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Coming off psychiatric medication

Explains why you might decide to come off psychiatric medication, how to do this safely and where you can go for support. Also includes tips for friends and family wanting to support someone who is coming off medication.

Avoid stopping medication suddenly

It's best to reduce your dose gradually. Stopping medications suddenly (going cold turkey) can make withdrawal symptoms worse, and for some medications can be dangerous. It's important to get more medication in advance so that you don't have to stop suddenly.

If you're running out of medication and need an urgent prescription:

See the NHS website for more information about getting an urgent prescription.

Why might I want to come off medication?

Medication helps some people, but it isn't always right for others. If you don't find your medication helpful, you may wish to stop taking it. Or you may find it helps your mental health, but wish to stop for other reasons. For example:

  • the side effects are more of a problem than any benefits you have found from taking it
  • you don't like the way medication affects you or how it makes you feel
  • your medication is stopping you from doing things you want to do
  • you don't like the idea of staying on medication long-term
  • you've been advised by someone you trust to come off your medication because it's not safe, for example due to side effects or a change in your symptoms
  • you've found other ways of coping or other treatments that help, which you feel are enough
  • your mental health has been consistently better for long enough that you feel you might not need the medication any more.

Depending on your circumstances you may pay for your own prescriptions or you may get them for free. If you are thinking of coming off a medication because you can't afford it, there might be help available. See our page on money and mental health for more information.

Is coming off medication right for me?

The decision to come off medication is a personal one based on what feels right for you in your particular circumstances.

After weighing up the advantages and disadvantages, you might feel that now is a good time to start coming off your medication. Or that you want to come off it in future but it's not the right time just now.

Alternatively you might decide that your goal is to reduce your medication to a dosage that feels better for you rather than stopping completely, or that the medication is helping and you want to keep taking it.

It's about deciding what's best for you at the moment, and remembering that what helps may change over time.

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.

How do I start coming off medication?

Before starting to come off your medication it's important to get medical advice and make a plan. For example:

Get support

It's important to get support before you start coming off. For example from your doctor, your mental health team or people with experience of coming off similar drugs. For more information see our pages on support services and useful contacts.

Plan to come off slowly

To come off your medication safely with less risk of relapse it is important to taper (slowly reduce) your dose. See our page on planning for withdrawal for more information, including useful tips on how to taper.

Know your rights

Whether to continue or stop taking medication is usually your decision. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the organisation that writes the guidelines on best practice in health care, say that:

  • you have the right to be involved in decisions about medicines, so you can make an informed choice about your treatment
  • you have the right to refuse a medication or to stop taking it, even if your doctor thinks this might make your mental health problem worse.

If you've agreed to take medication in the past you also have the right to change your mind. See our pages on your right to refuse medication and being actively involved in your treatment for more information.

Could I be forced to stay on medication?

Generally it’s your right to choose whether you come off medication, but there are some situations where your right to choose may be affected. For example, if:

See our page on consent to treatment for more information, including advice on how to get help making your voice heard.

For me, coming off medication really benefited me. I felt like I was more in control of my emotions, as I was better able to identify what my ‘triggers’ were. On medication it was a lot harder to realise what made me feel worse, and what helped.

This information was published in April 2021. We will revise it in 2024.

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

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