While antidepressants aren’t categorized as addictive substances, you should still be cautious about stopping or switching medication. Here are some points to remember when discussing a change with your healthcare provider.
Why Most People Take Antidepressants
The majority of individuals prescribed antidepressants have some form of clinical depression, often the result of a combination of biological, environmental, genetic, and psychological factors. This diagnosis is based on certain symptoms and other warning signs that present for at least two weeks, which may differ between men, women, and teens.
Types of depression include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder
- Persistent depressive disorder
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Medical professionals might also prescribe antidepressants to help treat individuals with anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, PTSD, and other illnesses. If you’re one of these people, it might be necessary to have a collective assessment between healthcare providers about your condition to see what alternative treatments are available before suddenly stopping antidepressants.
Reasons for Getting Off Antidepressants
According to WebMD, antidepressants work primarily by “balancing chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters that affect mood and emotions. These depression medicines can help improve your mood, help you sleep better, and increase your appetite and concentration.”
Depending on your scope of care, general condition, and treatment plan, there are many reasons for switching or stopping antidepressants:
- WebMD notes that approximately 60 percent of individuals diagnosed with clinical depression have improvement with the first medication prescribed, especially if there’s a co-occurring condition such as substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD). Others might have to work with their providers to try different options before they notice an abatement of symptoms and feel better. This requires a gradual reduction of the first medication before taking another.
- Your therapist or physician might have prescribed medication to help with postpartum depression. While the “baby blues” are common and usually last for about two weeks after giving birth, the medical community now recognizes postpartum depression as a more serious clinical depressive condition that women—and even some men—experience after having a baby. Once diagnosed, a treatment plan often includes a combination of talk therapy and medication for up to one year.
- SAD is also a diagnosis that may be alleviated with a temporary, low-dose antidepressant treatment along with more holistic methods, such as light box therapy, D3 supplements, and nature activities. Once the seasons change, individuals can follow their provider’s recommendations for stopping medication.
- Some people, such as military personnel who experience PTSD, trauma or intense grief, might require antidepressant therapy in various forms to process their experiences. Willingway is an authorized PsychArmor facility to ensure more progressive treatment options to this population. Antidepressants might be just one aspect of whole-person health that needs adjusting after a period of time.
When taking antidepressants, it’s not just about the medication: it’s important to have a better understanding of the underlying causes of your condition and recognize the layers of wellness. So withdrawing from antidepressants might initially feel uncomfortable, but approaching the process in the right way alleviates a lot of discomfort.
Antidepressant Withdrawal Symptoms
Harvard Health clarifies changes in the brain that occur with antidepressant treatment. “Antidepressants work by altering the levels of neurotransmitters—chemical messengers that attach to receptors on neurons (nerve cells) throughout the body and influence their activity.”
Because of this, if someone doesn’t follow a plan for gradual transition from one antidepressant to another or stops suddenly, Harvard indicates the shift will prompt withdrawal symptoms that are “mild to distressing if the level changes too much, too fast.” These symptoms include:
- “Electric shock” or tingling sensations
- Flu-like symptoms, such as achy muscles and chills
- Unusual or vivid dreams
Your healthcare provider will likely adjust your medication dosage gradually over a few weeks to help lessen the impact of symptoms. Without this approach, you might experience a more intense reaction for a month or longer. Antidepressants aren’t addictive, but your brain still needs an appropriate amount of time for neurotransmitter rebalancing.
Speak Up About Your Condition for the Best Treatment
If you feel your current treatment plan for depression, especially if it’s a co-occurring condition to substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder, isn’t helping you progress, you have every right to not only seek a second—or even third—opinion, but also to create a medical team that will unite to provide quality care. First, you have to consider why change is necessary and how it benefits you.
- Are there more times than not when you’re far from your best self?
- Is your condition interfering with your quality of life?
- Do you feel heard and understood by your current care provider?
- Is your provider unwilling to collaborate with others to solve your issues?
- Does it seem as though your treatment plan is off-the-shelf, rather than designed for your specific needs?
No matter how much assistance we get from medical professionals, we’re still responsible for putting in the work to live healthfully.
At Willingway, we strive to be partners in your recovery, providing the most advanced care and resources to establish a firm foundation of wellness. Learn more about our inpatient rehabilitation facility and outpatient programs, and contact us if you have questions.