Savvy patients have learned that it is essential to ask physicians and pharmacists about side effects before they take any medicine. Drugs can cause reactions that range from mild discomfort to life-threatening complications.

Even a thoughtful consumer may forget another crucial question: What will happen when I stop this medication? Many drugs can cause trouble if they are stopped abruptly.

The Patient Information on the back of an Effexor XR ad has a heading, “What happens when I stop using Effexor XR?” When people stop suddenly, they may experience symptoms such as agitation, anxiety, confusion, diarrhea, dizziness, dry mouth, muscle twitching, headaches, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, nervousness, nightmares, poor coordination, seizures, sensory disturbances (like electric shock sensations), sleepiness, sweating, tinnitus, tremor, unpleasant mood or vomiting.

That’s hardly a pleasant prospect. We wonder if people review that list before they begin taking the antidepressant.

Effexor XR is not the only medicine that can cause symptoms if it is stopped abruptly. Other antidepressants, such as Paxil or Zoloft, may cause similar problems.

Anti-anxiety medications are notorious for causing withdrawal symptoms when they are stopped suddenly. We heard from one person: “I would like to warn your readers about the dangers of long-term use of benzodiazepines (tranquilizers like Klonopin, Valium, Ativan or Xanax). A psychiatrist prescribed Klonopin for me for a year because of an anxiety disorder. I became addicted to it and began to have severe withdrawal symptoms between doses. I tried to taper off the drug but was unsuccessful.

“Finally, I checked into a psychiatric hospital for detox. The withdrawal from this drug was HORRIBLE, with extreme agitation, sensitivity to light and noise, sweating, cold chills, muscle twitching, and fear of being left alone. Some days all I could do was sit and rock and cry.

“It has taken me a year to recover. Some people are extremely sensitive to these drugs and should not take them longer than several weeks.”

We discuss getting off such medicines in our Guide to Psychological Side Effects. It can be downloaded for $2 from this Web site.

Psychiatric drugs aren’t the only ones that may be hard to stop. Acid-suppressing medicines such as Prilosec or Nexium can trigger severe stomach acidity when they are discontinued. One reader wrote: “I have tried to get off Prilosec. I am strong willed and can do almost anything I set my mind to–except stop this drug.

“The first day I stopped was not too bad. The next day, my empty stomach was on fire. It felt like I had a bad second-degree sunburn inside my stomach. I was in tears, bent double at times, and my husband and a friend told me to PLEASE start back on Prilosec because they could not take my moaning. I took the Prilosec and felt much better the next day. I’ll never try that again!”

People need to understand the consequences of stopping medication before they begin. Whether it’s an over-the-counter decongestant nasal spray or a prescription antidepressant, getting off the drug can be extremely challenging.

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  1. Gordon
    San Antontio, TX

    I would like to know how to get off all prescription drugs. Where can I learn how to wean myself off all blood pressure, Thyroid, and Prostate drugs. I should never have started taking them in the first place, but I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.

  2. RK

    I have been on norco, xanax, and oxiconton for 7 years, is there a way I can be put in an induced coma, to help with the withdrawals? I want the easiest and least painful way to get off them, I have had 7 major surgeries with massive depression. Some one please help
    People’s Pharmacy response: We don’t think a coma will work, but with the assistance of a sympathetic physician who can really work with you, you should be able to get off these drugs one at a time very very gradually.

  3. Joan

    Anyone taken prilosec (20mg) for just a week or 2 and then stopped? Any problems coming off it at that time?
    I am not sure if I have reflux but it was prescribed by dr. while other tests are being done. I think it may be making me feel worse than I already did. Dizzy, headachy a lot of the time. Plus stomach still hurts and nausea at times as well.

  4. help

    I have been on the diet pill Bontril for two years now.When I started I was 10 pounds over weight, now I’m 30 pounds over weight, I was happy all the time now I’m sad unless I’m on it. I used to care how I looked now I don’t care unless I’m on it.

  5. Diane G

    These comments really scare me. For MANY years, I have been taking anywhere from .5mg to 2mg (more now than when I first was given it) of Clonazepam to help me sleep. I have never thought I was addicted to the pill, just to getting a good night’s sleep. I have tinnitus, which is very disturbing at night. And I never have a sleeping pill “hangover” in the AM. Both my Gyn.and my Otolaryngologist are not in favor of this med… but my internist has NO problem with it. When I decided to taper off he asked,”Why, if it’s working?” Now I hear it contributes to bone loss, which was moderately present at my last scan for the first time. It sounds like I need an alternative for sleep and a different doc!

