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Getting Off Venlafaxine Can Be Incredibly Challenging

Effexor (venlafaxine) is a frequently prescribed antidepressant. But getting off venlafaxine can be extremely difficult. Many patients are not told how to taper the drug VERY slowly.
Brain zap

Many years ago we heard from a reader who was trying to get off alprazolam (Xanax). It was not commonly recognized that short-acting benzodiazepines (benzos) could pose unbearable withdrawal symptoms if stopped suddenly. Her doctor chalked up her symptoms to a Xanax “deficiency.” His advice: keep taking Xanax indefinitely. This reader reports a somewhat similar story. Venlafaxine (Effexor) is an antidepressant. This person discovered that getting off venlafaxine is challenging. Her doctor had the same suggestion.

A Reader Reports that Getting Off Venlafaxine is Tough

Q. I have been on venlafaxine for two years. I am now feeling happy and would like to get off this antidepressant medication. My doctor believes I should just stay on it.

Whenever I have tried to stop, I feel bad. I think it is the after-effects of being on the drug, as I am not depressed. Some drugs are hard to get off. Is venlafaxine one of them?

What’s the Skinny on Getting Off Venlafaxine?

A. Venlafaxine (Effexor), like many other antidepressants, can be difficult to discontinue. The official prescribing information lists agitation, anxiety, muscle twitches, confusion, dizziness, nausea, nervousness, headaches, insomnia, electric-shock-like sensations and other symptoms when people stop taking this drug.

Doctors are advised to help patients reduce the dose gradually rather than stop suddenly. Unfortunately, neither the drug company nor the FDA offer specific tactics to accomplish this. For some people, withdrawal may take many months.

Other Readers Describe Getting Off Venlafaxine:

Amanda in New Zealand describes a zombie-like effect:

“I had a nightmare getting of Effexor. This drug led to seizures after I was on it for seven months to treat migraine anxiety. I never had seizures before in my 56 years. My doctor prescribed venlafaxine and described it as the best drug in his arsenal here in NZ.

“I still have involuntary body jolts brought on by certain triggers. I stopped the drug after a tapering program was devised by another doctor. If I had been warned about the possibility of ‘discontinuation syndrome’ and what that might mean, I would never have started this drug.

“Why do pharma companies avoid full disclosure about side effects? I feel ripped off…and yet also lucky to be back with the loving support of a best friend. I made it back from zombieland. My granddaughter said I had turned into a zombie (her words) after seven years taking the drug. How can these drug companies get away with it? How come no one is made responsible?”

Judy in Winston Salem, NC expresses her outrage:

“What upset me was that, when you tried to go off one of these meds and had problems, they would use that to say ‘you see, you really need this.’ I feel so angry that all of these years these drugs were marketed as non-addictive and that doesn’t seem quite true.”

Lisa in New York described brain zaps while getting off venlafaxine:

“I survived a withdrawal after stopping Effexor. I was on this drug for several years. I went off Effexor after extreme weight gain over the years. Withdrawal resulted in horrific vomiting, shaking, chills and what is commonly referred to as ‘brain zaps.’ Brain zaps are flashes that feel like I was just hit with minor electrocution.

“I saw my psychiatrist and described the horrible suffering and she said oh that’s from the sudden reduction in serotonin. She put me on a minimal dose of plain old Prozac. Instant relief!

“From there, I was able to slowly reduce my dose of Prozac until I was off it. I then opted for alternative medications that would not cause weight gain OR withdrawal upon ceasing to take it.

“My psychiatrist saved my life, but I surely wish I had been fully informed from the start. Leaving a patient, especially an extremely depressed patient, to read and comprehend the manufacturers’ inserts that come with the medication is just not reasonable. I am glad that this has really come to the forefront and is being discussed!”

Maddie describes getting off venlafaxine VERY gradually:

“I was prescribed Effexor in the late 1990’s. No mention was made of any kind of withdrawal symptoms. My prescription was renewed year after year for over twenty years, even though, to my knowledge, there is no research to show that long-term use is safe.

