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Since there are so many folks on here trying to get off of antidepressants and benzos, I thought I'd start a topic about tapering safely. patient is an awesome place to start, but the following resources are the true beginnings of proceding safely with factual information, not hearsay and opinion.
That said, never COLD TURKEY (stop taking) any of these meds! And also consult with your doctor about your wish to get off. Now, 99% of docs and psychiatrists no nothing of how to safely get you off and will think that the following info is excessively conservative. They are happy to hand out these drugs like candy but don't have a clue about how to get their patients off successfully! Just tell your doc you'd like his supervision and scripts for meds but that you would like to take the slow approach to gettting off.
Many folks are desperate to get them out of their system as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the rare few do so without problems. As hard as it is to be patient and slow, it truly is for the best to follow the recommendations from the sites above. Many have declared they could tough it out, but most fail. Those who do push through usually end up in protracted withdrawal for a year or more, and we're talking debilitating suffering with folks unable to work, leave the house, care for the kids, etc. There's no award for toughing it out.
Since few truly understand what is going on with taking psychiatric medication, I'd like to give a simplified explanation below. This is not a discussion about why you should go off medication; everyone is entitled to their own choice in the matter.
The most common falacy about psych drugs is that they work by correcting an imbalance in brain chemistry. The fact is, there has been no evidence found to support this hypothesis thorugh research - NONE! Just ask your doctor for some citations to literature proving this! They can't! There are people with depression who have high levels of serotonin! However, the medical profession continues to perpetuate this belief, in part to get their patients willing to take the med. We are much more compliant if we believe that our brains need these drugs for similar reasons that a diabetic needs insulin, but there is no truth to it!
There seems to be a common misconception that the main thing to getting off these drugs is to get the drug out of your system and then all will be well. It doesn't work that way. Psych drugs work by interferring with how the nervous system works, impacting neurons and neurotransmitter levels. SSRIs, for instance, block the uptake of serotonin in the neuronal gap by occupying receptors and causing an increase of serotonin in the gap. Initially, this imbalance, among other changes, causes the side effects people encounter while going on these meds. Meanwhile, we are told the meds won't start working for several weeks.
What happens next is that the body likes homeostasis, and so the nervous system sets about countering this new imbalance by adding or subtracting receptors (a simplified explanation), essentially remodelling the nervous system in an effort to return to your "factory default."
An interesting fact is that many SSRIs occupy about 80% of receptors at the MINIMUM dose! And from there, no matter how high a dose you are put on, the maxium occupany is around 93%! So, on one of the drugs I am on, Effexor, there is only a 12 or so percent increase between 37.5 mg and 225 mg! I am theorizing that this is in part due to the brain always needing to have a few on-occupied receptors on hand to take up that excess serotonin, otherwise we'd be suffering serotonin poisoning! So, it's like an arms race!
Anyway, as you can imagine, the longer you are on these drugs and the higher the dose, the more set your system becomes in its new configuration, and all of that will not be undone in the mere 6 weeks most doctors have their patients taper over to come off. If you have been on a drug less than six months, you may be able to get away with these fast tapers, but if you have been on longer than a year or YEARS, there's no way.
Now, as I said before, once in awhile you will meet someone who did a cold turkey, completely stopped, or did a fast taper and had no trouble at all. They are the lucky few. Those same folks might go back on the drug later, and then when they try to quit again, they run into a whole heap of trouble! That is because their system has become sensitized.
I often wonder if in reality, then ended up going back on the drug because they in fact did have withdrawal and didn't realize it, thinking they had relapsed.
In addition to the resources I listed above, do a web search on antidepressant withdrawal symptoms. There are a host of physical symptoms. 80% or so of the serotonin in your body exists outside the brain, and there are receptors in your gut, so this is why people get nausea, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, cramps, etc with these drugs, both in going on and coming off. In addition to the physical, withdrawal causes anxiety, suicidality, depression, and insomnia, the very same symptoms that people take drugs to treat to begin with! Rather than recognize it as withdrawal, the patient and/or doctor think it is a relapse and so go back on the drug or some other drug. This is often because the emotional withdrawal symptoms are delayed to around the six month mark. Just as a note, there are many patients put on ADs to treat pain, never had anxiety or depression, who have anxiety and depression in withdrawal, proof that it is due to withdrawal and not a relapse!
When you start tapering by starting with half your dose, that is a 50% drop that your nervous system must adapt to. As with adapting to the drug, there is now a huge imbalance again, and this leads to the withdrawal symptoms! If you then cut that half pill in half again a couple of weeks later, that is yet another 50% decrease over the previous 50%, in far too short a period for your system to even adapt to the first cut, so it's the same as cutting by 75% all at once! It is no wonder that so many people fail to get off these meds and reinstate, declaring that they will never come off again! It is a sad thing that a person would stay on these drugs for life to avoid the hell they went through trying to come off!
Once you get down to below the minimum therapeutic dose, you are dropping below 80% occupancy, and that's when the trouble can REALLY begin!
Survivingantidepressants and other withdrawal authorities advocate a 10% taper schedule. This may seem painfully small. The goal is to make such a small change that your nervous system will hardly "notice" it, so the withdrawal symptoms are also less noticeable and disruptive. Now, you may be saying to yourself, "But, my pills can only be broken in half - how can I do 10%?" The resources I listed give information about that. Some drugs are available in a liquid version that can be measured with a syringe. I am not going to go into the how-to's of tapering here; you can look to the resources given for that information.
What I do want to add here is that the reasons people run afowl with their attempts to taper off these drugs are, among others:
1) making a cut when still suffering from withdrawal symptoms. You must wait for a period of stability before making the next cut. SA recommends 10% PER MONTH.
2) making too large of cuts. Again, 10% is advised, and some are so sensitive that they must do 5% or less. And, this is 10% of the PREVIOUS DOSE, not the starting dose.
3) taking other prescription drugs to treat withdrawal symptoms, such as sleep or anxiety meds. These also impact your neurochemistry, complicating the issue and causing further disruption. Many have caused withdrawal to worsen by doing so.
4) taking supplements to treat withdrawal symptoms, or over-the-counter meds. Problematic for the same reason as #3. The only supplements recommended are:
- 2 grams or more fish oil/day
- magnesium to help with anxiety and sleep. Magnesium chelates tend to absorb better and not cause digestive issues. Epsom salt baths and topical magnesium may be helpful, too
Some foks find a lot of supplements, and even foods, activating, worsening anxiety, for instance.
If you are already off your drug and in protracted withdrawal, it may be helpful to reinstate a small amount of drug to aleviate symptoms. SA has a lot of info about that, and the longer you have been off the less likely this will work. You can try taking 1-2 mg of the drug and see how you feel. It should help right away.
Do not look at reinstatement as a failure. If you are suffering greatly in your day to day, only getting a couple of hours sleep, feeling hopeless like you can't go on like this, then reinstatement is the kindest thing you can do to yourself, provided it works!
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