How Long Does Withdrawal From Lexapro Last?

Symptoms, Timeline, and Treatment

In This Article

Lexapro (escitalopram) is a prescription medication used to treat depression and anxiety. It belongs to a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

The medication takes some time to build up in the body, which is why it can take a few weeks before people begin noticing a reduction in symptoms of depression or anxiety. If you suddenly stop taking Lexapro, however, you may experience symptoms of withdrawal.

SSRIs have long been associated with withdrawal symptoms. While doctors still refer to these symptoms as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, many people believe the name minimizes the seriousness of the problem. 

Overview

Antidepressants are among the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States. Of the more than 40 million people who take them in a given month, about one quarter have been taking them for more than 10 years. Often, long-term use is linked to fear of relapse of their symptoms or withdrawal.

People experience symptoms of Lexapro withdrawal because of the way SSRI's work in the brain. SSRIs affect the levels of serotonin, a type of mood-regulating neurotransmitter in the brain. When you abruptly stop taking your medication, it doesn't give the brain enough time to adjust to the sudden change.

Whether you are stopping Lexapro because it is not working for you or you are better and you've decided with your doctor that it makes sense to come off your medication, the quitting process can be difficult.

More than half (56%) of people who quit antidepressants experience withdrawal symptoms. 

Signs & Symptoms

There are several different SSRI medications available that affect the brain in unique ways. If you are one of the people who experience withdrawal symptoms, you can expect those symptoms to range from mild to severe. On a range of lowest to highest chance of severe withdrawal symptoms, Lexapro sits around the middle.

Recent research has found that the severity of SSRI withdrawal is much worse than previously believed. On average, about 46% of people experiencing SSRI withdrawal symptoms describe them as severe.  Severe symptoms indicate that withdrawal can potentially interfere with your ability to meet responsibilities at home and at work. 

There is a checklist for measuring the severity of antidepressant withdrawal that you may find helpful. It is known as the Discontinuation-Emergent Signs and Symptoms Scale (DESS).

Most Common Symptoms

The most common symptoms of Lexapro withdrawal—occurring in more than one in four people—are as follows:

  • Dizziness
  • Muscle tension 
  • Chills
  • Confusion
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble remembering things
  • Crying

The most common symptoms of Lexapro withdrawal are dizziness, muscle tension, and chills, which each affect about 44% of users. Many people also experience confusion and difficulty concentrating. Other symptoms include cognitive issues and bouts of crying.

Complete Symptoms

The following is a more complete list of symptoms associated with SSRI withdrawal:

  • Changes in motor control: Temors, muscle tension, restless legs, unsteady gait, or difficulty controlling speech and chewing movements
  • Digestive issues: Nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, or appetite loss
  • Flu-like symptoms: Headache, muscle pain, weakness, and tiredness.
  • Instability: Dizziness, lightheadedness, difficulty walking
  • Mood changes: Anxiety, agitation, panic, suicidal ideation, depression, irritability, anger, mania, or mood swings
  • Sleep problems: Nightmares, unusual dreams, excessive/vivid dreams, or insomnia
  • Unusual sensations: Brain zaps (like an electrical shock or shiver in your brain), pins and needles, ringing in the ears, strange tastes, or hypersensitivity to sound

Lexapro withdrawal can take a real toll on your life, both physically and emotionally. SSRIs like Lexapro work by increasing serotonin levels in your brain. When you stop taking them, it takes your brain a while to get used to the drug’s absence. Unfortunately, the amount of time this takes can vary widely.

Lexapro withdrawal symptoms typically arrive one to three days after your last dose. It can start sooner (within hours) or later (more than a week). Symptoms generally resolve within a few weeks, although they can potentially continue longer.

Coping & Relief

The best way to find relief from Lexapro withdrawal is to avoid it altogether. Quitting cold turkey may increase the likelihood of severe withdrawal. Instead, set up an appointment with your prescribing doctor to discuss your reasons for quitting and your quitting plan.

If you are still experiecning symptoms of depression, your doctor may want to transition you to another medication or combination of medications.

Taper Off Medication Slowly

The most effective way to minimize symptoms of withdrawal is to slowly taper off your medication. Tapering involves adjusting your dose by a small amount, gradually decreasing until your body gets used to lower levels of the medication. Talk to your doctor who can then create a dose schedule and carefully monitor the process to avoid severe symptoms.

In the past, doctors have recommended a quick medication taper down to the minimum therapeutic dose. A taper involves taking progressively smaller doses over the course of days or weeks.

Recent research published in a prestigious medical journal outlines new recommendations for treating and preventing SSRI withdrawal symptoms. According to these researchers, the best way to stop an SSRI is with a very slow, very long medication taper. They recommend a taper lasting upwards of one month that continues well past the minimum therapeutic dose until the dose is zero.

Practice Good Self-Care

Taking good care of your health as you stop taking Lexapro can also help you to better manage any withdrawal symptoms that you experience. Some steps you can take that might help you cope with withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Eat a healthy and nutritious diet
  • Follow your doctor's taping recommendations
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Get regular exercise
  • Get support from family, friends, or support groups

Warnings

When you stop or reduce your dose of Lexapro, there is a risk that you may begin to feel suicidal. Large-scale research studies have found a clear association between the discontinuation of antidepressants and suicide attempts.

It is important to keep this in mind during your withdrawal experience. If you begin noticing unusually strong symptoms of depression it imperative that you seek help immediately. 

If you or someone you love shows any of the following signs or symptoms after stopping Lexapro, get help:

  • Becoming preoccupied with death, dying, or violence
  • Engaging in risky or self-destructive activities, such as driving drunk
  • Feeling hopeless or trapped
  • Gathering the means to commit suicide, such as bullets or pills
  • Getting affairs in order or giving away belongings
  • Having intense mood swings
  • Planning how you would commit suicide if you were going to do it
  • Saying goodbye to people as if it were the last time 
  • Talking or thinking about suicide more than normal, for example, “I wish I were dead”

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Long-Term Treatment

About 50% of people who recover from one episode of depression will have more depressive episodes in their lifetime.

If Lexapro didn’t help or you had to stop taking it because of unwanted side effects, then you will need to develop a long-term plan to treat your depression or anxiety. This may include trying different antidepressants or combinations of antidepressants.

Talk therapy is also an evidence-based treatment for depression and anxiety. Not every therapist is going to be a good match for you, so take the time to find a therapist who you will enjoy working with. You may need to try out a few people before you find the right fit.  

Resources

If your doctor isn’t helping, consider finding a new psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist in your area. If you have health insurance, you can also search the company’s list of local providers who accept your insurance.

In addition to your doctor and mental health professionals, there are also a number of online resources that can help support you during Lexapro withdrawal. Support groups can be a helpful source of information and peer support during your recovery.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a searchable directory of qualified providers. You can also call them at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

A Word From Verywell

Lexapro has helped millions of people like you and me get our lives back. But what happens next? Most people don’t want to be on antidepressants for the rest of their lives, but they are afraid of what will happen when they finally quit—relapse, withdrawal, etc.

Your concerns are not unfounded, getting off antidepressants can be challenging, but with proper planning, it is possible to have a seamless transition. Talk to your doctor about a slow and lengthy taper. You’ll be down to 0mg before you know it.

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Article Sources
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