The Risks and Benefits of Going Off Antidepressants

Abruptly taking yourself off your meds can result in serious withdrawal symptoms or even a relapse.
If you are currently taking antidepressants but want to stop, you're in good company. Medication to treat depression and anxiety is prescribed to more than 20 million Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2004 one in 10 adult women and one in 20 men were taking antidepressants—a number that tripled over the previous decade. Yet 54% of patients on antidepressants stop following their prescription in the first six months of their treatment, according to a study of more than 100,000 patients published in a 2005 issue of Current Medical Research and Opinion.

Most of those who discontinue or switch antidepressants early on do so because of side effects, according to a 2002 Annals of Pharmacotherapy study. Fatigue or drowsiness was the most common complaint (10%), followed by anxiety, headache, and nausea (5% each). Psychiatrist Matthew S. Keene, MD, executive director of Arizona's Scottsdale Center for the Advancement of Neuroscience and the leader of the CMRO study, says other common reasons people stop include an improvement in mood, a feeling the meds aren't helping, or concerns about becoming dependent.

After taking Zoloft for seven years, Sarah Pavsner, 38, a visual artist and teacher in Los Angeles, feared liver damage. (Dr. Keene says the risk of this from SSRIs is very low. "It's higher with Tylenol.") But even more than that, Pavsner was concerned about becoming dependent on Zoloft to function. "I felt it was merely suppressing my feelings of depression," she says, "instead of helping me to find ways to deal with them."

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Lead writer: Angelo Ragaza
Last Updated: July 03, 2008

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