Q. I have been on Effexor XR for the past seven years for depression. I decided to wean myself off it, since it wasn’t a good mix with another drug I started taking.

The third day I was completely off the Effexor my head started spinning. I felt as if I was on a tilt-a-whirl nonstop! After two days of this, I ended up in the ER getting CT scans and MRIs of my brain.

The doctors finally decided all this was from the Effexor withdrawal. They gave me ONE tablet and all the spinning stopped within an hour! This medication is NOT easy to get off.

A. The whirling sensation you experienced has also been described as “head in a blender.” When people suddenly stop taking antidepressants like Celexa (citalopram), Cymbalta (duloxetine), Effexor (venlafaxine), Paxil (paroxetine) or Zoloft (sertraline) they may experience dizziness, nausea, sweating, insomnia, headaches, nervousness and electrical shock-like sensations.

We discuss the pros and cons of such medications, strategies for stopping them and non-drug alternatives in our new Guide to Dealing with Depression. Gradual tapering of the dose over several months may be the best way to minimize the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal. Careful medical supervision is essential during this time.

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  1. Marji
    New york

    My doctor put me on Prozac, and it did help me with depression. However, when I stopped taking it I started experiencing terrible pain. I’d never had the continuous burning and aching before. I was told I had fibromyalgia. So I was put on Gabepentin and Effexor. Later I was switched to Pristiq and Gabapentin. Not feeling well, I began slowly to wean myself from Pristiq. I felt better and better until the drug was out of my system. But the anxiety attacks were through the roof. So I was put on Celexa. Frankly, I want to wean off everything. But I’m scared that I never will be able to. Any suggestions?

  2. Ant

    Hi paw,
    I was on cymbalta until recently. Had been taking it for 6 months or so, but found it wasn’t really doing what I had hoped (had been on lexapro several years earlier which worked for me, but consultation with do tot decided to try an snri as opposed to ssri such as lexapro).
    I was a fairly well recovered compulsive gambler (18 months gamble free) when I started cymbalta. Thoughts of gambling entered my mind fairly quickly once I started the cymbalta, coincidence or not? Possible the drug did not cause it as I had previously had gambling problems….but much recovery in the 18 months since I had last gambled.
    This is somewhat different from your story as I was a recovering compulsive gambler when starting cymbalta, yet hearing your story does make me wonder if this cymbalta contributed to my return to gambling. I have since stopped cymbalta ( side effects not particularly enjoyable, much worse than coming off ).
    Of course we are all different and different drugs will work differently for each of us. In my opinion I was suffering from depression and lack of motivation and an ssri ( such as lexapro) worked better for me than cymbalta (snri).
    Cheerio, ant

  3. L.N.

    I was so happy to find this post. I stopped taking Prozac after 10+ years in November. For the past month I have been so dizzy and this week I have become extremely angry at just about everything. I will try the benedryl and claritan!

    • Carolyn

      What does benedryl and claritan do

  4. ld

    I have been trying to wean myself off generic effexor for months by a gradual tapering process. I was doing OK but when I got to (1)/week, I noticed a bit of snappiness in my attitude and restless leg syndrome in bed at night. I just went back on and hate it but am not sure where to turn now as I think my doc will just prescribe something else equally troublesome.

  5. JB

    “When I went off Prozac I didn’t start having withdraw symptoms until a couple months later – very dizzy with headaches”. THIS is important for people to understand. I went through the same thing with Prozac as my symptoms didn’t show up until a month or two after I stopped it.
    It felt like someone strapped an electric eel to my spine. I went to the Dr who prescribed an MRI after about a month of these shocks. I decided to forgo the MRI and wait a few more weeks. Sure enough they stopped, and thankfully I didn’t have to spend $$ on an MRI. People will often say that Prozac has no discontinuation syndrome. If you are measuring it by a week or two after stopping it, then sure. HOWEVER, I have quit the drug on 2 different occasions and both times I didn’t experience withdrawal symptoms until about a month after stopping it. This is due to it’s long half life of the non active metabolite, I believe. People need to be aware of this as well.

