Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health issues in the United States, and they’re among the most common public health issues in general. Anxiety disorders affect around 40 million adults each year. Generalized anxiety disorder affects around 6.8 million adults. Major depressive disorder affects 16.1 million Americans. There are several medications that can be used to treat mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are among the first medications your doctor may prescribe for you to try, along with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). 

Effexor is a prescription SNRI that’s used to treat depression and anxiety. Effexor is the brand name for a drug that’s called venlafaxine. It was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1993, and an extended-release form was later released in 1997. Effexor may also be used to treat panic disorder and social anxiety disorder, in addition to major depression and general anxiety. Chemically, Effexor is similar to some pain relievers, so it may also be used to treat migraine headaches and diabetic neuropathy off-label. 

Like many prescriptions, quitting cold turkey isn’t recommended. The FDA recommends that your dose should be reduced slowly when you’re coming off the medication, rather than stopping all at once. But why is that? Is there a risk of chemical dependence or withdrawal symptoms? 

Effexor withdrawal symptoms can be both emotionally and physically difficult. They can even be serious around 5 percent of the time.

The dosage and the length of time the drug was taken can influence the Effexor withdrawal duration.

Effexor withdrawal should be managed under the guidance of a medical professional. It should not be stopped suddenly. Tapering is the best approach to withdrawal.

What Is Effexor?

Effexor is a brand-name formulation of the serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) medication venlafaxine. SNRIs are typically prescribed to manage symptoms of depression.

Effexor and its generic form venlafaxineare prescribed to treat depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. It is marketed as both an extended-release once-daily medication and as a formulation that needs to be taken two or three times a day.

Effexor works by interacting with brain chemistry, changing levels of neurotransmitters that regulate mood and energy, like serotonin and norepinephrine. When taken regularly, these alterations to brain chemistry are expected.

It often takes several weeks, and sometimes up to two months, for the medication to take full effect.

What Causes Effexor Withdrawal?

Withdrawal is caused by your body’s adaptation to the regular use of a drug. While you take a drug over the course of several days, weeks, or months, your body will gradually adapt to its presence. To achieve chemical balance, your brain may adjust the levels of certain chemical messengers or the number of receptors on nerve cells. Through this adaptation, you may feel a growing tolerance, which is when your standard dose doesn’t seem as strong as it once was.

When you skip a dose, cut back, or stop using Effexor, you’ll experience a chemical imbalance that produces uncomfortable symptoms. While becoming chemically dependent on a medication causes chemical changes over time, quitting cold turkey will cause an abrupt chemical change all at once, causing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

What To Expect During Withdrawal

Effexor withdrawal occurs when the drug processes out of the brain and is no longer active in the bloodstream. Even missing one dose of Effexor when the brain expects it can result in mood swings and impairment.

Symptoms of Effexor withdrawal can even be severe enough to appear like a stroke. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling information for Effexor, the following are symptoms of withdrawal:

  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Uneasiness (dysphoric mood)
  • Mental confusion
  • Disturbed dreams/nightmares
  • Significant mood swings (emotional lability)
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of inhibitions and euphoria (hypomania)
  • Coordination and balance issues
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Dry mouth
  • Appetite suppression and possible anorexia
  • Fatigue
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Vertigo
  • Extreme sleepiness (somnolence)
  • Muscle twitches (fasciculation)
  • Tingly, electric shock sensations (paresthesia)
  • Nervousness
  • Seizures

Some of these side effects can be extremely uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.

Due to the potential severity of Effexor withdrawal, don’t attempt to stop taking this medication on your own. Consult your doctor first.

Withdrawal Timeline & Contributing Factors

Even if you have only been taking Effexor for a week or so, withdrawal symptoms can occur. The longer you have been taking the medication, the more intense withdrawal symptoms can be.

The dosage matters too. Generally, Effexor is given in as low a dose as possible initially. The dosage will be slowly increased over time until stabilization is reached. It can take up to six to eight weeks for the medication’s full impact to be felt.

Antidepressants are often taken on a long-term basis. The  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes that about 25 percent of Americans taking antidepressants between 2011 and 2014 had been taking them for at least 10 years.The higher the dosage and longer the medication has been taken, the more intense withdrawal symptoms will usually be.

Metabolism, genetics, additional medical and mental health concerns, and taking other medications or mind-altering substances can also contribute to the significance of Effexor withdrawal and its timeline.

In general, withdrawal symptoms can begin within 12 hours to a day of stopping the medication. Symptoms will generally be more intense if the medication is stopped suddenly.

The first week can be particularly uncomfortable, and symptoms will dissipate after that point. In some cases, they can last for several weeks to months, however.

Withdrawal side effects can be managed through a slow and controlled taper that lowers the dosage over time. Medications and supportive measures can be beneficial as well.

Tapering Off Effexor

Effexor is typically weaned out of the body using a slow tapering of the dosage to manage and minimize withdrawal symptoms. This tapering approach may take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. It is influenced by the level of dependence that exists.

Effexor will need to be dosed at specific and set times to control potential withdrawal symptoms. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) explains that your health care provider can determine your tapering schedule.

Tapering allows your body to slowly adapt to smaller and smaller amounts of the drug until you return to normal. Not only does this decrease your risk of experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, but it may help avoid the return of some of the symptoms you were taking Effexor to treat. 

Your tapering schedule and the decision to stop using the drug will depend on several factors, including the reason you need to stop taking Effexor and the risks associated with coming off of it versus staying on. 

According to the FDA, if you reduce your Effexor dose and experience intolerable symptoms, you and your doctor may consider returning to your previous dose. If you’re taking Effexor XR, the FDA recommends tapering by reducing your dose by 75 milligrams at one-week intervals. 

It’s always best to speak to your doctor about altering the dose of your medication. It’s important to make an Effexor weaning plan before you decide to quit. 

Medications & Support For Withdrawal

In additional to tapering using Effexor itself, other supportive medications may be helpful for specific withdrawal symptoms.

  • Antihistamines like Benadryl for the electric “zapping” feelings in the brain
  • Gastrointestinal medications for stomach discomfort
  • Sleep aids for sleep disturbances
  • Mood stabilizers to control mood swings

If you have abused Effexor in combination with other substances, it’s important to get help in a professional detox facility. Look for one that has immediate availability and can provide a seamless transition into a treatment program.

Detox programs that apply a comprehensive approach and aim to manage all aspects of withdrawal, including any underlying co-occurring disorders at the same time, can provide a good starting point for treating the person as a whole.

If you were taking Effexor for depression, you must make sure the condition is addressed via other means if you want to stop taking the medication. Talk to your doctor about alternatives if Effexor isn’t working for you.

Tips For Managing Withdrawal

Ultimately, you need a doctor managing your withdrawal process. You can’t do it on your own safely since the tapering schedule must be supervised by a physician.

There are some supportive methods that can help make the process more comfortable.

  • Eat healthy and well-balanced meals.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid caffeine as much as possible.
  • Stick to structured sleeping and waking schedules, and try to get enough sleep.
  • Take hot baths with Epsom salts or other relaxing products to self-soothe.
  • Try massage, chiropractic care, or spa therapy to release tension.
  • Engage in physical activity and creative outlets to keep the mind busy and your time occupied.
  • Consider mindfulness meditation techniques and yoga to relieve stress.
  • Keep talking to your doctor and medical providers about any changes in symptoms or new side effects that may appear.

Effexor withdrawal can be managed with the help of trained professionals.

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