woman pulling out her hair

Antidepressants like desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), duloxetine (Cymbalta), sertraline (Zoloft) and venlafaxine (Effexor) have become extremely popular. Millions take such drugs regularly. When such medications are prescribed, doctors do not always warn patients that discontinuing the pills can be challenging. Stopping duloxetine (Cymbalta) too quickly can lead to some scary side effects, as this reader relates:

Q. No one ever told me just how hard it would be to come off Cymbalta. I have constant brain zaps and ringing in my ears. I get angry and break out in fits, yelling then crying.

Sunlight hurts my eyes and loud noise makes me crazy. I’m dog-tired with no energy, but I can’t sleep. If I do happen to sleep I get stuck in a world between awake and dreaming where my dreams seem real and most of them are nightmares.

Am I losing my mind? I wonder if I need to be committed.

My family is scared and unsure how to help. My 7-year-old daughter cries to me, “Please don’t leave me, mommy. I don’t want you to die!” It’s breaking my heart.

I have been on Cymbalta since 2009. I was taking 120 mg a day and dropped the dose to 90 to 60 to 30 mg to now nothing. I’m a mess and I can’t live this way. I lost my job because I flipped out on my boss. How can I move forward to find another job when I feel so ill? I keep hoping for this nightmare withdrawal to end.

Stopping Duloxetine (Cymbalta) Requires Patience:

A. Duloxetine (Cymbalta) is prescribed for anxiety, depression and pain. The FDA acknowledged a “Cymbalta discontinuation syndrome” in 2009. Unfortunately, symptoms such as severe mood swings, brain zaps and neurological problems might last for weeks or in some cases months.

Perhaps you reduced your dose too quickly. You may need a much more gradual withdrawal regimen under close medical supervision to wean you off this medicine.

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  1. Karin
    WA
    Reply

    I took Zoloft many years ago, but if I missed a dose or took it at a different time, I’d get brain zaps that felt as if the earth raised or lowered under my feet from one step to the next. Sometimes it seemed to shift direction, too. My doctor (a depression “expert”), insisted that my side effects were too uncommon to even be called rare. She’d never heard of them, so they weren’t real.

    This same doctor later held a 12-week session of “Coping With Depression”, which I attended because I’d managed to get off the Zoloft and was looking for another way to, well, cope.

    I learned a lot of useful skills, and stayed off antidepressants for several years.
    Then I had a whole series of events happen that sent me spiraling again, this time into manic and depressive episodes that were scaring everyone around me. I was in a different city, with a different doctor, and she put me on Celexa. At first, it was like Prozac had been in the beginning. I began feeling almost normal, whatever that is. I could think, plan, create, read, retain learning, experience ups and downs without going out of control.
    Forward 12 years, I’m having brain zaps, confusion, disorientation, dizziness, irritability, all of it – and I’ve not missed dosages, taken them at different times or anything. My current doc is concerned & doesn’t want to up my dosage, but also has no clue what to do. I think I need to wean myself off of these suckers now, too.
    While dealing with the loss of an awesome grandpa, a close best friend, and then my beloved dad.
    I almost feel as though the meds are muffling my real feelings – WHICH ARE NORMAL – and they are rebelling against me even having real feelings, if that makes any sense.
    What a nightmare.

  2. Nancy
    Florida
    Reply

    I was on citalopram for many years. More than one doctor tried to tell me that there were no side effects if you quit. More than one time I tried to go off but would have major crying spells and irritability. I finally got off of it by taking 2/3 of a pill for one month, then 1/2 of a pill for 1 month, then 1/3 of a pill for 1 month, then 1/4 of a pill for 1 month. Then I went to 1/4 of a pill every other day for a month, then every third day, etc. It was an incredibly slow process but did not cause any problems .

  3. Susan
    Reply

    Any ideas for coming off Paxil? I’ve been on it… 10 mgs… for many years and have tried to come off it a few times very slowly. I got down to 5 mgs. once, but had several of the problems listed here.

  4. Patricia
    South Dakota
    Reply

    Now I know why I cannot stand bright sunlight.

  5. Cindy M. B.
    Seattle, WA
    Reply

    Most people figure their doctor surely wouldn’t give them bad advice or prescribe a problematical medication… so they readily agree to start psych meds without trying safer alternatives first. After all, it’s so much easier to take a pill than to do the hard and messy work of educating themselves, using tools, reframing negatives, pursuing new goals, etc. etc. Then when they try to get off the stuff, it’s horrible.

    Maybe I’d be one of those people, but I worked for years in the mental health system and have heard stories like these literally hundreds of times. People so sick and freaked out that they had to be admitted inpatient just to get off the stuff without tragedy. People complaining of blurred vision, brain-zaps, horrible anxiety, inability to think or remember..! Know what the drs do when they hear such complaints? They basically ignore them!

    They pat the patient on the head and say, “now, now…you’ll be fine.” I think this is because caregivers give psych patients little credibility. After all, they’re PSYCH PATIENTS, so they’re probably overreacting, delusional, just wanting attention, etc. etc. I tell ya, it’s cringeworthy.