  6. cc

    Have been on effexor for years. Do not plan to come off of it. However, this week for the first time I had a morning of depression, took two effexor an hour apart and was fine. Have done this in past. The problem is for the first time in 40 yrs. That afternoon I had a very bad emotional experience of ‘crying and ‘not caring. The effexor is the generic venlafaxine 150MG. Tomorrow I go back on my regular effexor 150MG. I am very happy and secure. WHAT SCARES ME IS WHERE DID THE ‘SPELL’ COME FROM. IT BEING TWO MAJOR EMOTIONS? Any input would be appreciated.

  7. RB

    When I went off prozac I didn’t start having withdraw symptoms until a couple months later – very dizzy with headaches. I did some research and found a post saying to take benadryl and/or Claritin. I took both. They immediately worked and I was able to get off prozac. I took Benadryl at night and Claritin during the day. It took a few weeks, but eventually all was good with the world and my side effects of headaches and dizziness were gone.

  8. paw

    I have been on Cymbalta for over 5 years. I was on it initially because my Dr. said it could eliminate frequent night-time trips to the Bathroom. Amazingly, it worked. However, I became a gambling addict in the 5 years I have been on Cymbalta. Now, after 5 years, I decided to quit “cold turkey”. I’ve experienced relatively few physical side effects, except for fatigue. However, I have had very bizarre behavior changes, including an increased feeling of urgency to act impulsively, and to resist temptations.
    I have never, ever, in my entire life, been in trouble with the law, but I was recently arrested for shoplifting. While the whole, bizarre occurrence was transforming, I felt myself disconnected, in a very surreal experience.
    Of course, my depression has increased, and I immediately began taking the Cymbalta again.
    My question is this: is there any one out there that can relate?? I really need some help, as well as legal help. Thank you

  9. debbie

    I am stopping Effexor ER and starting Cymbalta. I have been on Effexor for 7 years. My physician says just stop one and start the other as they are similar. I am concerned about this because I had to discontinue Effexor “cold turkey” for a medical test and it was a nightmare.
    How should I make this change?

    • Goldie

      Cymbalta was a nightmare to get off of. It took me six months with all sorts of neurological symptoms. NEVER again.

  10. mac58

    Please, never stop taking ANY type of anti-depressant “cold turkey”! ALWAYS consult your doctor who can prescribe a “bridge” medication and help with the step-down process! I took Effexor for many years and switched to Cymbalta almost a year ago. For a while I took both, tapering down the dose of Effexor until I stopped completely. I did still experience some of the “brain zap” sensation but it was not unbearable and stopped completely. The main thing is to ask for help because no one needs to suffer when help is available.

  11. JH

    I have experienced what is written about here many times in the past when withdrawing from various antidepressants, including effexor, paxil, celexa, lexapro. I am a nurse and figured out on my own what was going on. Most of these experiences took place more than 10 yrs ago, when an explanation was less known. I can assure you, it is not illegal for a nurse to pass on such info. to patients about personal experience.
    I did so many times, as patients were going through pure hell, and I met several physicians over the years who did not acknowledge the existence of this withdrawal syndrome. One psychiatrist in Burlington NC spoke up at a conference and said he doubted the withdrawal experience was real. This really bothered me. I went up to him after his talk and assured him it was very real indeed.
    I no longer take prescription anti-depressants. They were a life saver when I first discovered them and my only regret was that I had not discovered them sooner. However, there is more than one price tag in taking them. I required months of tapering the meds to get entirely free of symptoms and I had to do what worked for me, instead of what may have been suggested by physicians with a lack of knowledge in this area.
    I think as more physicians taking the drugs themselves became aware of the problem, then it became more public knowledge.

  12. Ke

    Each drug has it own half-life…the time frame in which half of the dose remains in the body. Some are very short – a few hours – while others are very long – up to many days. This is one of the factors (only one, but an important one) that impacts withdrawal. It helps to know the half-life of a drug when looking into reducing and stopping it altogether.
    I have been in the process of withdrawing from a psychotropic drug for some time. It has a 60+ hour half-life. To ease the withdrawal I asked my doctor to prescribe it in a liquid suspension form. In this form I can lower the dose very gradually over a long period of time. When I feel the slightest of withdrawal symptoms I maintain myself at that dose. The symptoms usually get a bit worse but are very manageable. When the withdrawal symptoms subside I give myself a short rest before I begin reducing again.
    It is a slow process – frustrating at times because I want to be off this drug – but it is a humane approach to minimizing the pain (physical and emotional) of withdrawal. It took me a bit of calling pharmacies to find one that would make up the medication in liquid form, but I did find one without too much difficultly. A suggestion…If you want to stop a medication do research on the medication and its withdrawal and then talk to your doctor, so that you are informed going into the conversation. Good Luck to all coming off of one of these drugs.

