Improperly discontinuing antidepressants can lead to unpredictable risks. Patients can experience withdrawal syndrome, make the condition worse, or even increase the risk of suicide. Therefore, it is necessary to have a suitable discontinuation plan according to the instructions of the doctor.
When can antidepressants be stopped?
Antidepressants are a range of drugs used to treat depression and other mental health conditions. This is a group of drugs that are very commonly prescribed today.
Commonly used antidepressants include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Atypical antidepressants
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
Antidepressants have the ability to change the neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood and emotions. When you are dealing with the pain and anguish of depression, taking these medications is a simple and convenient method.
When to stop taking antidepressants is a matter of concern for many patients. It is not easy to say in advance when the drug can be stopped. Because in fact, it is necessary to base on many different factors to determine this problem.
Often, patients tend to want to stop taking the drug when they see that their symptoms of depression have improved. However, stopping use too soon can cause symptoms to return with greater severity.
Experts recommend that antidepressants need to be taken continuously for 6-9 months before considering stopping. If you have experienced more than 3 depressive episodes, you may need to maintain the dose for a minimum of 2 years.
Sometimes, people also feel like stopping the drug because of unpleasant side effects. Remember, though, finding the right treatment can take trial, error, and some tweaking. Never stop taking an antidepressant without talking to your doctor.
Common signs of stopping antidepressants
Stopping an antidepressant can cause you to experience some unusual symptoms. Symptoms often depend on the specific medication you are taking.
Discontinuation symptoms tend to occur within 3 days of stopping antidepressant use. Some people will likely experience moderate to severe symptoms that last more than a few weeks.
Some common signs of stopping an antidepressant include:
- Mood change
- Dizziness and balance problems
- Flu-like symptoms
- Electric shock sensation
- Nausea, vomiting
- Difficulty sleeping
- Having nightmares
- Loss of coordination
- Muscle spasms
Although rare, in some cases, stopping an antidepressant can cause mania. Some antidepressants can also lead to confusion and psychotic symptoms when they are discontinued.
Side effects of abrupt discontinuation of antidepressants
As mentioned, stopping an antidepressant can cause a person to experience withdrawal symptoms. Meanwhile, if you stop taking the drug suddenly, there are many more serious risks.
When prescribing antidepressants, doctors always remind patients not to stop taking them suddenly. Because this situation can give rise to a series of worrying problems.
Some of the harms of stopping an antidepressant suddenly include:
1. Withdrawal syndrome
Usually, stopping antidepressant use always carries the risk of experiencing withdrawal syndrome. In particular, if the patient stops taking the drug suddenly, it will further increase this risk.
In fact, some antidepressants are more likely to cause withdrawal symptoms than others. Especially those that affect both serotonin and norepinephrine. Examples include venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).
In addition, withdrawal syndrome has also been reported to be more common in people who suddenly stop taking older antidepressants. Includes both tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
2. The disease recurs with severity
Many people stop taking antidepressants suddenly when they notice that their symptoms have gradually improved. However, this will cause the symptoms to quickly return and get worse.
Usually, only a few months after stopping the antidepressant abruptly, the disease has returned. At this time, symptoms such as fatigue, headache, depression, sadness and insomnia will activate more heavily than initially.
These problems will seriously hinder the treatment process. The disease is not only difficult to control, but can also progress chronically and potentially have many dangerous complications.
3. Have to start treatment again
Abruptly stopping an antidepressant affects the initial treatment plan your doctor prescribes. Often, to effectively treat depression, it can take many months, even years.
If the patient voluntarily stops taking the drug without the permission of the doctor, it will interrupt the improvement of the disease. It even makes the symptoms worse. In many cases, patients need to start treatment from scratch with a new prescription and it takes a lot of time.
4. Increased risk of suicide
Statistics show that depression has become a common cause of suicides worldwide. Stopping antidepressants suddenly can cause depression treatment to fail. Thereby increasing the risk of suicide, the patient will be more motivated to seek suicidal behavior.
Tips for stopping antidepressants safely
As discussed, stopping an antidepressant suddenly can cause a lot of dangerous problems. For example, affecting health, disrupting the treatment process and even threatening the patient’s life.
Therefore, never arbitrarily stop using the drug without consulting your doctor. If you are thinking about stopping antidepressant treatment, talk with your doctor to discuss the benefits and risks of stopping treatment.
Here are some tips to help you safely stop taking antidepressants:
1. Gradual dose reduction and drug switching
In many cases, the best way to stop taking most antidepressants is to gradually reduce the dose under your doctor’s guidance. This will help your brain adapt to the chemical changes. It also prevents withdrawal symptoms from occurring.
Sometimes, your doctor may prescribe medication to help relieve symptoms such as headaches, nausea, or insomnia. Alternatively, they may recommend switching from a short-acting antidepressant to a longer-acting antidepressant. This will help ease the transition to depression medication.
Discontinuation symptoms tend to disappear within a few weeks. However, if you have extremely severe withdrawal symptoms, your doctor may recommend other medications for relief.
2. Don’t rush
As mentioned, the process of discontinuing antidepressants should be gradual. Sometimes it takes a patient months or even years to completely stop taking the drug.
Do not try to quickly reduce your dose beyond your doctor’s approval. Impatience can make symptoms worse and pose other risks.
Most antidepressants are recommended to be reduced in 10% increments. Each dose reduction can be spaced from 2 to 6 weeks or longer depending on the drug and health situation.
If you are having trouble stopping the medication, you should talk to your doctor. Your doctor may ask you to spend more time with your current dose before trying to reduce it further.
3. Choose the right time to stop the drug
Choosing the right time is also very important if you are looking to stop taking antidepressants. Because stopping antidepressant use can be difficult. Therefore, you should do what is beneficial with this process.
According to expert advice, patients should start to stop taking antidepressants when not under much stress. If you’re going through any major life changes or stressful situations, wait for this moment to pass. It is not until you feel more stable that you should start working on your cessation plan.
4. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
As mentioned, after stopping the antidepressant, the symptoms still carry a high risk of recurrence. To help reduce this risk, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Issues to pay attention to include:
- Build a healthy and balanced diet. It is advisable to get enough nutrients for the body from fresh and clean food groups. Try to add more Omega-3s and B vitamins to your diet.
- Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol or using stimulants while you are depressed or in the process of stopping smoking. If you don’t pay attention to this problem, you may fail to stop taking the drug completely.
- Make time for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Exercise is a precious natural medicine for both mood, emotional and physical health.
- Balance work and rest time. Pay attention to go to bed before 11 pm and sleep for 7-8 hours at night. If you have sleep problems, you can find relaxation solutions to help.
- Manage stress well with relaxation techniques. Such as meditation, yoga, aromatherapy, journaling, etc.
Discontinuation of antidepressants should be done according to your doctor’s plan. This is a process that takes a lot of time, patients should persevere in following the instructions and absolutely should not be in a hurry. Slowly reducing the dose and adopting a healthy lifestyle will make the discontinuation process more effective.