Mental Health

What Happens if I Stop Taking My Antidepressants?

Dvora Kluwgant, MD
Dvora Kluwgant, MD16 Mar 2022

Once someone who is on antidepressants begins feeling better, it can be difficult to understand what will happen once they stop taking these medications. Stopping antidepressants can cause side effects such as dizziness, anxiety, nausea, and shock-like sensations, and may even lead to a relapsed depression.

Stopping antidepressants is a decision each person should make with the help of their doctor and should never be made based on financial reasons. If you’re worried about the cost of antidepressants without insurance, Mira offers coupon codes to help you find medication at discounts of up to 80 percent and can also help you locate pharmacies near you with the lowest prices, all for only $45 per month.

Antidepressant Cessation

According to the Centers for Disease control, 13.2 percent of American adults report having taken antidepressants in the past 30 days. The number of people taking antidepressants for a long-term period has increased in recent years. This is because studies have shown that taking antidepressants for over 2 years can lead to a sustained recovery from depression. 

However, many people will eventually want to stop taking their antidepressants, either due to feeling that they no longer require them or because of the side effects. Stopping antidepressants can lead to a wide range of side effects, which are worse in people who have been taking antidepressants for more than four to six weeks. These effects are more pronounced in people who had been taking SSRI antidepressants than other types.

How Antidepressants Work

In people with depression, there are very low levels of certain neurotransmitters (chemicals that send signals to the brain). These neurotransmitters, which include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, are what help people experience happiness, so with low levels of serotonin, many people will feel sad and depressed. Most antidepressants work by increasing the levels of neurotransmitters so that people can begin to feel better. 

Many people take antidepressants for depression, but they can also be helpful for people suffering from anxiety and other mental health concerns. There are a variety of medications that fall under the category of antidepressants.

These include: 

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Selective Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Atypical antidepressants

Types of Antidepressants and How They Work

Consider the table below to understand the different types of antidepressants that are available, the common brand and generic names, as well as how they work in the body.

How Antidepressants Work by Type

Type of AntidepressantExample (and generic name)How They Work
SSRIs
  • Celexa  (Citalopram)
  • Lexapro (Escitalopram)
  • Prozac (Fluoxetine)
  • Paxil (Paroxetine)
  • Zoloft (Sertraline)
Prevents the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain.
SNRIs
  • Pristiq (Desvenlafaxine)
  • Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
  • Effexor (Venlafaxine)
Prevents the reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.
TCAs
  • Elavil (Amitriptyline)
  • Vicavtil (Protriptyline)
  • Norpramin (Desipramine)
  • Tofranil (Imipramine)
Block the reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Also block other receptors in the brain.
MAOIs
  • Nardil (Phenelzine)
  • Emsam (Selegeline)
Block the activity of an enzyme called monoamine oxidase, which breaks down serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. 
Atypicals
  • Wellbutrin (Bupropion)
  • Remeron (Mirtazapine)
  • Brintellix (Vortioxetine)
Vary based on medication

(Source:  RxList)

 The most commonly used antidepressants are SSRIs since they usually have the least side effects. Some people will take a combination of medications to boost the effect of their antidepressants. For most people, it will take a few weeks after starting antidepressants to begin to feel some improvement, and it will also take a few weeks for the initial side effects (such as nausea, dry mouth and headache) to improve. 

Symptoms After Stopping Antidepressants

It can sometimes be hard to tell whether the symptoms someone experiences after stopping antidepressants are due to the lack of medication or a relapse in their depression. A relapse in depression can be extremely dangerous and may even lead to self-harm or suicidal behavior. It’s important to keep your doctor informed when stopping antidepressants so that they can help keep you healthy and safe while you stop taking your medication. 

In some cases, your doctor might even prescribe a short-term antidepressant for you to take while your body adjusts. If you are stopping your current antidepressant so that you can begin a different antidepressant, you may need to continue taking the original medication at a lower dose while you switch over.

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Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome (ADS)

The symptoms caused by stopping antidepressants can last a few weeks and are usually worse in people who stop all at once, so it is important to taper your antidepressants under the supervision of a medical professional. Some of the symptoms people experience when stopping antidepressants include dizziness, flu-like symptoms, and abnormal sensations. Other common complaints are digestive issues, sleep changes, balance issues, and mood swings.

These symptoms have been called Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome (ADS) by some experts. It is unclear what percentage of people develop ADS, but it may occur in up to 86 percent of people who are stopping their antidepressant use. Regardless of whether these symptoms are due to ADS or other causes, 50 percent of people will struggle in some way when they stop taking antidepressants.

