Think it’s a good idea to stop taking your antidepressant medication without first consulting your physician? Think again. According to a recent study, there are several risks involved in rapid antidepressant withdrawal. Sudden withdrawal from antidepressants not only results in the manifestations of withdrawal symptoms, but it also increases the risk of having their disorder re-emerge sooner and more often. For this reason, doctors often advise their patients not to stop taking their medications on their own, since they need to be gradually weaned from these medications over a certain amount of time.
Researchers followed 398 patients who were diagnosed with either major depressive disorder, bipolar disorders, and panic disorder, who were taking antidepressants for about 8.5 months. Of these patients, 261 were women and 137 were men, with an average age of 42. In the study, 188 stopped taking their antidepressant medications rapidly (in 7 days or less), and 210 underwent gradual or slow discontinuation process (in 14 days or more). They were then followed-up for nearly three years.
Results from the study revealed that stopping antidepressant medications rapidly can increase the likelihood of a new panic or a new major depression episode. According to the experts, this finding was similar to that of previous studies done in schizophrenic patients who abruptly stopped antipsychotic therapy. The same was also true in people with bipolar disorders who rapidly discontinued lithium intake. In those patients, there was also an earlier, and even more severe, recurrence of their illness, and at shorter intervals than what was expected.
These findings have important implications in the clinical setting. Physicians may now have to warn their patients at the start of their treatment about the effects of rapid antidepressant withdrawal. Apparently, there exists a need to emphasize that rapidly stopping intake of antidepressants can put patients at increased risks of illness recurrence.
Remember that if you or someone you know is planning on stopping antidepressant medication, do not do so abruptly. It is best to consult your doctor who can taper these prescriptions gradually over several weeks for optimal and lasting mental health.