Tips for Antidepressant Withdrawal Relief

How to Overcome Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome

tips for antidepressant discontinuation syndrome

Verywell / Hugo Lin

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

For someone dealing with major depression, an antidepressant can be a lifesaver. But if you're feeling better and ready to try life without it, talking with your healthcare provider first is important. If you stop taking these drugs suddenly, it can cause withdrawal symptoms, sending you in search of antidepressant withdrawal relief.

These symptoms are known as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome and, while not life-threatening, they can be quite uncomfortable. Your provider can help you stop antidepressants in a way that reduces withdrawal. We also discuss antidepressant withdrawal relief options, such as taking an antihistamine like Benadryl for Effexor withdrawal.

Causes of Antidepressant Withdrawal

By some estimates, antidepressant discontinuation syndrome occurs in about 20% of people who have regularly taken an antidepressant for at least a month and suddenly stop taking it or who drastically reduce their dose. Some types of antidepressants seem to be more likely to cause antidepressant withdrawal than others, but you can develop it from any type.

Although discontinuing an antidepressant does involve a type of withdrawal, this doesn't mean that you're addicted to the antidepressant.

When you're addicted to a substance like drugs or alcohol, it causes changes in your brain that lead to cravings, the need for an increased amount of the substance, and a strong desire to use the substance even though it often causes negative outcomes. Antidepressants don't cause these long-term brain changes nor do they lead to cravings or addiction.

Symptoms of Antidepressant Withdrawal

Symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome tend to be mild. They usually start within two to four days, and last just a week or two. Symptoms include:

  • Flu-like symptoms: such as fatigue, sweating, achiness, headache, and feeling sluggish
  • Insomnia: which may be accompanied by nightmares or vivid dreams
  • Nausea: feeling sick and potentially vomiting
  • Balance issues: such as dizziness, feeling lightheaded, or vertigo (a spinning or tilting sensation)
  • Sensory disturbances: like tingling, burning, or feeling like you're getting shocked
  • Emotional issues: like agitation, irritability, and anxiety

Antidepressant Withdrawal vs. Relapse

For some people, discontinuation symptoms can make it feel as though their depression or anxiety is coming back, and indeed, stopping your antidepressant may increase your risk of relapse. Because of this, it's important to distinguish between discontinuation syndrome and relapse.

The biggest difference between the two is that discontinuation symptoms typically begin within a few days after stopping your antidepressant whereas a relapse normally takes longer to occur and the symptoms develop more gradually.

Discontinuation Syndrome
  • Symptoms begin within a few days

  • Dizziness, nausea, headache, or body aches are common

  • Symptoms resolve after 1 to 3 weeks

Depression/Anxiety Relapse
  • Symptoms gradually develop over time

  • Typically no acute onset of physical symptoms

  • Symptoms continue to get worse over time

Another difference is that discontinuation syndrome often involves physical symptoms that aren't associated with depression or anxiety, such as dizziness, nausea, or flu-like symptoms.

With discontinuation syndrome, the symptoms eventually go away, usually within one to three weeks. But if you're having a relapse of your depression or anxiety, the symptoms don't go away and may even get worse.

Additionally, if you start an antidepressant again, discontinuation symptoms will resolve quickly, but depression or anxiety will take longer to respond.

Tips for Antidepressant Withdrawal Relief

Here are some tips to help you avoid discontinuation syndrome and get relief if it does happen to you. 

Stick to Your Schedule

Chinese woman checking her watch at breakfast table

JGI / Jamie Grill / Blend Images / Getty Images

Certain antidepressants, such as Effexor (venlafaxine), leave your system quickly and therefore are more likely to cause withdrawal symptoms. This can happen even when you're simply a little late taking your regular dose.

If you happen to forget your antidepressant, it's okay to take it as soon as you realize you missed it. The exception is if it's close to your next scheduled dose; in that case, wait until then and get back on track.

Consider a Switch

Prozac capsule in foil packaging, close-up

Steven Taylor / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Let's say you're taking a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) but it isn't working very well for you, or it's causing side effects that you can't live with. Rather than stopping it cold turkey and potentially causing discontinuation syndrome, talk to your doctor about switching to another medication, especially if you haven't been on it for long.

Prozac (fluoxetine), for example, has a very long half-life, meaning that after you stop taking it, it leaves your body more slowly than most other SSRIs. For this reason, you're unlikely to have extreme withdrawal symptoms with Prozac. Keep this in mind when you and your doctor are discussing which antidepressant you should try or if you're considering switching to another one.

You should be able to go directly from your current medication to another SSRI without triggering discontinuation syndrome, meaning that you won't need to wean yourself from the first drug before starting the second.