Antidepressants May Stop Working Over Time

For many people suffering from depression, taking antidepressants can lead to a sustained recovery and help them feel long-term relief. However, in certain cases, antidepressants may stop working overtime. Doctors are not sure why this happens, but it may be due to a variety of factors, including:

  • Worsening depression
  • Other medical or mental health conditions
  • New medications
  • Age

Often, adjustments to the type and dosage of the antidepressant can help when someone feels that their medication is no longer helping. Adding another antidepressant or attending psychotherapy can also help with this issue.

Good Candidates for Stopping Antidepressants

Currently, there is debate within the medical field about who should stop taking antidepressants. While further studies will be necessary to determine exactly which patients should stop taking their antidepressants, many experts recommend that only patients who have had a sustained period of relief from depression should attempt to stop their medication. This period may be up to 6 months. 

Some experts also believe that the severity of the patient’s depression and whether they are fully recovered should impact whether people can safely stop taking antidepressants. Only patients who have discussed stopping their antidepressants with their doctor should do so. 

When to Stop Taking Antidepressants

It’s a good idea to plan when you will try stopping antidepressants. For example, stopping at a time when you anticipate high levels of stress will be more difficult, and may lead to a higher chance that you will need to go back onto antidepressants. It will also take time to fully stop taking antidepressants, so plan to lower the dose slowly, and take two to six weeks between each dose reduction

Antidepressant Withdrawal Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Deciding if and when to stop taking antidepressants can be difficult and confusing, especially given how much conflicting information is available. To help you understand this topic better, check out the following commonly asked questions about stopping antidepressants.

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How can I manage the symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal?

Sticking to a dose reduction schedule is a good first step to prevent the symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal. If you are taking an SSRI, another option is to consider switching to Prozac, and then tapering off from that medication, since Prozac has been shown to cause fewer withdrawal symptoms than other antidepressants. Be sure to consult your doctor to determine the best protocol for you.

Exercise is also a great tool to combat withdrawal symptoms since it causes the release of endorphins, which can make you feel good. All of the other symptoms can be treated on an “as-needed” basis (for example treat a headache with ibuprofen or another over-the-counter pain medication).

Does having antidepressant withdrawal symptoms mean I was addicted to my antidepressants?

While withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant, they do not mean that you were addicted to your antidepressants. Addiction signals a chemical need for a substance and usually causes long-lasting changes and harmful effects to a person’s body, which also goes alongside intense cravings and an inability to control your use of the substance. This is not what has happened in the case of antidepressant withdrawal. 

Who can I talk to about stopping antidepressants?

There are a few people who can help you decide whether or not to stop taking antidepressants. Initially, it might be helpful to speak to trusted friends or family, or even a therapist. Once you feel more sure of your decision, the next person to approach is the doctor who prescribed the antidepressant. They can help you come up with a plan to safely stop taking your medication, or help you find solutions to the side effects which are causing you to want to stop your medication. 

Does coming off of antidepressants mean that my depression is cured? Antidepressants don’t cure depression - they just take away some of the symptoms and provide the person taking them with some relief. Once someone begins feeling better and has spent some time developing healthy coping mechanisms while on antidepressants, they may feel comfortable coming off them. However, people who have experienced depression should keep an eye out for symptoms of returning depression, which is quite common.

What should I do if I feel depressed after stopping antidepressants?

It can be hard to tell whether your symptoms are caused by a relapse of depression or by antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. One easily distinguishable factor is that ADS often has physical symptoms (nausea, dizziness, flu-like symptoms) that are not associated with depression. Keeping a mood calendar (with a mood score from 1 to 10) each day can also help you track your moods while coming off antidepressants. If you do think that your depression has returned, reach out to your doctor right away so that they can help you decide what to do next. 

Bottom Line 

Antidepressants can be an extremely helpful tool for people battling depression, but eventually, many individuals will want to stop taking them either due to side effects or because they are no longer needed. It’s important to make the decision to stop antidepressants with the help of a healthcare professional and to come off of the medication slowly so that any withdrawal side effects or depression relapses can be avoided.

If you’re considering stopping your antidepressants due to financial constraints, Mira can help. With Mira, you can access discounts on thousands of medications, including antidepressants, as well as other helpful services such as telebehavioral health, urgent care, lab tests, and much more, all for only $45 per month.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, addiction, thoughts of self-harm or suicide, or any other topics discussed in this article, help is available via the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)).