  13. MS

    I weaned myself off of Effexor after taking it (and Zoloft before that) for several years. I carefully opened the capsules and poured out a few granules before closing and taking the capsule. At first, I poured out only about 6 or 7 granules and stayed on that level for about a week. Each week I removed a few more granules, until about four months later I was done, without any problems.

  14. Dee W

    My doctor prescribed Wellbutrin as a “sure-fire” remedy to quit smoking. Having never needed an antidepressant, I attributed my symptoms to withdrawal from the cigarette habit. One day driving a familiar two-lane highway I had the sensation of swerving from shoulder to shoulder across the road. I slowed to 35 mph braced my elbows to my sides and clenched the wheel with determination to make the 15 miles home. Discontinued the Wellbutrin with no further side effects.

  15. Beth

    I had trouble getting off Effexor also. I got strange, revved-up nightmares. My doc was surprised, since he said that nightmares are usually a side effect of starting the medicine.
    I tried lots of antidepressants until I finally figured out that I have bipolar, and the antidepressants had been hurting me all along. By figuring out the correct diagnosis, I finally got he right medicine and I now have a life.

  16. SM

    I tried to wean myself off Celexa with disastrous results. I was careful to cut down slowly and took 2 months to get to nothing at all. In a few days, I was jumping out of my skin, nauseous, anxious and feeling generally ill. It scared me so badly I gave up and just started taking the medication, which brought relief in an hour. How can anyone get off of this drug?

  17. ssa

    Several years ago I had been on Effexor for a number of months. I was on several SSRIs. One would become less effective after several months so I would be changed to another drug in that same group. The next time one quit working as well, I was put on Wellbutrin, from another drug type. Within a couple of days I was crying 24/7. I knew I didn’t have anything to cry about, but just talking about it made me cry more.
    This went on for 3 days, then I was OK. I told the PA who had done the prescribing what had happened, and that she needed to wean people off one drug, when switching between types. This wasn’t as serious as being suicidal, but it was no fun and very embarrassing, since I was in retail mgmt. and HAD to go to work.

  18. H.E.K.

    I took Zoloft after dealing with breast cancer followed by a hysterectomy. After a couple of years, I decided I wanted to be drug free and was told I could stop taking it anytime I was ready. For the next two years, I fought a sensation of “trailing”. If I turned my head, my eyes and brain did not seem to be coordinated. Sometimes I felt sick to my stomach from the weird sensations in my head.
    I saw many doctors and no one seem to have any idea what was wrong. Then I was talked into taking Cymbalta for hot flashes and the “trailing” left me immediately. I didn’t put the two together until I started reading about the side effects of stopping an antidepressant. Now it’s been 4 years and I can’t get off of it without having horrible head problems. I may be stuck on this stuff for a long time.

  19. CPS

    I discontinued desyrel and started effexor with severe withdrawal symptoms. I called my doctor to tell him I could no longer walk, my legs were too shaky, I looked like a “junky” in need of a fix. I had been on desyrel for about 7 years. I had to take a week off of work. I learned my lesson and have tried to educate others. I work in a hospital and see many patients who have these medications just stopped after surgery or upon admission.

  20. foreverfriend

    THANK YOU so much for bringing this to the public’s attention! My best friend had been on Effexor (although she has taken other similar medications) after going through a dreadful divorce. She’s young, strong and vibrant. After a period of time she realized she no longer wanted to be on it an consulted her physician. He simply said, “stop taking it.” He did not return her calls either when she was having hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and thought she was insane.
    FINALLY, the nurse described her own personal account of going off anti-depressants – which is probably illegal – but greatly helped my friend understand what she was dealing with.
    If she had killed herself during this time, her physician would I’m sure taken no blame or responsibility for his obviously poor judgment and counsel.
    I’m fairly certain of this after having a friend tragically and horrifically killing herself after her psychiatrist changed her anti-depressant medication with no consideration for follow up, hospitalization or warning her husband who had the misfortune of finding her. I know HIPPA laws exist for a reason but without them she would be alive.
    Sometimes the drugs are much worse than the symptoms!

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