The same is true if you're switching from an SSRI to a selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), such as Effexor (venlafaxine). In fact, you should be able to easily go straight from Prozac (fluoxetine) to any other antidepressant except for one in the class of monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

These medications have more safety concerns and potentially have more side effects than the newer drugs, so it's unlikely your doctor would put you on one unless trials of other antidepressants have not been adequately effective.

Taper Off Slowly

Mixed race woman holding medication pills

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Blend Images / Getty Images

If you and your doctor have decided it's time for you to stop taking your antidepressant, it's possible to avoid discontinuation syndrome altogether. Even if you're tempted to, the key is to not quit all of a sudden, but instead to taper off your medication.

Tapering means gradually decreasing your dose over an extended period of time. How you'll do this will depend on how long you've been taking the drug, how high your dose is (if you're on a low dose you'll be able to taper off more quickly), and any other factors your doctor may consider.

Consider Prozac

Prozac antidepressant pills on white surface,close-up

Jonathan Nourok / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Sometimes, even if you are slow and deliberate when weaning yourself off an antidepressant, you still may experience symptoms of discontinuation syndrome. One possible way to get relief is to take a dose of Prozac (fluoxetine) along with medications like Zoloft (sertraline) and Lexapro (escitalopram) that you are trying to taper.

Your symptoms will likely go away within a few hours. And because of Prozac's long half-life, it will help smooth out the taper. Ask your doctor about this option if your symptoms are bothersome. If you were on a very high dose of Paxil (paroxetine) or Effexor (venlafaxine), you may need to take repeated doses of Prozac. 

Do Antihistamines Help With Antidepressant Withdrawal?

Short-term use of over-the-counter antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can help ease antidepressant withdrawal symptoms. However, if you take Benadryl for Effexor withdrawal, for instance, it's important to recognize that this drug has a sedating effect.

Schedule a Follow-Up

Smiling female doctor talking to patient in office
Dan Dalton / Getty Images

After you discontinue your antidepressant, you should have a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider so they can evaluate your mental health and make sure any discontinuation symptoms have gone away.

Frequent follow-ups may be necessary at the beginning of your transition to make sure that you haven't relapsed. So make sure you keep your appointments and let your provider know if you think your depression or anxiety is coming back.

Be Active

Close up shot of runner's shoes
playb / Getty Images

If you haven't been exercising regularly, make it a point to start when you discontinue your antidepressant. This may be difficult as your depression can easily sap your motivation but it is possible, and it will make you feel better.

Start small and slowly and set reasonable expectations. For example, consider committing to a 20-minute walk two days a week. Make it social and enlist a walking buddy to help keep you accountable.

If you have been staying active, keep it up. Aim for at least three times a week.

One way exercise boosts your mood is by releasing feel-good endorphins and it gives you an outlet to relieve stress, all of which can help keep your depression at bay as you taper off and eventually stop your antidepressant.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you counteract Effexor withdrawal?

    Tapering your dosage over time can help reduce Effexor withdrawal symptoms, as can taking Prozac—which some refer to as a "rescue" drug for venlafaxine withdrawal.

  • What supplements help with Effexor withdrawal?

    Effexor is a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). Some case studies have found that when combined with tapering, amino acid supplements like L-tryptophan and DL-phenylalanine may help ease SNRI withdrawal symptoms while vitamin D, cod liver oil, and a vitamin B complex can assist in other ways, such as by improving cognition and mood.

  • What are natural remedies for antidepressant withdrawal?

    Reducing stress, getting adequate sleep, and engaging in physical activity can help with antidepressant withdrawal. Some research also suggests that meditation may be beneficial as well, along with making dietary changes such as reducing gluten and dairy while eating more nutrient-rich, high-fat foods.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gabriel M, Sharma V. Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. CMAJ. 2017;189(21):E747. doi:10.1503/cmaj.160991

  2. Bhat V, Kennedy SH. Recognition and management of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2017;42(4):E7-E8. doi:10.1503/jpn.170022

  3. Gabriel M, Sharma V. Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. CMAJ. 2017;189(21):E747. doi:10.1503/cmaj.160991

  4. Wilson E, Lader M. A review of the management of antidepressant discontinuation symptoms. Ther Adv Psychopharmacol. 2015;5(6):357-68. doi:10.1177/2045125315612334

  5. Harvard Health Publishing. Going off antidepressants.

  6. Lin TW, Kuo YM. Exercise benefits brain function: the monoamine connection. Brain Sci. 2013;3(1):39-53. doi:10.3390/brainsci3010039

  7. Henssler J, Heinz A, Brandt L, Bschor T. Antidepressant withdrawal and rebound phenomena. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2019;116(20):355-361. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2019.0355

  8. Brogan K, Siefert A. Successful discontinuation of chronic polypsychotropic regimen and resolution of withdrawal syndrome through nutrition and lifestyle interventions: A case report. Adv Mind Body Med. 2019;33(3):22-30.

Additional Reading

By Nancy Schimelpfening
Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be.