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Learn About the Phases of SSRI Withdrawal

SSRIs regulate and maintain the brain’s serotonin levels. Going through the phases of SSRI withdrawal may require professional help.

What Are SSRIs?  

SSRIs, or serotonin reuptake inhibitors, regulate the amount of serotonin in the brain to help treat depression. These antidepressants help those struggling with depression symptoms but stopping SSRI usage can be very challenging. It is essential you speak to your doctor before you stop taking your prescribed SSRI antidepressant medication, as there are many withdrawal symptoms associated with SSRI drug withdrawals, which is called SSRI discontinuation syndrome. 

SSRIs are a group of medicines commonly used to treat some forms of anxiety and depression. This medication regulates the brain's function for people with mood disorders by raising the serotonin level. Although beneficial, there are some disadvantages to SSRI therapy, the chief of which is that withdrawal symptoms can occur upon discontinuation of SSRI medication.1 

Phases of SSRI Withdrawal

How Do SSRIs Work?

As already stated, SSRIs function by preventing serotonin from being reabsorbed, which helps to prevent serotonin reuptake. This causes the level of serotonin in the brain to rise. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates anxiety, mood, and other mental-related issues. By increasing the level of serotonin, SSRIs enhance mood and lessen stress. 2 

How Long Do SSRIs Take to Work?

The effect of SSRIs varies from individual to individual. However, most people start to notice results after about four to six weeks of treatment. Sometimes, it takes several months for the effects of SSRIs in the brain to become evident. The relationship between addiction and SSRIs is a major concern because the body can develop dependence and tolerance to SSRIs.

Half-Lives of Common SSRI Medications

The half-lives of SSRIs are the time it takes for the concentration of the SSRI drug to reduce by half in the body. Although the half-lives of SSRIs do not change based on dosage size, they can vary from individual to individual. Here are some common SSRI medicines and their half-lives:

  • Prozac: Over one hundred hours
  • Celexa: Thirty-five hours
  • Lexapro: Around thirty hours
  • Paxil:  Fifteen to twenty hours
  • Zoloft: Twenty-four to twenty-six hours

Possible Side Effects of SSRIs

Like every other medication, there is always a risk of side effects. Here are some of the side effects of SSRIs:  3

  • Sleep Disturbances: Sleep disturbances and insomnia are the most common side effects of SSRIs and SSRI withdrawal. Although they are mild and can oftentimes go without treatment, they can be difficult or more pronounced for many others. Insomnia, in some cases, can also indicate that the body suddenly stopped receiving the right amount of medication and could show that a higher dosage is needed.  
  • Weight Changes: Weight changes are another common side effect. Some people may gain weight while taking SSRIs, while others might lose weight. However, this is not usually severe and disappears after some time.
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness: Dizziness is also another common side of SSRIs. It can be caused by factors like interactions with other drugs, changes in blood pressure, and how the drug affects brain chemistry.
  • Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)  
  • Headaches
  • Lowered libido and other sexual issues
  •  Gastrointestinal Issues: Gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea and nausea are also side effects of SSRIs. However, they are usually mild and can go without treatment.

SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome

SSRI discontinuation syndrome is also known as SSRI withdrawal. It occurs when a person stops the usage of SSRIs. SSRI withdrawal can cause various symptoms, and they include:

  • Sensory Symptoms: Some people might experience burning in the appendage, called paresthesia. Other symptoms include electric shock sensations and rushing noises in the head.
  • Disequilibrium: The most common symptoms of SSRI withdrawal include light-headedness, dizzy spells, and vertigo.
  • General Somatic Symptoms: These are flu-like symptoms, including tremors, lethargy, fatigue, headache, and sweating.
  • Affective Symptoms: People experiencing affective symptoms would notice a change in their physical appearance. High levels of anxiety and irritability are the most common affective symptoms.
  • Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Some common gastrointestinal symptoms are diarrhea, which only occurs in some cases, and nausea.
  • Sleep Disturbance: SSRI withdrawal might cause insomnia in some people. Sometimes insomnia is followed by vivid nightmares and excessive dreaming. People who combine SSRIs with alcohol might notice a more severe effect. 

Why SSRI Withdrawal Symptoms Occur

SSRIs are believed to function by modifying serotonin levels in the brain. However, when SSRI drugs are stopped, there is a reduction in the concentration of these drugs in the body. As a result, serotonin levels are no longer controlled and may fall out of balance. This results in the manifestation of several SSRI withdrawal symptoms.

Changes in the Brain

Another theory shows that SSRIs function by altering the concentrations of other brain chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine. The balance of these other substances may be affected when a person stops taking an SSRI. In addition to the withdrawal symptoms from SSRIs, SSRI withdrawal can manifest various additional symptoms. It may even result in the development of whole new illnesses. These are known as co-occurring conditions.

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How to Spot Discontinuation Symptoms

If you or someone you know stopped taking SSRI and you're concerned about the risk of discontinuation syndrome, here are some symptoms of SSRI discontinuation to be aware of.

  • Flu-Like Symptoms: Symptoms like sweats, cold, and tremors are all evidence of discontinuation syndrome. Individuals can also experience nausea or reduced appetite. 
  • Insomnia: The most prevalent symptoms of SSRI discontinuation syndrome are sleep disturbances and lack of sleep. If an individual wakes up frequently or finds sleeping difficult at night, it might be a symptom of SSRI withdrawals. 
  • Nausea: Before other gastrointestinal problems surface, nausea develops. In extreme cases, individuals might also experience vomiting. Most times, nausea reduces appetite and therefore causes weight loss.
  • Imbalance: Imbalance is closely related to disequilibrium, and it means dizziness caused due to withdrawal. Noticeable signs are light-headedness and vertigo.  
  • Sensory Disturbances: Sensory disturbances can appear as blurry vision with visual lines, shock, and burning sensation around appendages. In exceptional cases, some people may hear a rushing sound in their heads.
  • Hyperarousal: The majority of people going through SSRI withdrawal may experience excessive alertness without reason. Symptoms like sleep, irritability, and agility are also common. People with post-traumatic stress disorder frequently experience hyperarousal.
Phases of SSRI Withdrawal

Prevention of SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome

There are a couple of methods you can employ to prevent SSRI discontinuation syndrome. They include:  4 

  • Gradual Weaning: Weaning off the drug gradually is the best approach to stop SSRI discontinuation syndrome from occurring. Instead of abruptly quitting your medication, you can take it in smaller and smaller quantities over time until you stop taking it entirely.
  • Professional Guidelines: There are a few professional guidelines to prevent SSRI discontinuation syndrome. They include potentially changing to a different SSRI and speaking to your doctor or therapist about any severe changes you’ve noticed.   

Get Treatment for SSRI Withdrawal at Ripple Ranch

There are several treatment options accessible for individuals battling SSRI withdrawal. At Ripple Ranch, we provide a thorough strategy designed to meet each person's needs. Our highly skilled, care-focused staff will collaborate with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that will enable you to detox efficiently and securely. We also provide different forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy and individual and group counseling.