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Tragically, medical professionals have frequently underappreciated and possibly misunderstood the challenges of Lexapro withdrawal.
SSRI antidepressants like Lexapro, even IF pragmatic during a time of need, become questionable when viewed within the larger perspective of long-term medication outcomes.
Does Your Diagnosis
Alternative to Meds Center has provided expert help with antidepressant withdrawal for over 15 years. We have published evidence regarding our success. We have largely taken on the people most disabled by medications and found non-drug solutions while at the same time helping them overcome truly tragic side effects and withdrawal manifestations.
Watch this impressive video of a woman who went from debilitated to resuscitated. She came in barely able to walk, or live an active life. Not only did she regain her health and her lost professional career, but she also was able to stop taking benzodiazepines and antidepressants while in our care. Her video should give you hope for your situation.
15 Years Experience by Professionals Who Understand Your Journey.
Lexapro is categorized by the FDA as a “second-generation” antidepressant, with approvals to treat MDD (major depressive disorder) and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder).11,3 Lexapro is an SSRI, meaning it blocks the reuptake of serotonin so that, in theory, depression or anxiety lessens.
A person may take an SSRI, such as Lexapro, for years, perhaps after a traumatic life event, and yet still be suffering. Lexapro side effects can linger on for months and years and may lead to deciding to come off the drug. However, the drug has altered the natural chemistry of the brain and central nervous system. Withdrawing from the drug without addressing the trauma as well as these changes adequately can cause additional adverse reactions that can be harsh and intolerable. These can be debilitating, especially when Lexapro withdrawal is done too quickly.
SSRIs have been promoted as superior to their predecessors for fewer side effects, and less toxicity. For example, the tricyclic antidepressant amitriptyline (still available today) has a fatal toxicity index 5 to 8 times higher than newer antidepressants, according to a review published in 1993 in the Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica.13
However, the Cambridge University published research of Haddad and Anderson shows that withdrawal symptoms occur after stopping ALL classes and types of antidepressants, which has been known but not necessarily widely promoted, since 1959. The authors importantly conclude that the presence of discontinuation symptoms is not dependent on underlying psychiatric conditions, but dependent on the mechanics of the drugs themselves, including the half-life, and other chemical interactions.20 They also point out that patient misdiagnosis is very possible where withdrawals are misconstrued as worsening or recurring mental illness.14
Lexapro withdrawal can become unwieldy to the extreme, especially if attempted without well-planned Lexapro withdrawal help. It is the harshness of withdrawals that contributes to dependence, rather than abuse of Lexapro “to get high” leading to addiction, though there are cases of the latter.22 Medical assistance is essential in Lexapro withdrawal treatment where discontinuation causes extreme challenges. (See below for a list of discontinuation symptoms.).
At Alternative Meds, we use preparatory steps involving nutraceuticals, toxin cleansing, correction of diet, and many other aids before the antidepressant withdrawal process begins. We encourage anyone considering Lexapro withdrawal to become acquainted with effective protocols that can be used to assist the process, without inflicting further trauma or neurological damage. If you are considering coming off Lexapro, we hope the information below on side effects, withdrawal effects, and beneficial treatment protocols may be helpful.
WARNING: Never abruptly stop taking Lexapro or any prescription drug. Do not try Lexapro withdrawal on your own. Always seek medical guidance to avoid risks to your health and safety.
Lexapro Withdrawal Symptoms – the mechanics.
Lexapro causes serotonin to become suspended outside the synapses in the brain and CNS. Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, that dampens thoughts, feelings, emotions, and generally decreases arousal or stimulation. These mechanics can provide some relief temporarily. Unfortunately, no drug can produce or create more serotonin. The creation of hormones and natural neurotransmitters is a biological process that only the body is equipped to do. Therefore, once the available serotonin has been metabolized (used up), a serotonin deficit may develop. Side effects that occur are common to many users, such as brain zaps, aggressive behavior, suicidal ideation, panic, rumination on negative thoughts, and many other manifestations such as those listed below.1
A gradual reduction in doses is recommended to be done at regular intervals of, for instance, two to four weeks. This is to allow the adverse effects (physical, emotional, etc.) of Lexapro withdrawal to settle out before further reduction in dose is attempted. Each person is a unique case, requiring unique scheduling. Getting off Lexapro can be made much more comfortable and gentle using a treatment plan that is holistically and medically structured, along with enough education and guidance to assist a person to get off Lexapro safely and gently.
Never abruptly stop taking an SSRI drug as it can greatly lengthen and intensify Lexapro withdrawal symptoms and associated health risks.4
Sexual dysfunction, genital hypersensitivity, premature ejaculation21
Changes in perception, i.e. taste, smell, sound, etc.18
Fever, chills, flu-like symptoms16
*According to Dr. Jane Pollack, PhD brain zaps are common during SSRI withdrawal and are often accompanied by lightheadedness, vertigo, and tinnitus.
Discontinuing/Quitting Lexapro (escitalopram)
For some, side effects may ultimately outweigh the benefits of continuing to take an antidepressant, and this may lead to a decision to discontinue taking the drug and to look for Lexapro withdrawal help.
