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Withdrawal from Antidepressants

When looking to remove yourself from antidepressants like Paxil, Lexapro, or Prozac, you should never quit “cold turkey.” To safely remove yourself from antidepressants, it is important to slowly wean yourself off of them by using smaller and smaller doses. Summer Beretsky wrote a piece for the World of Psychology blog on PsychCentral.com that suggests six ways to successfully prepare for withdrawal from antidepressants.

She notes that everyone experiences withdrawal differently, but that she tried to remove herself from Paxil two times and ended up dealing with headaches, lethargy, depression, dizziness, nausea, and more. When she tried a third time by splitting or shaving pills for 7 months, she succeeded, and has now been off the drug for two years. Below are her tips for preparing for withdrawal.

It is critical that you work with your doctor to discuss withdrawal from antidepressants. You should schedule regular visits to your doctor to ensure your safety during this process.  If you experience any unusual side effects or begin having suicidal thoughts, contact your doctor immediately.

1.) Get a social support network (both online and off). Summer says it’s important to find a trusted friend with whom you feel comfortable confiding in. “It might seem awkward at first to even admit that you’re on an antidepressant (let alone attempting to withdraw from one), but you’ll find that having some real-life support is a lifesaver later on down the road,” she writes. She also suggests joining an online support group like Paxil Progress. “It’s a great place to ask for advice from others who are joining you on your journey to zero milligrams,” she says.

2.) Read about what to expect. You’ll feel more prepared if you know the effects that antidepressant withdrawal can have on your body and mind. Search the Internet for lists of potential withdrawal effects and how to handle them. You may want to try searching for “antidepressant withdrawal” and “SSRI discontinuation syndrome.”

3.) List the reasons you want to withdraw. Summer suggests making a list of the reasons why you want to withdraw from your antidepressant. “The way, if you find yourself struggling with a particularly troublesome withdrawal effect and you’re thinking about giving up, you’ll have an archived reminder of why you should stay on course.” Summer explains that she wanted to get off Paxil to regain her lost emotions. She couldn’t feel joy, anger, sorrow, or excitement while on the drug and wanted those feelings back. “This craving helped me to resist the common urge to return to my original Paxil dosage in order to quiet the withdrawal symptoms.”

4.) Choose a starting date (and stick with it). Summer decided to begin her third and final taper from Paxil right before she went to graduate school. “I figured that there’s always going to be a perceived roadblock in the way, and if I were to wait until I was working full-time, I might not have a schedule flexible enough to accommodate the ups and downs of withdrawal.” She made sure to avoid cutting the dosage during particularly stressful times and found that it was completely possible to work the withdrawal process around your school or work schedule.

5.) Keep a journal (and consider making it public). A journal is a great way to keep track of your progress and notice any patterns that might become evident during the withdrawal process. Summer notes, “When I successfully withdrew from Paxil on the third attempt, I dropped my dosage in small increments and stayed on those dosages for several weeks until I ‘evened out’ again. Thanks to the journal, I was able to predict when many of my withdrawal effects would kick in: headache at the 3-day mark, zaps at 4 days, an emotional wreck at 5. (Happily, I was also able to predict the upswing that followed the negative effects.)” If you decide to make your journal public via a blog, you may be able to help others who are going through the same thing.

6.) Find another way to treat the original problem. There are plenty of alternative treatments to depression and anxiety that don’t involve prescription medication. Talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, yoga, and meditation are just a few. Research other types of therapies that you might be interested in and get started with one before you make your first dosage cut.

There is still hope.

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