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Effexor Withdrawal Symptoms, Venlafaxene Side Effects, Treatment Help

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Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Written by Diane Ridaeus
Medically Reviewed by Dr John Motl MD

Sadly, too many medical professionals are untrained in the skills needed for successful Effexor withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants like Effexor, even after mountains of evidence regarding withdrawal complications, still have gotten little attention from the medical community as problematic.

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Effexor (venlafaxine) Withdrawal Symptoms

In addition to the side effects of Effexor or Effexor XR, there are adverse effects that can accompany Effexor withdrawal.

This collective set of Effexor withdrawal symptoms is often termed Effexor Discontinuation Syndrome. These discontinuation symptoms can be extreme and even life-threatening, especially where Effexor withdrawal is done abruptly or too quickly. However, it should be noted that these can occur even during a careful and gradual taper. It is highly recommended to seek medically assisted Effexor withdrawal treatment, and not try coming off the drug on one’s own.

Effexor withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Brain zaps, feeling of electric shocks through the head and neck*
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Headaches, migraines
  • Flu-like symptoms, ie., fever, chills, cramps, diarrhea, etc.
  • Insomnia
  • Brain fog
  • Anxiety
  • Worsened depression
  • Agitation

*Papp and Onton’s 2018 study on brain zaps noted concerns about the length of time that brain zaps can go on after antidepressant discontinuation. 

How Long do Effexor Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

The half-life of Effexor XR is anywhere from approximately 9 to 27 hours, and Effexor withdrawal symptoms can begin within a few hours of the last dose. The half-life is the time that it takes for half of the total ingested dose to be cleared from the body. This half-life period is often extended to suggest that it is equivalent to the time a person may experience the manifestations of withdrawal.

Each person’s individual metabolism and genetic factors that dictate metabolism, play a part in the rate of withdrawal. This can make it largely unpredictable to determine when the withdrawal is going to manifest when it will abate, and the severity. People with a more rapid metabolism may endure a sharper withdrawal. Effexor has a comparably short half-life for antidepressants, and as such can result in a typically more abrupt manifestation of withdrawal. Even though the half-life definition of withdrawal is measured by a number of hours, people often report a protracted withdrawal that can continue for weeks, months, or even years, especially where adequate preparations and support have not been made available in the process.

It is extremely important to bear in mind the FDA warning on stopping Effexor XR all at once. Abruptly discontinuing Effexor can introduce such a shock to the body that the withdrawals could be overwhelming and impossible to endure without medical intervention.

There are diet changes such as reducing sugar and caffeine that can be monitored during Effexor withdrawal treatment, as well as gentle exercise routines and organizing a daily schedule that allows for adequate rest and recuperation.

Discontinuing/Quitting Effexor (venlafaxine)

Can I stop Taking Effexor Cold Turkey?

The FDA has issued clear recommendations against stopping Effexor (venlafaxine) or Effexor XR too quickly and certainly warns against a “cold turkey” approach. To do so can lengthen the time needed to recover from quitting the drug. Always seek competent and professional Effexor withdrawal help.

When a person has been taking venlafaxine or any prescription drug for a period of time, the body begins compensating in many different ways that are not always obvious. Effexor addiction can be a result over time, as well as Effexor dependence. These factors of Effexor addiction and dependence can not be overlooked. Stopping Effexor after the body has become dependent on it can introduce such shock at such a rapid pace, that the change is profoundly unsettling, and can be life-threatening in some cases.

Never attempt to discontinue a drug suddenly. Always seek medical professional help and guidance before quitting Effexor (venlafaxine), Effexor XR, or any prescribed drug.

Did your doctor tell you about the Effexor side effects and withdrawal before prescribing the medications?

Effexor withdrawal is one of the most frequently asked about topics concerning medication treatment. Before embarking on a prescription of antidepressant medication such as Effexor, or Effexor XR, whether to treat depression, anxiety, or other conditions, any person should acquaint themselves as fully as possible with the various Effexor side effects and Effexor withdrawal symptoms before electing to begin medication treatment. This is also advised before starting Effexor tapering, as increased understanding can benefit the process substantially.

The FDA mandated in 2007 that Effexor packaging update the black box label on the packaging to warn consumers that the antidepressant drug Effexor should not be taken by anyone under the age of 25 years old due to studies that showed the drug caused a five-fold increase in suicidality. This may be a highly profitable reason for getting off Effexor.

The antidepressant drug Effexor (venlafaxine) was discontinued sometime after 1997, (exact data not available) when some trials showed that an extended-release version caused less nausea. No other trials or tests besides the nausea test can be found which indicates that the XR version has been proven any more or less safe than the original version of the drug.1

Effexor (venlafaxine) is thought to block certain neurotransmitters, described below, which causes an artificial though temporary effect. The effect increases in relation to the strength of the dosage. Effexor is classed as an SNRI drug and has unique characteristics that set it apart from other re-uptake inhibiting antidepressant drugs.

