the anti depressants having irreversably affected by serotonin levels, so badly I needed to be put back on my full 225mg of the drug after a year of being off them, as i was that bad, and the GP, said that I would now be on them for life, even if i had nothing to be depressed about, which i didnt….which is very sad, but id rather be in a tolerable sea of synthetic emotions, that feel so desolately miserable and alone. on a permanent basis that i was.

    the gp helped me to deal with this by saying that people take meds for diabetes, and for blood pressure, and for all sorts of medical conditions, and none of them are embarassed or would think of not taking the drugs, that help them live a normal life, so why should i be any different…nothing to be asjamed of…just me taking drugs to enable me to live as normal a life as possible xxx

    • The Blurt Foundation

      You have been through a really tumultuous and incredible journey there Sharron – we think you’re really brave! And it’s so clear that you tried what you thought was right and set yourself on the right path when the results weren’t what you’d hoped. Of course there’s nothing to be ashamed of about returning for anti-depressants. It’s clear that you’ve made the right choice. Good luck 🙂

      • Sharron Black

        Thank you so much. That means a lot xxxx

        • The Blurt Foundation

          Any time <3

  • Katie Boyce

    Going through this at the moment – whilst it’s not easy, keeping in mind that it’s only temporary – it’s not you – is making it much easier. Oh. And ice cream – super helpful!

    • The Blurt Foundation

      Ice cream is always helpful!

      We really hope you get to the end of the cycle soon Katie. well done for getting through it so expertly 🙂