Can I Stop Taking Anti-Depressants?

When depression hits, we want to hit back.

Eventually, though, the anti-depressant drugs we might take to combat depression may make us think that we have depression beat and that we can handle the depression on our own. So knowing that these drugs can be highly addictive, we eventually want to feel good enough to be able to take ourselves off these drugs and live an addiction-free life.

Maybe the drugs are working well and you think the depression is beat, or maybe you think the drugs are not working, or you think they are working but the side effects are annoying you more than the relief.

But like many addictive medications like painkillers or trying to quit cigarettes, it is never a good idea to come off anti-depressants cold-turkey. While you could start taking anti-depressants in one day, you cannot usually just stop taking them in an instant. It takes an agreed-upon plan, and discussion with your doctor to ensure whether certain conditions are present in your situation to endorse a gradual reduction in the medicine.

Why a gradual reduction and not cold turkey? It has to do with the addictive nature of the drugs. Anti-depressants, in order to combat depression, make changes to the chemical composition of your brain. These changes create a “new normal” brain chemistry, and just cutting off the source of that right away can disrupt the brain chemistry and may create side effects that feel worse than the original depression.

The key to getting off antidepressants is to make sure you are not doing it alone. Working with your doctor or psychiatrist to plan a program that involves either lowering the dose gradually, cutting back the frequency of doses – or perhaps both under specific circumstances. The weaning will happen over two or three weeks, with regular monitoring by your doctor to ensure that withdrawal symptoms, depression or anxiety symptoms do not manifest.

Making the decision the get off anti-depressants does not come quickly. Usually, doctors will prescribe the medicine for anywhere from nine to 12 months at a minimum, with regular checkups with the doctor along the way.  Some conditions that might determine your readiness to begin a weaning program are:

  • The depression or anxiety is subdued. Even on anti-depressants, a professional can determine how much of your good feelings are the drugs and how much of it is actually the reduction of the depression or anxiety.
  • The depression isn’t getting any better. Anti-depressants aren’t 100-percent effective, and after a few months, your doctor can determine whether you need a different treatment. But the new treatment can’t begin until you are off the anti-depressants.
  • Side effects of the drugs are greater than the relief from depression. Two of the most common side effects are weight issues and sexual dysfunction.

Depression and anxiety can be powerful disorders, so they will often require powerful anti-depressants which have addictive qualities and can provide several side effects. It is understandable to eventually get off anti-depressants, but as your body adjusts to the drugs, it usually needs a gradual plan in order to get off the drugs and live a life free of disease and medication.