Some antidepressants increase the available amount of serotonin that is active in the body. Serotonin is what influences such things as anxiety, sleep, memory, aggression, learning, mood, appetite, body temperature, and other important functions. It is an inhibitory agent. Although serotonin is stimulating to certain digestive functions, it is inhibitory to the central nervous system.

Some antidepressants affect the adrenergic receptors, such as adrenaline and norepinephrine. These are excitatory neurotransmitters, which, among other necessary functions, regulates proper blood flow, regulates blood pressure, and stimulates other changes such as those related to “fight or flight” mechanisms.

Some antidepressant drugs can purge and suspend dopamine, which is often referred to as the reward chemical, or the agent which activates the pleasure centers in the body/brain as well as motor function, long term memory, mood and emotion, addiction reinforcement, laughter, and many other responses.

Effexor XR (venlafaxine extended-release) is highly unique in that it is one of a very small number of antidepressants in existence that are described as affecting reuptake of all three of these types of neurotransmitters concurrently, especially when taken at higher doses, causing a temporary surge of these agents in the body.2

Special warning letters and health alerts have been issued by the FDA to the makers of Effexor (now Effexor XR) since 2003 covering important health consequences including:

  • Risk to pregnancy
  • Birth defects and complications after birth
  • Increased risk of bone fracture linked to decreased bone mineral density in older populations
  • Suicidality in children and young adults
  • Suicidality in adults
  • Serotonin toxicity (see Serotonin Syndrome below)
  • Overdose especially in connection with alcohol or other concurrent medications
  • Cautions regarding stopping Effexor or Effexor XR abruptly.

We have described some of the important facts in more detail below for educational purposes. If you have additional questions, be sure to ask your care provider or another medical professional for further information so an informed decision can be made about your health and safety or that of a loved one.

Special Note: One of the important FDA warnings states not to abruptly stop Effexor XR but recommends tapering to decrease dosage gradually over time. More information on adverse effects of Effexor XR withdrawal and how to get off Effexor (venlafaxine) can be found further on in this article or calling Alternative to Meds Center directly.

Testimonial
Effexor Withdrawal
Success

At ATMC I was always supported. The staff was great at providing opportunities for me to work towards stability. What helped me here was always keeping a positive outlook and the constant encouragement and reminders to keep faith in myself.

-Jackie

 

What is EffexorXR (Venlafaxine) Used For?

Effexor XR is approved by the FDA to be used for treating such conditions as:

  • MDD (Major Depression Disorder)
  • GAD (General Anxiety Disorder)
  • SAD (Social Anxiety Disorder, sometimes called Social Phobia)
  • PD (Panic Disorder)

In addition to the FDA-approved uses, off label uses have become an option where other treatments for certain conditions were found unsuccessful.

Studies are sometimes done to explore the effectiveness of drugs, and where enough studies show a reasonable efficacy, the drug can eventually become approved for other purposes than the drug was originally approved for.

Such off-label uses for Effexor XR (venlafaxine) currently include:

  • Treatment of hot flashes in menopause
  • Migraines, tension headaches
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Post breast cancer therapy neuropathy

Effexor Alternatives

There are various Effexor alternatives and treatments that can be researched and implemented, for successfully addressing factors of mental unease. At Alternative to Meds Center, we specialize in many methods of attaining mental health naturally, and free from prescription drugs. Once a person has grasped an understanding of how to get off Effexor safely and comfortably, it may be beneficial to pursue some of the holistic treatments the center has found to be successful.

Effexor (venlafaxine) Alternative Names and Slang

Effexor (venlafaxine) and Effexor XR have been marketed under hundreds of brand names around the world, including these interesting names:

  • Easyfor
  • Depressa
  • Nervix
  • Calmdown
  • Vexamode
  • Venjoy
  • Blossom

Venlafaxine hydrochloride is the full generic name for Effexor and Effexor XR. Hydrochloride is a kind of chemical binder used in manufacturing this and certain other drugs. Hydrochloride is an acid, like the hydrochloric acid found in the stomach, instrumental in digestion.

Note that Effexor has now been discontinued in the US due to causing excessive nausea, and has been replaced with the time-release version called Effexor XR.

No street or slang names have emerged, as the drug never became popularized as a stand-alone drug for recreational use. However, the drug has been shown up in batches of street drugs like MDMA or ecstasy, that when analyzed did contain random amounts of drugs such as venlafaxine or other prescription drugs.

Effexor Side Effects / Effexor XR Side Effects

One of the most commonly reported negative side effects of venlafaxine is nausea. The drug manufacturer reports that it stopped making the original version of Effexor in the US because of this negative effect, and replaced it with a time-release version called Effexor XR that was more easily tolerated.

However, a much more troubling Effexor side effect was that both versions of the drug were linked to a higher risk for mortality through overdose than other SSRI type antidepressant drugs, as reported in Wyeth Pharmaceutical’s 2006 letter issued to healthcare professionals. Wyeth’s letter warned of this discovery that emerged after the drug was already on the market. The FDA also sent out a medical alert from its safety information program that was set up to advise consumers and caregivers of such adverse events relating to prescription drugs such as this troubling Effexor side effect.

