At first, the antipsychotic drug may have rescued John from his hallucinations and other symptoms of acute psychosis. But after taking olanzapine for five years, John gained some 80 pounds. His mother believes the weight he gained while on olanzapine contributed to the heart disease that killed him.
Olanzapine has been used for more than a decade to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. However, the long-term physical effects of the medication are rarely addressed in a psychiatrist’s office. That becomes a problem for many patients who don’t know that antipsychotics like olanzapine can toy first with the body’s metabolism until their weight gain leads to potentially dangerous health issues.
If only that were the issue. Another concern is that olanzapine and other psychiatric drugs have a habit of finding their way onto the streets, where their sedating effects are open to abuse. Although olanzapine is not addictive, the body has a difficult time adjusting without it.
Olanzapine – or Zyprexa, one of the thousands of brand names for the drug – is used to treat certain mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and, with a combination of other medications, depression. The medication, which belongs to a class of drugs called atypical antipsychotics, has sedative properties, especially in large doses.
Once ingested, olanzapine blocks receptors in the brain to balance the release of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are stored in nerve cells, which travel to different sections of the brain to control the excessive activity associated with schizophrenia and mania.
In this way, olanzapine influences neurotransmitters to manage thinking, mood and behavior. Most people are prescribed olanzapine in small doses. Olanzapine can take weeks of regular use to have any effect on anxiety, depression, hallucinations or disturbing thoughts. Of course, the longer the period olanzapine is taken, the more patients become dependent on the drug to function normally.
Olanzapine may induce side effects before any of the benefits of the drug are realized. These side effects may include:
Olanzapine is said to have fewer side effects than older antipsychotic drugs. But, at some point, some of these side effects including the increased risk for stroke and diabetes may still outweigh the benefits of taking it. For patients who have taken olanzapine in larger doses for longer periods, the decision to stop taking the medication becomes that much more problematic.
For olanzapine to work correctly, the pill or orally disintegrating tablet should be taken every day or as directed by a physician. When olanzapine is first taken, the medication changes the neurotransmitter levels of dopamine, serotonin, histamine, and acetylcholine, blood flow and connectivity with the brain. For weeks, the brain adapts to a level of olanzapine and requires more of the drug to maintain a neurotransmitter balance. When dosages are skipped or reduced, withdrawal commences.
Withdrawal symptoms for olanzapine can be extremely harsh, especially if an individual decides to quit “cold turkey.” In this type of abrupt stoppage, individuals may find themselves struggling with severe symptoms as the brain attempts to adapt without the drug.
The exact number of symptoms, the nature of their severities and how long they persist will vary by individual. Some of these withdrawal symptoms may include:
The timeline and stages of olanzapine withdrawal can vary depending on the individual’s tolerance level, genetics, frequency of use and dosage. Whether or not olanzapine was used in combination with other drugs or alcohol will also factor in the withdrawal timeline.
For some individuals who have taken the drug for extended periods of time, withdrawal symptoms may linger for upward of 90 days or more. For others, the withdrawal may only persist for a couple of weeks.
By working with a healthcare provider to wean off olanzapine, individuals may not have any notable withdrawal symptoms at all. On the other hand, individuals who decide to quit “cold turkey” may find themselves really struggling with severe symptoms as their brain attempts to rewire itself to function without the drug.
The best method for treating olanzapine withdrawal is to taper off use gradually over time. Tapering off can take weeks. This process for this works best with the help of a doctor or substance abuse treatment provider, only when abuse of other drugs has ceased.
If you are abusing olanzapine, you are probably using the antipsychotic to self-medicate and relieve discomforting side effects from illicit drugs and alcohol. And the last thing you need is an adverse reaction to another drug. For this reason, individuals who wish to stop having to depend on olanzapine, alcohol or any street drugs should work with a substance abuse treatment provider. This type of supervision is typically found at a hospital or residential treatment facility, where certified medical professionals can manage the physical symptoms associated with antipsychotic drug detoxification. Here, in a safe and peaceful environment, olanzapine can be prescribed in gradually reduced dosages to alleviate any common discomforts related to the withdrawal process. Medical staff monitors progress and prevents any unwarranted complications. Detox is a highly recommended first step on a path toward recovery.
Detox is only one part of treating a drug addiction of any kind. Following successful detox from olanzapine and other associated addictions, any real chance at recovery and sustained sobriety will require determination, commitment and an extended stay at a residential substance abuse treatment facility. Here you will be fitted with a personalized recovery plan customized to address your issues and unique circumstances. To strengthen your resistance to relapse and to start feeling good about yourself, you will also be exposed to additional forms of treatment including group therapy, one-on-one counseling, educational lectures and workshops as part of your recovery program.
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National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02643355
Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/olanzapine-oral-route/precautions/drg-20071350?p=1
U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a601213.html
National Institute on Mental Illness (NIMH). Bipolar Disorder. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/bipolar-disorder.shtml
National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH). Schizophrenia. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml