Effexor Withdrawal Symptoms (venlafaxine)
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. A person may be at considerable risk while driving a vehicle or operating heavy machinery due to sensory or other disturbances.9 Symptoms can intensify when Effexor withdrawal is done too abruptly.sup>6 However, many of the below withdrawal symptoms can occur even during a careful and gradual taper. Alternative to Meds Center provides supportive services that are meant to assist in lessening these Effexor withdrawals. 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 described as the feeling of electric shocks through the head and neck*8
- Extreme fatigue 9
- Headaches, migraines 7
- Vomiting 7
- Nightmares 7
- Flu-like symptoms — fever, chills, cramps, diarrhea, etc. 8
- Insomnia 9
- Brain fog, confusion 9
- Anxiety 8
- Rebound depression 10
- Agitation 8
*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?
According to Wilson and Lader’s extensive review of the subject, withdrawals are largely determined by the half-life of a drug.42 The half-life of Effexor XR is 5±2 hours for the venlafaxine metabolite and 11±2 hours for the O-desmethylvenlafaxine (ODV) metabolite.11 This means 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. Wilson’s research shows the short half-life of Effexor is one of the main complicating factors of Effexor withdrawal. There are ways to circumvent this that we will be discussing in this article and in other articles we will be directing you to on our website.
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 Effexor withdrawal is measured by a number of hours, people often report a protracted withdrawal that can continue for weeks, months, or even years,12 especially where adequate preparations and support have not been made available in the process.
It is extremely important to bear in mind the FDA warns against stopping Effexor XR all at once.11 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 many ways to support tapering. Strategies could include supplementation with naturally occurring neurotransmitter precursors, a diet that includes plenty of foods with a high AFS (food antidepressant score)42, reducing sugar and caffeine, and other interventions that can be implemented during Effexor withdrawal treatment. Gentle daily exercise is recommended. Three 10 minute walks are believed to be as effective as one 30 minute walk, according to Sharma et al’s 2006 article published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.41
Discontinuing & Quitting Effexor | Venlafaxine Withdrawal
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.11 We at Alternative to Meds Center have also found this to be true, especially for Effexor. To do so can lengthen the time needed to recover from quitting Effexor. 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. There are rat and mice studies demonstrating that natural serotonin production is diminished as a result of taking antidepressants.13,14 Effexor addiction can 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.
Never attempt to discontinue Effexor suddenly. Always seek medical professional help and guidance before quitting Effexor (venlafaxine) or Effexor XR.
Knowing Effexor Side Effects and Effexor Withdrawal Complications Before Prescribing
Effexor withdrawal is one of our most frequently asked about topics concerning medication withdrawal. 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 in that age range.15 In some studies, it has been demonstrated that this effect, specifically of Effexor in comparison to the SSRI class of antidepressants such as citalopram, may even extend to adult populations.16,17 A 2006 study published in the Archive of General Psychiatry noticed a very curious finding regarding antidepressants. After observing outcomes for over 15,000 participants, they found that those who used antidepressants have a 39% increase in suicide attempts, and yet a 32% decrease in actually succeeding in such attempts.17
The original version of Effexor (venlafaxine) was discontinued sometime after 2009 when Pfizer acquired Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc.18 Some trials showed that an extended-release version of Effexor caused less nausea.19 No other trials or tests besides the nausea test can be found which has indicated 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 temporary increase. The effects ramp up 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 reuptake inhibiting antidepressant drugs. These factors should be understood before attempting Effexor withdrawal safely.
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.20 Serotonin is a mostly inhibitory neuromodulating agent within the brain and central nervous system.21 Within the gut, serotonin is stimulating to certain digestive functions such as smooth muscle contraction.22
Some antidepressants affect the adrenergic receptors, such as adrenaline and norepinephrine. These are excitatory neurotransmitters, which, among other necessary functions, regulates proper blood flow, blood pressure, and stimulate other changes such as those related to what is commonly referred to as “fight or flight” reactions.23
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.24
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 the 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
These are some of the reasons that careful titration with medical oversight is recommended for Effexor withdrawal.
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 these: 15
- 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 the adverse effects of Effexor withdrawal and how to get off Effexor (venlafaxine) can be found further on in this article or by calling Alternative to Meds Center directly.