  6. Kassandra
    Arizona
    Reply

    I am currently on Duloxetine for my extreme nerve pain related to sciatica. When I asked my doctor about the reported difficulty of stopping Duloxetine, she said that she would put me on a different drug while I reduced the Duloxetine, and that it would reduce the side effects. She also said that it can take months to get off it completely, and should not be rushed.

    • L
      Kentucky
      Reply

      A good psychiatrist listens to and learns from patient feedback on medicine. I’ve found many psychiatrists to be bad ones. They believe what the drug reps tell them. They believe the propaganda disguised as “education” they receive from drug companies. They patronize us patients. The psychiatrist I had as a teen literally endangered my life by refusing to discuss side effects.

      Be sure to review your psychiatrist online, at one of the many sites set up for patients to review them, including “Ripoff Report”, if they’re bad enough.

  7. Barbara
    Washington
    Reply

    I couldn’t believe what she wrote, it was just like I had written it. I’ve suffered from bipolar disorder all my adult life and have on Cymbalta for many years. Several years ago I tried as well to go off it and went thru withdrawal exactly as she described. It was a living hell for both myself and my husband. I ended up being hospitalized and put back on my medication and I’ve not been off it since. I also take several other medications for bipolar, but I have to admit that even on the medications I still go thru the depressed and manic cycles. I have times when I cannot control my moods, I go from being on top of the world thinking that nothing is impossible to extreme anxiety and anger, raging and screaming at anyone around me and isolating myself because I can’t risk being around people or even family and totally losing it. The diseases of the mind in my opinion are one of the most terrible afflictions as even in this day and age it is not fully understood and it’s best to keep it hidden because on average the general population will never fully accept or understand it. It’s not reacted to with sympathy and understanding, only just tolerated but not acknowledged. My heart goes out to all who must try to cope with whatever demons invade their minds. Only a fellow sufferer could really understand and offer their support.

  8. Hopeful
    Indiana
    Reply

    Getting off of Cymbalta was the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done in my life. Many doctors don’t realize how difficult it is or that you have to taper – mine did not.

    I found A LOT of help online — my withdrawals were so difficult, I’m not sure I would have survived if I had not found all the online resources and other people’s stories of how difficult getting off of it was and the techniques they used. What I did, safely and carefully, was actually open the capsules and count the beads in order to taper down. (Cold turkey is horrible and was simply not do-able for me!) This counting of the “beads” was detailed in many places online.

    I went down VERY slowly and this greatly minimized the horrors of cold turkey. I think I took 3 solid months to go off of it completely- a LONG time. Even then, I had bad side effects and my brain didn’t “heal” completely for 9 months — I had bad memory problems, extreme difficulty with logical thinking, exhaustion, physical aches, and more. BUT I DID get better finally; it was just a very long, painful journey.

    Now I continue to experiment and research and have had successes with natural alternatives to a prescription antidepressant. I understand deeply how much antidepressants are needed for some people, but after my terrible experience with going off of Cymbalta, I hope to not use one again. (And the fact that the manufacturer doesn’t make a tapering dose/pack is unbelievable given the bad results of cold turkey.) I have much sympathy for you and urge you to search online regarding how to best go off Cymbalta. I wish you well, hang in there — it can be done!

  9. Hank
    Reply

    I was finally able to successfully taper off Effexor by using 5mg Prozac once a week.

    (That’s “almost nothing’ but it was plenty)

    I had this problem many years ago — when I tried the then new Effexor one winter for SAD. Terrible migraine with aura ensued. Trying to taper was also horrible.

    My doctor hoped that Prozac, as it’s very long lasting, taking so long to clear the system – might prevent feeling the Effexor withdrawal symptoms — and it worked.

    That’s, I

  10. Charis
    New Jersey
    Reply

    Im also on cymbalta. I’m on 30mgs daily. I tried to come off. I was told to just stop it by my physiatrist and my addiction dr. What hell!! I almost passed out while walking, and thought I was dying. Suicidal thoughts. I went back on it,due to my also tapering off methadone. A double edged sword! I can’t figure out how to get off it. Researched it, very upset at drs not helping or understanding. I’m stuck! This medicine only goes down to 20mgs. There’s nothing to taper after that. People are opening capsules,counting beads to get off. Why hasn’t company done something about this? They already been sued. What are we to do? Insane! People,please research things for yourself before going on anything. Be you’re own advocate.

  11. Cindyflora
    FL
    Reply

    Ive been on Sertralin for awhile. 75 mg. I decided to gradually wean off while in FL (with the sunlight) last May. I felt fine for a couple of months. Then I “crashed”. Had a very bad bout of depression. Unable to function.
    So went back on it.
    Now, I’m getting dizzy spells when I turn my head, or roll over in bed.
    My dr. says it’s such a small dose, why would I quit?
    But, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to quit.

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