How Long Does Withdrawal From Effexor Last?

In This Article

Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome is a well-known and accepted syndrome that can occur in people who abruptly discontinue Effexor (venlafaxine), a type of serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) used to treat depression, anxiety, and panic disorder.

Within a matter of hours of missing a dose, some people begin to experience symptoms of withdrawal.

Because of this, healthcare providers often recommend building up from a slow dose and decreasing the dosage when weaning from the drug. Still, symptoms of withdrawal can occur even if the medication is slowly tapered off.

Overview

Some people report that they experienced "brain shivers" or “brain zaps” when they are late taking their medication.

People often describe these sensations as a very brief, repetitive electric shock-like feeling that remains confined to the brain or head, or spreads out to other parts of the body. The sensation can be triggered by moving your eyes and is often accompanied by disorientation, tinnitus ( ringing in the ears), vertigo, and/or lightheadedness.

There is no current evidence that suggests that brain shivers or brain zaps represent any danger. However, these electric shock-like sensations can cause you to become alarmed or worry, and happen frequently enough to disrupt daily life or quality of life.

Signs and Symptoms

When decreasing or stopping an antidepressant, a neurochemical change takes place in the brain. As the brain readjusts to the new environment, symptoms of withdrawing from Effexor (or another antidepressant) may include:

  • Flu-like symptoms (fatigue, muscle pain, nausea)
  • Headache
  • Imbalance
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal sensory disturbances
  • Dizziness

Psychiatric or cognitive symptoms:

  • Nightmares or excessive dreams
  • Problems with concentration
  • Anxiety or worsening of depression
  • Confusion
  • Narcolepsy (short-lived)
  • Cataplexy (loss of muscle tone triggered by strong emotion)
  • Psychosis

Coping and Relief

While symptoms will typically go away n a few weeks, there are ways to make Effexor withdrawal more tolerable during that time. Here are a few steps to consider:

  • Team up with your doctor. He or she is your best ally when it comes to preventing and coping with symptoms of withdrawal. Discuss the benefits and risks of stopping Effexor and work together to figure out how (and when) to slowly stop using the drugs.
  • Ask About OTC medications. Consult your doctor about any over-the-counter medications that can help ease Effexor withdrawal; for example, sleep aids, anti-nausea meds, and pain relievers.
  • Consider psychotherapy. According to investigators at Harvard Medical School, undergoing psychotherapy while discontinuing an antidepressant can decrease your risk of having a relapse.
  • Seek support. Consider asking a close friend or family member for support and let him or know what to expect as you work with your doctor to wean off the drug.
  • Keep up with follow-ups. It’s important to keep in touch with your healthcare provider as you are weaning from the drug as well as after you’ve stopped altogether. Depending on how you feel, you may need to book ongoing monthly check-ins until discontinuation symptoms have eased and there are no signs of relapse.
  • Practice self-care. As you are going through withdrawal, it’s more important than ever to exercise, eat right, get regular sleep, and practice stress management. These acts of self-care can help keep your mood stable as you taper off Effexor. 

Warnings

Although rare, stopping Effexor on your own can result in severe and frightening reactions. If you or someone you love experiences any of the following symptoms, call 911 or seek medical help right away:

If you experience worsening anxiety or depression during withdrawal, and these symptoms last more than a month, it may mean you're having a relapse and need ongoing mental health treatment. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Long-Term Treatment

It might be tempting to just toss out all of your meds. Instead, take your time and work with your doctor to gradually decrease your dose over an extended period of time. How you'll do this will depend on several factors, including:

  • How long you've been taking the drug
  • Your current dose (if you're on a low dose you'll be able to taper off more quickly
  • Past experience with withdrawal symptoms
  • Overall health

Sometimes, even if you are slow and deliberate when weaning off an antidepressant, you still may experience symptoms of discontinuation syndrome. In this case, your doctor may prescribe Prozac (fluoxetine) or recommend taking Benadryl (diphenhydramine), which have both been found to help ease discontinuation symptoms. 

Resources

In addition to teaming up with your doctor and asking a trusted family member or friend to help you through this period, you may find it helpful to reach out to others who are also going through Effexor withdrawal. The National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) both offer online discussion groups where you can connect with others who may share similar experiences.

You may also be able to find groups on Facebook, in which members can offer each other tips and support. If these groups are private, you can typically join by sending a quick request.

A Word From Verywell

While these symptoms are rarely life-threatening, they can be uncomfortable and interfere with your daily life. The key to preventing withdrawal from Effexor (and preventing these uncomfortable sensations from occurring) is to take your medication as prescribed and undergo any dose changes under the close guidance of your doctor.

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