“In 2014, I suspected that the venlafaxine XR 75 mg I was taking was giving me unpleasant side effects as well as debilitating withdrawal symptoms if I missed by dose by as little as four hours – brain zaps, nausea, dizziness. One night I woke up and found that when I moved my eyeballs, I heard a distinct ‘click’ with each movement – this happened over several months any time I was late taking my dose. I also didn’t think I needed an antidepressant any more.

“I decided I would open up the capsule and take one less pellet every two weeks. I did this for over a year and finally reduced my dosage to 37.5 mg. After a couple of months stabilizing myself at the lower dosage, I started back reducing it by 1 pellet a week.

“I ended up having withdrawal symptoms even with this tiny reduction. Now I’m stuck at that dosage. It makes me furious that a drug company can market a drug like this with no warning, and even with a denial that the drug is addictive. Of course it works well for them, since I’m still buying their pills!”

You can learn more about the pros and cons of venlafaxine and other antidepressants in our Guide to Dealing with Depression. It also discusses withdrawal strategies.

Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped (71 cents), self-addressed envelope:

  • Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. E-7
  • P. O. Box 52027
  • Durham, NC 27717-2027.

It can also be downloaded at this link.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Dealing with Depression

Read up on the pros and cons of popular antidepressants, along with advice on getting off drugs like Cymbalta, Effexor or Paxil; the connection between antidepressants and suicide, and Non-drug approaches.

Dealing with Depression
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I was taking Zoloft for several years. It worked well but the side effects were awful, mostly the sweating. I could not go anywhere or do anything due to the embarrassment of being covered in sweat. My doctor switched me to Effexor, and I stopped the Zoloft. Began the Effexor immediately.

At first it worked well, and I was pleased. I was on 37.5 mg. Over the course of the years it became ineffective, which resulted in my increasing the dose to 75 mg. After being on the increased dose, I noticed no real difference in my mood. I had no motivation or desire to do anything, especially things that I once loved. I would spend much of my time in bed when possible. I tried several times to stop or taper down on the dose but the withdrawal symptoms were awful. I had dizziness, agitation, constant crying and wanted to jump out of my own skin.

I finally got to the point where I was done with this medicine. I dropped down to 37.5 mg, and that is when the tedious tasks of counting “beads” began. I couldn’t believe what a difference removing a few beads from each capsule made. If I removed too many, the real “discontinuation symptoms” hit: I was agitated, sad, emotionless, nervous, and most of all, dizzy. I could not drive due to the dizziness. I would have fits of absolute rage and anger like never before.

After “weaning” off over the course of 2 months, I finally had to go back up to 37.5 mg just to stabilize myself. I felt like such a failure. I wanted off of this medicine more than anything. Still feeling the same way (emotionless), I decided to try again (6 months later). This time I wasn’t going to count “beads.” I was going to start taking 37.5 mg every other day. This seemed to be OK at first but then the dizziness set in. After about a week I decided to try taking it every 3rd day. The dizziness increased but so did my desire to get off this medicine.

I am now 6 days post no-Effexor. I still have dizziness but it lessens each day. It seems to be worse at night. I have awful nightmares which come and go but I am so determined to get off of this medicine and never return. I have also noticed that it takes me a minute to gather my thoughts, and my loss for words is frequent. I have been told that this is because the neurotransmitters are “resetting” themselves. I have also been told that the dizziness should subside in about 3 weeks. I think this is because I have have always been on a relatively small dose never exceeding 75mg. I used to cry and think “what have I done to myself” by taking this medicine. I thought that I would be on it for life. Now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel I want to offer others hope. There is a way off this medicine, and it may be different for each person but don’t give up. I am starting to see how life is post-Effexor, and I am excited.

I’ve been on 150 mg of effexor for over a year. I read about the wd and decided to get off immediately, rather than prolong the inevitable. I haven’t taken it in 5 days, have had zero withdrawal symptoms. Hope more people trying to get off have the same experience as me.

A “Xanax deficiency,” eh? That doctor (quack quack!) should be kicked out of the profession!

Another commenter mentioned the benefits of Ashwaganda. I couldn’t agree more! If someone has any need for “smoothing out,” i.e., for taking benzodiazepines, then they owe it to themselves to try Ashwaganda! I’m healthy, full of vim and vigor but all my life I’ve had sleep difficulties and manic traits though not full-blown bipolar.