  6. SLJ

    I was on Effexor XR for a little over one year and have been since April trying to wean myself off this drug from “hell”. I have had every side effect listed plus a few not listed. I would advise anyone put on this drug to get off it NOW and stay off it. I have been suicidal since I started taking it and it is finally beginning to ease up a little. These drug companies should be held accountable for the side effects. I have a dear friend whose husband had been on Effexor XR for 6 weeks and committed suicide two years ago. Enough already – they should take this drug off the market

  7. r.a

    how do i get off hydrocodone discreetly. it would ruin me if people knew. i am so tired off being a slave to drugs. any help?

  8. TS

    I was on Effexor XR for almost 2 years. I have read plenty of comments of other patients who were put on Effexor XR for this long as well. Only after I had a such a hard time going off this drug did I find out that the studies on this drug were only done on people up to 6 months!
    For me, I would have pretty bad side effects just from forgetting to take a dose. Once my depression improved, I had a HORRIBLE time going off this drug. The slow, gradual weaning process took about 4 months, and I had terrible side effects the whole time. It wasn’t until about 6 months after stopping the prescription completely that I was free of side effects. The worst was the feeling of vertigo, and these little “shocks” as they describe them. It made it hard to concentrate and drive! I couldn’t work while going off the drug it was so bad! BEWARE of Effexor XR!!!

  9. Matt

    I’ve been off klonopin for four months after being on 2mg a day for two years. I want it back so bad and i hate how much i miss it. Im 19 years old and feel like i will always want it. it was wrong for them to give me such a high dosage when i was young and keep me on it for that long, i was the one to get myself off of it. I couldn’t leave my house for a month and i gained 27 pounds.

  10. Kurt P.

    I really think that depression drugs are prescribed too easily. Ask your doctor for one, you get one…
    But really it changes your brain, if it makes you happy, whereas you wouldn’t have been before?
    I really dislike anti-depression medications, and think they should only be used for severe cases where a person is contemplating suicide.

  11. tammy

    Re: Ultram. Boy Mike..I am with you. Been on those little devils since 95, believe it or not. Sadly, they’re no longer effective for pain, but if i don’t take them every day…well..i’ll just say it’s bad. Really, really bad. I’m literally scared not to take them.

  12. Pat

    I had been taking Paxil for about a year and had 10 of the symptoms listed for Effexor XR when I stopped. I was having significant life changes at the time, coupled with emotional turbulence, and had no way to distinguish these from the drug’s effects. The worst were repeated nightmares with images of suicide. I would not recommend Paxil to anybody except under the most extreme situation, with rigoruous monitoring and even then, only with a thorough discussion of these effects prior to beginning.

  13. al

    Been taking Ativan for 4.5 years. Started to experience withdrawal symptoms between doses.
    Did some research on the web (My M.D. was clueless) and found out about a remarkable physician from Great Britian named Heather Ashton. She’s an academic psychiatrist and for many years ran a clinic devoted to helping people get off benzodiazapenes.
    The protocol is available for free here:
    I’m having great success following her suggestions (with the help of a local M.D.–not my original prescriber). Read it and take a copy to your prescriber.

  14. Don

    I have been on ultram (50 mg) since 2/98 & can’t get off of them. Dr. has tried me on many anti-depressents, thinking it would help, but no luck. Nerves all over my body jerk & cannot sleep or rest. Any suggestions are welcome. Thanks

  15. mike

    I was on Klonapin for 4 years and reduced my dosage over time to .5mg. It takes a long time to taper off clonazapine, and I did it .25mg per week. Some of the withdrawal effects were insomnia, visual disturbances, and the most dangerous, increased blood pressure. The longer acting (half-life) the benzo. the more intense the withdrawal is. Also it helps to dev. a plan to help you cope. I used biofeedback, acupuncture, dietary supplements and exercise to help me. Also, online support groups helped. Klonapin is prescribed to a very limited extent in Great Britain because of its dangers. Benzo’s are good for short term, like 6 mon, but it is imperative that the patient explore other alternatives in helping deal w anxiety.

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