Antidepressants

Explains what antidepressants are, how they work, possible side effects and information about withdrawal.

Your stories

A letter to depression

Antalia shares a letter to depression.

Antalia Terblanche
Posted on 24/05/2016

Depression: sharing my story

Andy Baddeley, 1,500m runner and two-time Olympian, blogs about his experiences of depression.

Andy Baddeley
Posted on 27/05/2015

How treatment helped me to live with depression and anxiety

Rachel, a member of Mind, blogs about finally accepting CBT and anti-depressants and how they helped.

Posted on 12/11/2014

What withdrawal problems can antidepressants cause?

Antidepressants are not addictive – you don't get cravings for them or need to keep increasing the dose to get the same effect.

However, all psychiatric drugs change your brain and body chemistry, and if you have been taking them for a while, your body will have adjusted to them. This means that you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them – especially if you've been taking them for a long time. 

For this reason, it's always advisable to reduce the dose slowly instead of just stopping taking them. (See our page on coming off psychiatric drugs for more information).  

I was worried about not being able to come off them... My doctor helped me to come off them in a controlled way, and apart from one dip just after I stopped taking them, I've been pretty OK since.

This table shows the possible withdrawal effects associated with different types of antidepressants. You won't necessarily get any of these symptoms, but many people do experience some of them.

SSRIs and SNRIs MAOIs Tricyclics and tricyclic-related drugs

Symptoms that will feel new to you:

  • dizziness or vertigo
  • electric shock sensations in head
  • flu-like symptoms 
  • problems with movement
  • sensory disturbance (such as smelling something that isn't there)
  • stomach cramps
  • strange dreams
  • tinnitus (ringing in the ears)

Symptoms that could feel like your original problem:

 
  • agitation
  • difficulty thinking
  • disturbed sleep
  • extreme sleepiness 
  • hallucinations
  • irritability 
  • psychotic experiences, such as paranoid delusions
  • problems with movement
  • strange dreams
  • unsteadiness
  • anxiety
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • flu-like symptoms, such as:
    • aching muscles
    • chills
    • goosebumps
    • headaches
    • nausea (feeling sick)
    • sweating
  • insomnia (inability to sleep)
  • low blood pressure
  • problems with movement
  • restlessness
  • spontaneous orgasm
  • strange dreams

 

For information on the specific withdrawal effects associated with a particular drug, you can look up the name of the drug in our antidepressants A–Z.

[When] I thought I should try to manage without the antidepressant, I did not manage to come off them, which I was incredibly harsh on myself about… I was then on [an antidepressant] until I had been well for a number of years, and then, with the help of my GP, I reduced and stopped the medication.

Can switching antidepressants help with withdrawal?

If you've been taking a drug with a short half-life, and are having problems with withdrawal symptoms, it might be possible for you to switch to a related drug with a longer half-life, which should be easier to come off.

For example, the SSRI with the longest half-life is fluoxetine (Prozac). If you are taking an SSRI with a short half-life, it may be helpful to talk to your doctor about switching to fluoxetine and withdrawing slowly from that.

To compare the half-lives of all antidepressants, see our page on comparing antidepressants.

Staying safe

Withdrawing from antidepressants can be hard to do. For more information on how to come off your medication safely, see our pages on coming off psychiatric drugs.

Watch Katherine from our Information team give her top 5 tips for when you want to come off your medication.

 


This information was published in 2016. We will revise it in 2018.


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