This section presents research and personal experiences relating to the use of and withdrawal from antidepressant drugs. You can use this page to:
- Learn about research on antidepressants and withdrawal effects.
- Read blogs and listen to podcasts related to withdrawal from antidepressants.
- Access other resources related to withdrawal from antidepressants.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What causes withdrawal symptoms?
The exact mechanism is unknown, but a proposed theory is that, over time, the body adapts to the presence of the drug by altering the number or sensitivity of neurotransmitter receptors. When the drug is reduced or stopped, these adaptations are uncompensated for by the drug and the result is withdrawal symptoms. This adaptation is known as oppositional tolerance and is proposed as the reason that withdrawal can persist long after the drug is ‘out of the body’. Click here to read a more detailed account of how psychotropic drugs act on the brain.
Are antidepressants addictive?
Doctors will sometimes reject any suggestion that psychiatric drugs can be addictive. As far as the technical distinction between dependence and addiction is concerned, this is correct. However, it would be misleading if the assertion that psychiatric drugs ‘are not addictive’ was used to imply either that the drugs are without risk, or that they cannot lead to dependence. For some people, dependence can be a result of using antidepressant drugs exactly as prescribed.
How many people will suffer withdrawal effects when coming off antidepressants?
There have been only a small number of research projects looking at the number of people reporting withdrawal when coming off antidepressants. In a recent UK survey undertaken by Professor John Read and Doctor James Davies, 56% of people experienced withdrawal effects, with 46% of those describing the effects as severe. Many factors influence the likelihood of withdrawal including the length of time on the drugs, the dosage taken, the age of the person taking them and whether other prescribed or street drugs are also involved. A wide range of experiences are reported between those who can come off relatively easily with mild, short-lived symptoms, to those who experience protracted withdrawal lasting many months or sometimes years.
What are recommended tapering speeds?
The time taken to taper from psychiatric drugs is highly variable and dependent upon many factors and personal preference. Professional groups often recommend very short tapers, in the range of four to six weeks, but feedback from those with lived experience is that longer, more gradual tapers are preferable when aiming to minimise withdrawal effects. Recent research is providing evidence that tapering will often need to be months to years rather than days to weeks. You can read more in our withdrawal protocols document.