Getting off Antidepressants: Prozac Withdrawal and Addiction
According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, approximately 14.8 million adults in America suffer from major depressive disorder, and 80 percent of those who receive treatment generally experience an improvement in symptoms within 4-6 weeks. Prozac is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor that can treat depression, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, panic disorder, and bulimia nervosa.
Prozac works by blocking the absorption of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in the brain. Regulating serotonin can help brain cells transmit clearer messages to one another, leading to more stable moods. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, patients begin taking Prozac at a fairly low dose, and their doctors gradually increase it over a matter of weeks.
Though Prozac can effectively combat symptoms of depression, it affects the central nervous system and can ultimately be habit-forming after a period of time. Prozac is one of the easiest prescription drugs to acquire, making it a prime candidate for abuse. If a loved one is showing signs of addiction to Prozac, help is available. With the right support structure in place, pursuing treatment does not have to be scary, and it is entirely possible to keep withdrawal symptoms manageable during medical detox.
Signs of Addiction
It is necessary to understand the signs of addiction to Prozac in order to recognize when a loved one is struggling with one. According to a report published in Dovepress, the majority of individuals who are prescribed antidepressants do not abuse them; however, there are populations that are more vulnerable than others to developing an addiction to SSRIs like Prozac. These include those in controlled environments and those who have a history of substance abuse. Signs of a developing addiction to Prozac are:
- Violent thoughts or actions
- Aggression and anger
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
It is important to keep in mind that the exact dosage or frequency of taking Prozac does not determine if a loved one is addicted. Rather, an addiction might be present if the individual lost a job, developed financial struggles, is no longer interested in favorite activities, or is destroying relationships with family and friends because of Prozac use. People suffering from any drug addiction also tend to become more reclusive. Because Prozac abuse can lead to suicidal thoughts in those who are already prone to them, it is critical to seek help or at least reach out if a loved one has suddenly stopped partaking in social activities.
Seeking treatment may be scary, but going through withdrawal is not nearly as exhausting as maintaining an addiction to Prozac. By enrolling in a medical detox program with access to trained healthcare professionals 24/7, individuals can get through withdrawal safely and comfortably, and progress on to therapy.
Though Prozac is not addictive by definition, the National Institute of Mental Health reminds readers that stopping it abruptly can lead to withdrawal symptoms. There is no way to predict who will experience severe symptoms and who won’t, which is why it is so important to only stop taking Prozac with the help of a qualified medical team.
Because antidepressants restore naturally occurring chemicals in the brain that regulate moods, stopping Prozac rapidly does not give the brain time to adjust to the variation in levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. Withdrawal symptoms of Prozac include:
- Mood swings
- Dizziness and trouble balancing
- Flu-like symptoms
- Muscle spasms
- Trouble sleeping
Though it varies among individuals, withdrawal symptoms typically occur within three days of stopping Prozac and last for about two weeks. Symptoms are often mild, though undergoing medical detox from Prozac tends to smooth out the process.
In rare cases, people may experience mania, which is why it’s critical to have access to qualified healthcare professionals during the detox phase. For those whose symptoms are especially severe, there are various medications they can take to make the withdrawal period more manageable. The duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms will ultimately vary among individuals, depending on the extent of the addiction.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which conducted a study to determine which antidepressants are most likely to cause withdrawal symptoms, 44 percent of participants coming off fluoxetine, the generic name for Prozac, experienced some form of withdrawal. The most common withdrawal symptom was anxiety, followed by dizziness and then vivid dreams. Symptoms typically lasted for a period of six weeks before they subsided.
When to Stop Prozac
Individuals who have developed an addiction to Prozac should make the commitment to pursue treatment as soon as possible; however, because of the potential for adverse effects when quitting rapidly, they should not simply stop taking the medication. Some individuals are unaware they have even developed a dependency on the drug, but it may be obvious to their family and friends.
If an addiction issue is suspected, discuss the concern with the prescribing physician. A medical professional can help to assess the situation.
The Road to Recovery
According to American Medical News, tapering off antidepressants slowly is the most popular way to stop taking them; however, those who do so may still experience some withdrawal symptoms. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why some people are more prone to a harder detox phase than others, but they have determined that the best way to combat a Prozac dependency, as well as any symptoms that result from quitting, is with a varied approach.
If addiction is indeed present, following medical detox, people may enter inpatient rehabilitation to ensure their stability before enrolling in an intensive outpatient program. During both residential treatment and outpatient programs for addiction, clients may participate in Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and other forms of therapy focused on giving clients the tools they need to cope with life after Prozac abuse or addiction. If people started taking Prozac due to depression, they may be worried about depressive symptoms coming back after they leave treatment; however, according to a study published in General Hospital Psychiatry, most adults diagnosed with depression actually prefer therapy and have found it more effective at treating their symptoms than antidepressants like Prozac.
When loved ones enter treatment for addiction to antidepressants, families can encourage them by promising to support them throughout the entire process. They can also attend family therapy together in order to develop tools to combat symptoms of depression without medication should those feelings arise again.
Though Prozac is not considered addictive by its nature as an SSRI, it is possible to develop a psychological dependence on it. In addition, people may experience withdrawal symptoms upon stopping antidepressant use, which many associate with addiction. If a loved one appears to be suffering from an addiction to antidepressants, real help is available. There are comprehensive forms of treatment available for addiction, as well as for depression following recovery.