Coming off psychiatric drugs

Explains issues faced when coming off medication, how to approach it, techniques for gradual reduction, possible withdrawal symptoms and how to tell the difference between withdrawal and relapse.

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Is coming off my medication right for me?

You may take psychiatric drugs for a variety of conditions. You may only need them for relatively short periods, but your diagnosis and symptoms may mean that you are expected to take them for a long time – perhaps indefinitely.

Many people who have come off their medication, even after taking it for a long time, find that in fact they can manage well and often feel better without it.

If you are taking psychiatric drugs and feel that you no longer need them (or do not wish to take them for a long time) you may want to see if you can manage just as well, or get on better, without them.

I have chosen to come off medication several times and been forced to come off it many times as well.

Some reasons why you might want to come off medication

  • it has done its job, and I no longer need it
  • I have found other ways of coping with my mental health problem
  • it is not helpful – I have been told my condition is 'treatment-resistant'
  • it has unpleasant side effects which make it hard to tolerate
  • it is affecting my physical health
  • it makes me lose touch with my feelings
  • it reduces my energy and enthusiasm, which affects my relationships and my ability to work
  • I would like to start a family and am afraid the drugs may affect my baby while I’m pregnant or breastfeeding

Alternatively, you may find your medications helpful and feel that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Some reasons why people have decided to stay on medication

  • since I found a drug that suits me, I have been getting my life back together
  • I feel I benefit from taking the drug and so it’s worth putting up with the side effects
  • my doctors think I should continue with it, and I value their advice
  • I have tried to come off in the past and found it difficult to cope
  • my family would be really worried if I stopped taking it
  • I need to stay well for my baby
  • I think I still need it at the moment, but might consider coming off at another time

Weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of coming off

It’s very important to think about the decision to come off medication and whether it is right for you.

You might find it helpful to use a decision chart, like this example:

  Advantages Disadvantages
Coming off medication • I will be able to drive again
• I will have more energy
• I want to lose the weight I've gained
• I might have another breakdown
• My partner will be angry with me
Staying on medication • I’m quite stable at the moment – why rock the boat?
• I don’t want to risk the withdrawal effects
• I don't want to risk a relapse
• I don’t feel truly myself
• My sex life is affected
• It makes me very sleepy all the time

If you decide to try coming off your medication, it's very important to:

  • get support, preferably from others who have come off successfully or from a professional who understands the process
  • find out the possible risks and how to minimise them
  • come off gradually, over a period of time

If you have been told that you must not stop your medication, even though you would like to try, see Your right to refuse medication. You can also ask for a second opinion, if you feel that would be helpful – you may need to talk to your GP about this.

My current doctor is great, and has always said that it is up to me if I take the medication or not, which makes me feel a lot better about it as I feel more in control.

This information was published in July 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

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