Antidepressants can be effective for treating a number of conditions, but the choice to start and stop one is very individual. And while antidepressants can help you feel better, they can also have mental and physical side effects.
If you’re thinking of getting off your antidepressant, there could be benefits to you. To ensure these benefits outweigh the drawbacks, it’s important to talk with a healthcare provider before stopping your antidepressant use.
Most medications have some side effects. Antidepressants are no different, particularly when taken in the long term.
- sexual dysfunction
- problems sleeping
- weight gain
These side effects were reported with long-term use of antidepressants and could worsen with age.
Some other antidepressant types include:
- serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs)
- noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressant (NaSSA)
- tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
- monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitors (SARIs)
Antidepressants can cause sexual side effects that range from lessened sexual desire to difficulty achieving orgasm.
An estimated 25 to 80 percent of people who take antidepressants will experience some change in their sexual function within the first 2 to 6 weeks after starting an antidepressant. It’s also important to note that up to
Symptoms will usually go away by week 12 of antidepressant use for about 30 percent of those who experience sexual side effects. However, they don’t go away for everyone.
In most instances, stopping antidepressants will return a person’s sexual function back to pre-antidepressant levels.
Many people who take antidepressants report gaining weight.
However, those who take the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin) may also experience weight loss.
There’s less information on what happens regarding your weight and stopping antidepressants.
Because some medical professionals theorize that antidepressants increase hunger and food cravings by adjusting neurotransmitters, it’s possible that stopping antidepressants could make you feel less hungry.
If you decrease your daily calorie intake as a result, you could potentially lose weight by stopping your antidepressants.
On the other hand, if you experience loss of appetite with depression, and your depression comes back after stopping antidepressants, you may also lose weight.
Other potential beneficial effects
Other potential side effects that may lessen if you stop taking antidepressants include:
- daytime drowsiness
- vivid or unpleasant dreams
Again, this will depend on what medicines you’re currently taking.
Long-term antidepressant use can also have drawbacks on a person’s mental health.
Some medications can affect your ability to feel emotions (for example, make you feel numb). It may also affect a person’s autonomy by making them feel dependent on medical help.
Someone may also be at greater risk for experiencing withdrawal or discontinuation symptoms the longer they take the medication. This can vary based on the medication(s) being taken.
If you suddenly stop taking antidepressants, you may experience discontinuation symptoms, which is similar to withdrawal symptoms, but refers to stopping the use of medication rather than addictive agents.
You may notice a rapid onset with some medications, such as paroxetine (Paxil), while other medications may take a few days for symptoms to arise. This can be true too if you skip doses, or refrain from taking full doses.
Many doctors use the
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|I||Imbalance or dizziness|
|N||Nausea or abdominal symptoms|
|I||Insomnia or sleeping problems|
|S||Sensory disturbances or feelings of “electric shocks” in the head|
|H||Hyperarousal or anxiety, confusion, or irritability|
Most healthcare providers will recommend gradually tapering antidepressant doses over the course of several weeks. However, some medications may require longer periods of tapering, such as paroxetine and venlafaxine.
Medications with a longer half-life such as fluoxetine may not require an extended tapering schedule.
The symptoms from weaning off antidepressants are, for the most part, mild and will go away over time.
In a sample of more than 250 people who stopped taking antidepressants, 20 percent reported stopping to be “very easy,” while a little more than 50 percent said it was “fairly easy.”
You shouldn’t stop taking antidepressants without first talking with your doctor. Your doctor knows important factors like:
- your mental health history
- how long you’ve been taking antidepressants
- what medication(s) you’re taking
- what dosage you’re taking
That’s why it’s important to consult with your doctor, so you can work on a tapering plan together or determine if going off antidepressants is the right move at this time.
Because there are risks for rebound effects — where your depression symptoms worsen when you stop taking the medicine — it’s also important for your doctor to discuss these with you. You can create a plan of action for what to do if this happens.
If you and your doctor determine that now isn’t the best time to go off antidepressants, there are some steps you can take to minimize your medication’s side effects.
This includes seeking wellness whenever possible, like:
- Eating several small meals a day. This helps to ward off hunger by keeping blood sugar levels even.
- Exercising at least 30 minutes a day for most days. Walking, riding a bicycle, swimming, gardening, or completing an exercise video can burn calories, relieve stress, and enhance your sleep.
- Making efforts to drink plenty of water a day (until your urine is pale yellow). Staying hydrated can increase your overall feelings of well-being as well as prevent you from mistaking hunger for thirst.
- Incorporating activities that help to relieve stress. Examples include meditation, yoga, tai chi, journaling, putting together a puzzle, or even coloring. These activities can help enhance overall feelings of wellness.
- Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every night can help reduce sleep deprivation. This helps you achieve deeper sleep while also avoiding evening snacking.
You may wish to consult your doctor or a dietitian for individual tips on maintaining your health while taking antidepressants.
If you need a first or second opinion on whether staying on antidepressants is right for you, consider the following resources:
- American Psychiatric Association: They offer a “Find a Psychiatrist” function on their site that helps you find a mental health professional in your area.
- Telehealth appointments: If there isn’t a doctor in your area, consider a telehealth visit through one of the many sites that offers psychiatric appointments. Examples include LiveHealthOnline, MDLive, and Teladoc. These confidential services connect you virtually to a mental health professional, and many accept insurance.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): NAMI is a nonprofit organization that can help you find a mental health professional. In addition to visiting their website, you can also call 800-950-NAMI.
When you first start discussing reducing your antidepressant dose with your doctor, you’ll also want to ask them what you can expect. Knowing possible side effects of getting off your antidepressant can help you be prepared.
Ask them about the types of symptoms that may occur that would require calling a doctor or seeking medical help.
If at any time you’re not sure if a symptom is “normal” or safe, you should contact a healthcare provider. They can advise you if you should start taking your medicine again and in what dosage, or discuss an alternative plan.
Taking antidepressants can cause side effects that may affect the way a person feels mentally and physically.
If you use antidepressants in combination with other treatments — such as talk therapy and wellness tools — you may want to talk about if or when you can stop taking the antidepressants.
Because there’s a risk for symptoms when stopping an antidepressant, a doctor can recommend how to taper safely. Ideally, this can help you enjoy the benefits of quitting antidepressants without the drawbacks.