If you will pardon the pun, you might call what we are about to share a depressing statistic.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimated that over 16 million adults in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2016. That is nearly 7 percent of the adult population of the country. And it is easy to speculate that those numbers have only increased since 2016—perhaps especially in the very challenging year that was 2020.
The good news is that a range of antidepressant medications are available to help those who are suffering. Particularly in combination with therapy, these medications can help people overcome the overwhelming emotions that often accompany clinical depression. “Antidepressants” is a catchall term for a range of pharmaceuticals that work in varying ways, but what they have in common is that they can be a literal lifeline for those in the grips of depression.
Antidepressants are not a magic bullet, of course. Often, a person must collaborate with their physician or psychologist to find the right medication for their specific needs. Some antidepressants cause a range of side effects—many of them quite unpleasant. It is also possible to develop a tolerance to an antidepressant, and when this happens it might be necessary to switch medications. The whole process of finding the right treatment can be lengthy and frustrating. In the end, however, the benefits are worth the challenges.
At some point, however, you and your doctor may decide it is time to try daily life without the medication. Quitting an antidepressant should not be taken lightly and should always be preceded by a conversation with the person who prescribed it. Even so, you’ll want to be aware of what are called antidepressant discontinuation symptoms.
What’s in a Name?
Just the name—antidepressant discontinuation symptoms—sounds bad, right? You’ve got “anti.” You’ve got a variation on “depressed.” There’s “dis,” which is a negative prefix. And of course, there’s “symptoms,” a word that is hardly ever used to describe something pleasant. Taken together, it seems safe to say that antidepressant discontinuation symptoms are well worth avoiding.
But just in case you are feeling skeptical about that, here is a list of the potential symptoms that can crop up when you decide to stop taking an antidepressant:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Headaches, blurred vision, and/or runny nose
- Fatigue and/or lethargy, and chills or fever
- Dizziness and balance issues
- Tremors and/or dystonia (a state of abnormal muscle tone)
- Trouble walking and/or tingling sensations
- Depression, anxiety, irritability, spates of crying, mood swings (all things the medication may have been helping to address)
- Insomnia and/or intense dreamsIn extremely rare cases, mania and/or hallucinations
None of that sounds fun. So what can be done to lessen the likelihood of these symptoms?
Cold Turkey? No. Medically Supervised Tapering? Yes.
As a rule, it is not a good idea to simply stop taking your antidepressant, tempting though it might be. The so-called “cold turkey” approach opens the door to all of the symptoms we have listed above. Instead, you will want to taper off the medication gradually—a process that should be supervised by your physician or psychiatrist.
A gradual but steady reduction in the amount you are taking gives your body and brain the opportunity to adjust to the change less dramatically. In some cases, your doctor might recommend switching from your current antidepressant to another with a longer half life. The half life of a drug represents the amount of time it takes for the amount in your body to be reduced by half. After the switch has been made, you will then likely taper off the new drug.
Ways We Can Help at Wooded Glen Recovery Center
It is unusual for someone to develop a substance use disorder related to antidepressants. As a rule, the drugs do not induce the kinds of highs or good feelings associated with other drugs (like codeine, for example). That means many of the behavioral symptoms of a substance use disorder—doctor shopping, prescription forging, stealing the drug from others, and the like—generally do not crop up among people taking antidepressants.
That said, a residential treatment facility, like Wooded Glen Recovery Center, can still offer important options for someone struggling with the process of giving up an antidepressant. We can, for example, help you taper off your medication effectively. We can also help you with any other substance use issues you may be battling. After all, it is not at all uncommon for someone struggling with depression to “self-medicate” via alcohol or other substances. That can, of course, lead to problems.
At the same time, we can help you find new strategies for dealing with mental health issues—particularly if you are committed to addressing those issues without the aid of antidepressant medications. Through group and individual therapy, you can learn an array of techniques and approaches that can help you manage depression—and other mental health disorders—successfully and over time.
Individualized Treatment Plans Meet Unique Needs
At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, we understand that every person’s story is unique. So no matter what substance use or mental health issues you may be facing in whatever combination, we will take the time to listen to you and to understand your situation. Then we will create a personalized treatment plan. We are equally committed to a compassionate approach to care and an approach fully grounded in evidence and expertise. Our goal is your overall wellness—both in the short and the long term.
If you need help turning your life around, Wooded Glen Recovery Center can help you map out a path that leads to success.