In addition to the aforementioned overdose mortality risk, there are vast numbers of Effexor side effects that may lead to the decision of getting off Effexor. These adverse effects are documented for venlafaxine and all of its trade names.

Effexor side effects include:

  • Serotonin Syndrome: a life-threatening condition marked by sudden fever, sweating, muscle stiffness or muscle rigidity, trouble breathing, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, rapid heart rate, agitation, etc.
  • Many drugs, including alcohol, can interact with SSNRI antidepressants and can contribute to side effects including Serotonin Syndrome.
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Suicidality emergence, thoughts of hurting oneself
  • Intensified suicidality or thoughts of self-harm
  • Loss of bone mineral density leading to fractures
  • Worsened depression
  • Worsened anxiety
  • Akathisia: a relentless internal restlessness often accompanied by the constant need to be in motion, i.e., pacing, rocking, twisting, etc.
  • Seizure
  • Insomnia
  • Bouts of coughing
  • Aggressiveness
  • Hostility
  • Impulsive or erratic behaviors
  • Panic attacks
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness, vertigo

Effexor (venlafaxine) FAQs

Below are some of the most common questions and requests for information concerning EffexorRX and Effexor (venlafaxine). We recommend always researching any drug before commencing a prescription because in the rush of a doctor or clinic visit, time is not always set aside for education. Where a prescription has been started but has not provided the benefits that were sought, it can be highly beneficial to inform oneself as much as possible about the reasons that prescription based treatments were not as successful as one hoped.

Can Venlafaxine Make You Gain Weight?

Yes, some people gain weight while taking venlafaxine. This may be attributed to the drug having a stimulating effect on appetite. There may be other contributing factors, which are not yet understood about why people will gain weight on this drug.

Does Effexor Have Caffeine?

No, Effexor does not contain caffeine. However, caffeine has been shown to interact negatively with venlafaxine because both drugs can raise blood pressure. Drinking coffee can also add to feelings of restlessness or agitation, which are symptoms that Effexor can also cause.

Can Effexor Cause Memory Loss?

Yes, any drug which causes inability to focus, causes a person to lose concentration, etc., can have a detrimental effect on memory over time. After all, it may be hard to remember something you were not able to concentrate on in the first place.3,5

What Are ‘Brain Zaps?’ Can Effexor Withdrawal Cause Brain Zaps?

“Brain Zaps” are a commonly reported withdrawal symptom that happens when coming off antidepressant drugs such as Effexor (venlafaxine) and Effexor XR. 4 While it is not known exactly why they occur during drug withdrawal, the feeling of an electrical jolt or shock through the head and neck area at unexpected times can be overwhelming to endure. The electrical zap is often accompanied by nausea, ringing in the ears, and other unsettling symptoms. The sensation can affect the entire head or can move from one part of the brain to another. These jolts can occur occasionally or frequently and can range from moderately to extremely severe, without warning, and often increase overall general anxiety and stress.

Treatment for Effexor Addiction at Alternative to Meds Center

For over 15 years, Alternative to Meds Center has worked with thousands of clients who were seeking positive improvements to their mental health or other conditions, such as medication dependence or addiction, and for whom prescription drugs did not produce the desired outcome.

Using a carefully developed regimen of safe and effective protocols, Alternative to Meds Center has become a world leader in helping people reach these types of goals with vibrant success. Effexor withdrawal help is safely and comfortably managed at Alternative to Meds Center.

The center offers expertise and knowledge grounded in our longstanding heritage of individual care and attention. The results of the program we offer are significantly augmented by being delivered in a compassionately warm and social setting. Our goal at Alternative to meds Center is to make information easily available to any person who is searching for the most streamlined and effective Effexor withdrawal treatment to regain natural mental health without prescription drugs.


1. Cunningham LA “Once-daily venlafaxine extended release (XR) and venlafaxine immediate release (IR) in outpatients with major depression. Venlafaxine XR 208 Study Group” PubMed, 1997 Sep

2. “Acute Effectiveness of Additional Drugs to the Standard Treatment of Depression” ClinicalTrials.gov

3. Pendick D “7 Common Causes of Forgetfulness” Harvard Health Publishing, 2013 Feb 22, updated 2020 Apr 18

4. Papp A, Onton JA. “Brain Zaps: An Underappreciated Symptom of Antidepressant Discontinuation.” Prim Care Companion CNS Disord. 2018 Dec 20;20(6):18m02311. doi: 10.4088/PCC.18m02311. PMID: 30605268.[cited 2020 Dec 4]

5. Harvard Health authors,”Going off antidepressants.” Harvard Health Publishing [Oct 2010, revised March 25, 2020] [cited 2020 Dec 4]



This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. John Motl, M.D.

Dr. Motl is currently certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in Psychiatry, and Board eligible in Neurology and licensed in the state of Arizona.  He holds a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in biology and minors in chemistry and philosophy. He graduated from Creighton University School of Medicine with a Doctor of Medicine.  Dr. Motl has studied Medical Acupuncture at the Colorado School of Traditional Chinese Medicine and at U.C.L.A.

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