Feeling better? Think you’re ready to stop taking your medicine? Don’t. It may seem as if you no longer need the medication, but it’s what has brought you to where you are. That’s why it’s important you stick with the course of treatment your doctor prescribed. If you think you’re ready to stop taking the medicine, talk with your doctor first. He or she can create a plan of action that will help your body slowly adjust to being without the medicine.
If you feel like stopping your medicine because of the side effects, remember this: Finding the right medicine requires patience. You will likely go through a lot of trial and error in an effort to find the best treatment for you. If side effects become bothersome, do not stop taking the medicine until you’ve spoken with your doctor. Quitting without first consulting your doctor may be dangerous—even deadly—and brings with it a host of potential side effects including withdrawal and relapse.
Know the Consequences of Untreated Depression
Quitting “cold turkey” may cause major withdrawal symptoms. A sudden drop of your medicine may also worsen your depression, send your symptoms on a downward spiral, and set your treatment back several weeks or months. Here are some of the possible effects of quitting your medication suddenly:
- You get sick. Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, also called antidepressant withdrawal, occurs when a person abruptly quits taking antidepressants. Many people who experience antidepressant withdrawal feel like they have the flu or a stomach bug. They may also experience disturbing mental thoughts or images.
- You set back your treatment. Untreated depression can set you back on your treatment plan. It can also extend a depressive episode, make relapse more likely, or cause a deepening of the disease.
- You contemplate suicide. Not being properly medicated may increase your risk of suicidal thoughts—and the risk that you will act on those thoughts. Ninety percent of people who commit suicide are depressed or have another mental health disorder.
- Other conditions get worse. Untreated depression may make other conditions you have harder to treat. Your doctor will have balanced your antidepressant prescription with other medications you’re taking, and if you stop taking the antidepressant, the balance may be affected. This can cause additional side effects and complications.
Other symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal include:
- trouble sleeping
- depression and mood swings
- loss of coordination
- muscle spasms
- difficulty balancing
- flu-like symptoms
Don’t Stop Because Your Situation Changes
Just found out you’re pregnant? That’s no excuse to stop taking your antidepressants. According to a study from the National Institute of Mental Health, women who stop taking antidepressants while pregnant are five times more likely to suffer a relapse during pregnancy than women who continue taking their prescribed medication. Just alert your doctor to your change in circumstances, and make any changes he or she suggests.
Not Everyone Will Experience Withdrawal
No two people will respond to quitting antidepressants in the same way, and doctors have no way of predicting who will experience withdrawal symptoms and who will not. When you take them, antidepressants help return a balance to mood-influencing chemicals in the brain. Some people will respond badly to the rapid change in chemicals, while others will show almost no response. Don’t gamble and hope you’ll have no effects.
The best way to reduce and end your antidepressant use is to slowly taper yourself from the antidepressant under a doctor’s supervision. This involves slowly cutting back on the dose of medication until you are no longer taking any.
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