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Why Is It Dangerous to Suddenly Stop Using Antidepressants?

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Many people who have used antidepressants for a while begin to feel better and think they no longer need the medication.  Others who use the medications think it’s not working and may be tempted to increase the dosage.  In either case, it is dangerous to change the dosage or suddenly stop using the drug.

If you’re using antidepressants and want to stop, familiarize yourself with the following information first.  Of course, the safest approach to stopping antidepressants is to consult with your doctor.  He will help you create a gradual weaning process to ensure your safety.

What Are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are a class of drugs that are prescribed to treat the symptoms of depression.  They work by correcting the imbalance in brain chemicals that cause anxiety disorders or depression. 

If you suddenly stop taking the medication, your symptoms can return along with some uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Most Commonly Abused Antidepressants

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAS)

TCAs are the earliest antidepressants developed.  In recent years, they have been replaced by antidepressants that cause fewer side effects.  TCA drugs include but are not limited to:

  • AntidepressantsAmitriptyline (Elavil)
  • Amoxapine
  • Desipramine (Norpramin)
  • Doxepin
  • Imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
  • Protriptyline
  • Trimipramine

These drugs may also be prescribed for conditions such as OCD, neuropathic pain, and anxiety disorders.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.  The most commonly prescribed SSRIs include:

  • Citalopram (Celexa)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)

You may be familiar with many of these drugs due to their widespread use and advertising.

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs regulate mood and relieve depression by creating changes in brain chemistry.  FDA approved SNRIs include:

  • Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
  • Levomilnacipran (Fetzima
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor XR)

Which antidepressant is best for you is based on your symptoms and other health conditions that may be present.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

MAOIs are also some of the first antidepressants developed.  These drugs work by changing the way neurotransmitters and brain cells communicate.  These drugs are not recommended for individuals with high blood pressure.  FDA approved MAOIs include:

  • Isocarboxazid (Marplan)
  • Phenelzine (Nardil)
  • Selegiline (Emsam)
  • Tranylcypromine (Parnate)

Because of the many side effects of MAOIs, they are often only prescribed if other antidepressants don’t work.

Other types of antidepressants include Duloxetine (Cymbalta), Venlafaxine (Effexor), Phenelzine (Nardil), and Bupropion (Wellbutrin), among others.

Other Conditions That Are Treated by Antidepressants

Antidepressants are prescribed to treat other conditions besides depression.  Doctors may prescribe them for several conditions such as:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Manic-Depressive Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Peripheral Neuropathic pain
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder

Some of the off-label uses may include prescribing antidepressants for Tourette Syndrome, binge eating disorder, fibromyalgia, and premenstrual symptoms among others.

In an interview for CNN,  Dr. Ronald Dworkin expressed his concern about the over-prescribing of antidepressants by some physicians.  He explained it this way:

“Doctors are now medicating unhappiness.  Too many people take drugs when they really need to be making changes in their lives.” 

With more than 20 million antidepressants prescribed in 2020, some may have been unnecessary.

Side Effects of Antidepressants

Like many other prescription drugs, antidepressants produce various side effects.  Some of the side effects are temporary, while others can be long-term or severe.

Possible side effects of antidepressants may include, but are not limited to:

  • AntidepressantsHeadache
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Weight gain
  • Sore throat
  • Confusion
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Lack of emotion
  • Hallucination
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures

In recent years, the FDA has changed the labeling on antidepressants to warn consumers of the increased suicide risk among teens and young adults who use the medications.

How to Recognize SSRI and SNRI Abuse

Oftentimes, it is difficult to distinguish between antidepressant abuse and depression, as many people try to conceal their problems.  It is also hard to tell the difference between depression relapses or co-occurring substance use problems.  

Signs of antidepressant abuse include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Neglecting professional or personal obligations
  • Ignoring the risk of mixing antidepressants with other drugs
  • Inability to cut down or quit 
  • Changes in mood
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Financial difficulties
  • Slurred speech
  • Increased drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal thoughts

Additionally, alcohol and other drugs tend to exacerbate depression symptoms.  This may lead a person to think the medication isn’t working.  It may be that they opt for other solutions that may be hazardous.

Antidepressants don’t work for everyone, so talk to your doctor if you feel that the medication is not relieving your symptoms.

Is It True That Stopping the Drug Can Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?

When the body becomes accustomed to an antidepressant, abrupt discontinuance can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.  Also known as antidepressant withdrawal syndrome, the effects can last for several weeks.  

Some antidepressants cause withdrawal symptoms more than others. Typically, the symptoms appear within a day or two after discontinuing the drug.  Withdrawal symptoms do not mean you are addicted to the drug.  

Antidepressants don’t produce intense cravings and people can’t get “high” by using these drugs.  Nevertheless, some people use them to enhance the effects of other substances.  Regardless of the way a person uses antidepressants, suddenly stopping can cause a few uncomfortable side effects such as:

  • Insomnia
  • Vivid dreams
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Achy muscles
  • Rebound depression

To avoid these withdrawal symptoms, contact your doctor about a gradual weaning process that will allow your body to adjust more easily.

Signs of Overdose

One of the most common drug poisoning causes seen in ERs is tricyclic antidepressant overdose.  Taking these medications incorrectly can lead to toxicity and overdose.  Some of the warning signs of antidepressant overdose include:

  • Fainting
  • Confusion
  • Shakiness
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • High blood pressure
  • Poor coordination
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Convulsions

Sadly, many people believe the drugs are harmless simply because their doctor prescribed them.  This mindset may make them less attentive to following dosing instructions and more likely to overdose.

Treatment for Antidepressant Abuse at Design for Change

Antidepressants may not cause cravings, addictive behaviors, or negative outcomes, but a person can still become physically dependent on the drugs. This can make it difficult to control or stop using the substance on your own.

At Design for Change, our specialists are well-trained and experienced in handling all types of addictions.  We offer a unique approach to treatment that will address each of your specific needs for lasting results.  You can speak with a representative from our experienced team by contacting our Lancaster, CA facility today.


Why Is It Dangerous to Suddenly Stop Using Antidepressants?