Feeling better? Think you’re ready to stop taking your antidepressant? Don’t. It may seem like you no longer need the medication, but in most cases it is contributing to a happier state of mind. That’s why it’s important you stick with the treatment prescribed by your doctor. If you think you’re ready to stop taking an antidepressant, ask your doctor to create a plan of action that can help your body slowly adjust to being without the medicine.

Antidepressants help balance brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These brain chemicals affect your mood and emotions. An imbalance can cause major depression or anxiety disorders. Antidepressants correct this imbalance, but it can take four weeks or more to notice any improvement.

If you feel like stopping your medicine because of bothersome side effects, remember that finding the right treatment often takes a lot of trial and error and some tweaking. Don’t stop taking the medicine until you have spoken with your doctor. It might seem like you don’t need the medication anymore, but if you stop taking your antidepressant the medicine will leave your body and your symptoms might return. Quitting without consulting your doctor can be dangerous — even deadly. It can also trigger potential side effects, including withdrawal and relapse. If you relapse and start taking an antidepressant again, it can take weeks for the drug to re-balance your moods.

Side Effects of Quitting Medication

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, or set your treatment back several weeks or months. Here are some possible effects of quitting your medication suddenly:

  1. You get sick. Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, also called antidepressant withdrawal, occurs when a person abruptly quits 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.
  2. You set back your treatment. Untreated depression can set back your treatment plan. It can also extend a depressive episode, make relapse more likely, or cause a worsening of the disease.
  3. You contemplate suicide. Not being properly medicated may increase your risk of suicidal thoughts — and increases the risk that you’ll act on those thoughts. Ninety percent of people who commit suicide are depressed or have another mental health disorder, says the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
  4. Other conditions get worse. Stopping an antidepressant might worsen other conditions you have, such as chronic headaches, chronic pain, or insomnia. Additionally, untreated depression can make it harder to treat some conditions. Since your doctor has balanced your antidepressant prescription with any other medications you’re taking, stopping the antidepressant can negatively affect this balance. Additional side effects or complications may result.

Other symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal include:

  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • nightmares
  • trouble sleeping
  • depression and mood swings
  • loss of coordination
  • muscle spasms
  • dizziness
  • difficulty balancing
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • flu-like symptoms
  • headache

Antidepressants and Pregnancy

Just found out you’re pregnant? That’s no excuse to stop taking your antidepressants. According to the Mayo Clinic, women who stop taking antidepressants while pregnant are more likely to suffer a relapse during pregnancy than women who continue taking their prescribed medication. Let your doctor know about your change in circumstances. They may decide to take you off your medication or lower the dosage. You can also take a different antidepressant, one that’s safer for pregnant women.

Talk to Your Doctor

The best way to stop taking your antidepressant is to slowly taper yourself from the medication under a doctor’s supervision. This involves slowly lowering the daily dose of medication until you are completely off the drug. Improving your overall physical and mental health can help you come off an antidepressant with few complications. Talk to your healthcare provider about incorporating these lifestyle changes:

  • exercise
  • meditation
  • getting plenty of rest
  • not abusing alcohol and drugs
  • eating healthy, balanced meals
  • reducing stress

No two people will respond to quitting antidepressants in the same way. Doctors have no way of knowing who will have withdrawal symptoms and who won’t. Antidepressants help return a balance to mood-influencing chemicals in the brain. Some people will respond poorly to the rapid change in chemicals, while others will show almost no response. Talk with your doctor and don’t gamble on your health and wellness.