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Effexor Withdrawal Symptoms, Venlafaxene Side Effects, Treatment Help

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Last Updated on April 17, 2021 by Diane Ridaeus

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Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Written by Lyle Murphy, Founder Published Sep 13, 2018
Medically Reviewed by Dr John Motl MD

Of the various antidepressants, one of the more challenging for many is Effexor withdrawal. There are specific reasons for this that we will discuss below, and provide insight on this particular drug’s withdrawal characteristics.

Effexor withdrawal symptoms are often misconstrued as a relapse. When the withdrawal hits, with lack of proper support, many people find coming off Effexor unbearable. There are ways to make the Effexor discontinuation process more approachable and successful.

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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.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. Doing 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. In studies on pregnant women, a faster rate of drug metabolism has been shown to diminish the efficacy of medication, which presents questions about possible negative impacts on the unborn child.14 There are rat and mice studies demonstrating that natural serotonin production is diminished as a result of taking antidepressants.13 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.

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: 25

  • 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 18
  • Migraines, tension headaches 18
  • Diabetic neuropathy 18
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder 27
  • Post breast cancer therapy neuropathy 26

Effexor Alternatives and Effexor Tapering

There are various Effexor alternatives and treatments that can be researched and implemented, for successfully addressing factors of mental unease. We suggest that you view our very descriptive pages on these topics. Quick links are: Effexor Tapering and Effexor Alternatives. At Alternative to Meds Center, we specialize in many methods of attaining mental health naturally, free from prescription drugs. In order to get off Effexor safely and comfortably, it may be beneficial to pursue some of the holistic treatments and tapering techniques 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.

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, it is not uncommon for prescription drugs to show up in groundwater and wastewater, making it a potential health risk for the population at large.

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.19

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.28 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:

  • Suicidal Thoughts 30
  • 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.29
  • Many drugs, including alcohol, can interact with SSNRI antidepressants and can contribute to side effects including Serotonin Syndrome. 31
  • Elevated blood pressure 30
  • Suicidality emergence, thoughts of hurting oneself 30
  • Intensified suicidality or thoughts of self-harm 30
  • Loss of bone mineral density leading to fractures 32
  • Worsened depression 33
  • Worsened anxiety 30
  • Akathisia: a relentless internal restlessness often accompanied by the constant need to be in motion, i.e., pacing, rocking, twisting, etc. 34
  • Seizure 30
  • Insomnia 30
  • Bouts of coughing and even interstitial lung disease (ILD) 35
  • Aggressiveness 30
  • Hostility 30
  • Impulsive or erratic behaviors 30
  • Panic attacks 30
  • Dry mouth 30
  • Dizziness, vertigo 30
  • Abnormal Bleeding 30
  • Angle-closure glaucoma 30

The above is a list of various Effexor side-effects compiled from credible sources. Yet, there are more side-effects than what we have listed. In treatment, we have seen these side-effects and more demonstrated at times in highly bizarre ways. It certainly is an impressive host of adverse possibilities to keep up with and presents a strong case for seeking non-toxic venlafaxine alternatives.

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?

It is not as common for people to gain weight on Effexor, and typically it is associated with weight loss.37 But some people do gain weight while taking venlafaxine, especially when used in combination with other drugs.38 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 or lose weight on this drug.

Does Effexor Have Caffeine?

No, Effexor does not contain caffeine. However, caffeine enhances dopamine signaling in the brain,40 which is a similar net effect of what Effexor is believed to do pharmacologically. Caffeine has been shown to interact negatively with venlafaxine because caffeine affects the antinociceptive aspect of Effexor.39 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 the inability to focus, causes a person to lose concentration, etc., can have a detrimental effect on memory over time. 3,5 After all, it may be hard to remember something you were not able to concentrate on in the first place.

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

“Brain Zaps” are a commonly reported Effexor withdrawal symptom.4,9While it is not known exactly why, the sudden electrical jolt or shock through the head and neck area at unexpected times can be overwhelming and quite unsettling. The electrical zap is often accompanied by nausea, ringing in the ears, and other 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. 9

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.


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8. Sarah Klein Toby’s Antidepressant Withdrawal on ‘This Is Us’ Affects Millions. Here’s What You Need to Know Health Updated February 10, 2021. [cited 2021 Feb 10]

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10. Henssler J, Heinz A, Brandt L, Bschor T. Antidepressant Withdrawal and Rebound Phenomena. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2019;116(20):355-361. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2019.0355. [cited 2021 Feb 10]

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12. Michael P. Hengartner, Lukas Schulthess, Anders Sorensen, Adele Framer Protracted withdrawal syndrome after stopping antidepressants: a descriptive quantitative analysis of consumer narratives from a large internet forum. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology. First Published December 24, 2020. [cited 2021 Feb 10]

13. Siesser WB, Sachs BD, Ramsey AJ, et al. Chronic SSRI treatment exacerbates serotonin deficiency in humanized Tph2 mutant mice. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2013;4(1):84-88. doi:10.1021/cn300127h. [cited 2021 Feb 9]

14. Ornoy A, Koren G. SSRIs and SNRIs (SRI) in Pregnancy: Effects on the Course of Pregnancy and the Offspring: How Far Are We from Having All the Answers? Int J Mol Sci. 2019 May 14;20(10):2370. doi: 10.3390/ijms20102370. PMID: 31091646; PMCID: PMC6567187. [cited 2021 April 17]

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16. Rubino A, Roskell N, Tennis P, Mines D, Weich S, Andrews E. Risk of suicide during treatment with venlafaxine, citalopram, fluoxetine, and dothiepin: retrospective cohort study. BMJ. 2007;334(7587):242. doi:10.1136/bmj.39041.445104.BE. [cited 2021 Feb 10]

17. Tiihonen J, Lönnqvist J, Wahlbeck K, Klaukka T, Tanskanen A, Haukka J. Antidepressants and the risk of suicide, attempted suicide, and overall mortality in a nationwide cohort. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006 Dec;63(12):1358-67. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.63.12.1358. PMID: 17146010. [cited 2021 Feb 10]

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20. Berger M, Gray JA, Roth BL. The expanded biology of serotonin. Annu Rev Med. 2009;60:355-366. doi:10.1146/annurev.med.60.042307.110802. [cited 2021 Feb 10]

21. Science Direct Serotonin Jerome M. Feldman, in Encyclopedia of Gastroenterology, 2004. [cited 2021 Feb 10]

22. Mawe GM, Hoffman JM. Serotonin signalling in the gut–functions, dysfunctions and therapeutic targets [published correction appears in Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2013 Oct;10(10):564]. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2013;10(8):473-486. doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2013.105. [cited 2021 Feb 10]

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38. Duke University A drug combination that reduces weight gain associated with antidepressant therapy [cited 2021 Feb 10]

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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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