I’ve now taken Ashwaganda for 4 or 5 years. And all I can say is this: both the insomnia and the manic symptoms have gradually, gradually resolved! I used to have to take 3 or 4 things to get some sleep (melatonin, homeopathics, herbs). Now, I take NOTHING, and sleep just fine 90% of the time. And the manic symptoms? They’re just kinda GONE. Seriously! Only problem is: I used to use a puff or 2 of mj and then bomb around the house, cleaning furiously. Now, I’m much more likely to nod off, just like most other folks. (bummer)

I started taking Ashwaganda because it’s an “adaptogen,” i.e., it helps reduce stress and anxiety. Well, it sure has! With extra benefits thrown in.

Denying us meds that improve our quality of life can potentially lead to suicide or self medicating. Who are they saving in this mission of trying to save us from ourselves? It needs to change but will only be considered when we all stand and demand better healthcare. Chronic pain and depression need to be taken seriously and treated effectively. These conditions can lead to criminal behavior and are a main cause of overcrowded jails and prisons. Drs should work for our leading to a better quality of life. Prolonging a painful life in the name of the war on drugs is unacceptable.

I explained to my dr about my anxiety and depression issues. I told her please not to prescribe anything addictive because I have enough problems. She immediately gave me 120 1 mg xanax, effexor xr, lexapro, and seraquel. Adjusting to the effexor made me feel crazy. Then whenever I ran out I definitely felt crazy. My mind felt as though it was physically shifting front to back. It took being admitted to the hospital for 5 days to get myself off that overused drug.

I went off Effexor after being on it a few years and gaining substantial weight.

Like a couple of others have stated in their comments: I saw my psychiatrist and described the horrible suffering and she said oh that’s from the sudden reduction in serotonin. She put me on a minimal dose of plain old Prozac. Instant relief indeed!

I want to note that my psychiatrist was fully aware ahead of time that I was going off Effexor and she never warned me of any potential issues with it and certainly never said if those issues get severe I can fix it in a second with plain old Prozac.

Final but important note, I switched from Effexor to a combination of Prozac and Wellbutrin and lost the weight and the severe sugar and carb cravings! Sure wish I had been warned that Effexor can result in extreme weight gain too!

I know this is an older post regarding Xanax but maybe someone can benefit from my observations, as I have by reading these letters. My discontinue syndrome is about Neurontin. I took this drug for a few years for spinal nerve pain.

As I became more susceptible to the side effects, I tried to drop it by tapering off. I immediately had the same symptoms your readers had.

Shaking, tremors, anxiety, brain zaps, cognitive and memory problems!
I have since gone back to a low dose….had to. Now, I will start again by emptying out some of the powder in the capsule, little by little. What to do for the pain? Hot Epsom salt baths….heating pads….and my TENS unit. I want off of the pharmaceutical merry go round!

The best way to withdraw from it is to go down a milligram a day. How much is a milligram? Well , if you open up an Effexor capusle, you will find little white beads. At least with the brands I have seen, each tiny bead is a milligram! But make sure to count your version for yourself to ensure it matches the dose.
Once you do that, you can go down by a miligram per day. Towards the end, repeat doses…like this:
That’s the best way I have seen to do it.
You may need some Meclizine and Tylenol on the way down to deal with withdrawal effects.

At one time I tried to help my sister withdraw from Xanax. We wound up in the ER and the attending doctor explained to me that she’d almost died from withdrawal and would never be able to stop taking the drug. A year later her doctor also prescribed methadone for chronic pain and she was dead within the week from the deadly combination.

For about ten years, I took 20 mg/day of Prozac but had many body aches. A doctor suggested adding Effexor and this resulted in a complete cessation of the various aches and pains of arthritis and gout.

When my doctor recommended elimination of Effexor, while concurrently increasing the Prozac I complied but with real reservations as I anticipated the return of the arthritis-like miseries.

The switch was over a very short period of time–a week on 40 mg of Prozac. I gradually lowered my Prozac to 20 mg/day and have happily lived Effexor free and pain free for the past two years.

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