Getting off Lexapro without help can be an overwhelming challenge. For some, the severity of Lexapro withdrawal symptoms is described as near to impossible to endure. This is the primary driver in cases of Lexapro dependence or tolerance. Lexapro addiction can also occur from misuse when the medication is used for psychostimulant effects.22 In any case, inpatient care is by far the best way forward for comfort, safety, and the greatest chance of success in meeting the challenges of withdrawal and the benefits of health and natural mental health regained in recovery.
In tapering from an SSRI drug, including Lexapro (escitalopram), gradually cutting the dose rather than abruptly stopping use is the medically recommended route to take. Note — of equal importance, Alternative to Meds Center programs support the process of neurotransmitter rehabilitation with nutrition and other holistic strategies in the wake of CNS disruption associated with SSRIs.
Dangers of Quitting Lexapro Too Rapidly
The primary danger of quitting any SSRI drug is decreasing the dose too rapidly over too short a time. A slow reduction method may seem counter-productive, especially when side effects have developed to an intolerable level. But it is the best way to avoid the intense shock, psychosis, suicidality, and other phenomena that can occur particularly when the withdrawal is too fast or too sudden.
There is one exception: “serotonin syndrome”
Serotonin syndrome can occur when too much serotonin is activated in the body and can be life-threatening. 29
Serotonin syndrome requires immediate medical intervention, by ambulance if possible, to the nearest emergency facility or ICU.
Although part of the remedy is to discontinue the SSRI (serotonergic) medication, this must be done in a medical setting where life-saving medical protocols are immediately accessible.
Signs of serotonin syndrome29,30,31 signal a potentially life-threatening event, and include:
Sudden rise in body temperature, fever
Rigid muscles, stiffness
Inability to speak clearly
What is Lexapro?
Lexapro (escitalopram) is an antidepressant medication classed as an SSRI drug. It has been FDA approved for the treatment of MDD (major depressive disorder) for persons aged 12 and up, and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) for persons aged 18 and up. According to the drug label information, the safety parameters for adolescents were based on a single 8-week trial.3
Postmarketing, a black box warning was placed on drug packaging indicating that Lexapro causes a heightened risk of suicide in children, adolescents, and young adults,3,7 though bewilderingly, Lexapro is still approved for ages 12 and up, and there exists a paucity of clinical trials from researchers based in the US that show anything but positive or neutral claims about SSRIs and suicide risk.
However, in other countries, the information is starkly contrasting. For example, research out of Copenhagen Denmark authored by Professor Gotzsche as reported in the British Journal of Medicine concluded that suicide attempts tripled over placebo in middle-aged women, and nearly tripled the number of episodes of aggression in children and adolescents.9
Kahn & Bernadt’s 2011 study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine found an upswing of suicidal thoughts described as “intense, intrusive, and compelling, continuous and persistent” as well as intense thoughts of self-harm”. This case study focuses on a 52 yr old woman, 6 days after beginning escitalopram treatment.8
In 2019, a German research team headed by Dr. Jonathan Hennsler pointed out the importance of doctors educating themselves about withdrawal phenomena because their patients often do not tell their prescribing physician that they are stopping their medication. They conclude that antidepressants should be tapered off over a period of more than 4 weeks and that patients should be informed about the possibility of both withdrawals and rebound symptoms at the start of antidepressant treatment.18
Treating Emotional Depression With Drugs
Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to temporarily ease emotional overwhelm or trauma as in the loss of a loved one. These medications are FDA approved for Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder but are often prescribed for other mood disorders or conditions. These off-label uses include smoking cessation, insomnia, eating disorders, and even as a painkiller.24 Research suggests that overprescribing drugs instead of psychosocial treatments has had detrimental effects on a great number of people, including, tragically, the very young, and the very old.2
One of these detrimental effects is that over a surprisingly short time frame, tolerance, dependence or other issues can develop which may lead to the decision to stop taking Lexapro. However, before attempting a Lexapro taper, it is recommended that one learn as much as possible about methods that can make stopping Lexapro much more gentle and less problematic, as is discussed further below.
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.
What is Lexapro (escitalopram) Used For?
Lexapro (escitalopram) as of 2018 was the second most prescribed medication in the US according to published statistics.7 Lexapro is an SSRI that has been approved by the US FDA for the treatment of MDD and GAD. According to published research 24 in the European Journal of Pharmacology, It is also prescribed “off-label” for certain other conditions, including:
The prescribing physician determines the dosage based on age, medical condition, other prescription drugs being taken, and additional factors of importance (if these are tested for) such as sodium levels, underlying cardiovascular or other compromised organ issues, and other considerations.
Lexapro and Pregnancy, Birth Defects
According to the CDC, a study by Reefjuis et al 31 outlines the dangers of pregnant women taking antidepressant medications relating to birth defects. The study incorporated current trials, as well as an additional 12 years of earlier published studies. Lexapro and 4 other antidepressants (Paxil, Prozac, Celexa, and Zoloft} were included in the trial and the compilation of data. The authors concluded that birth defects occurred 2 to 3 times more than placebo when the mother took antidepressants early in pregnancy. Birth defects reported were heart malformations, skull malformations, abdominal wall defects, and other specific birth defects.
Lexapro (escitalopram) Alternative Names and Slang
The generic name for this drug is escitalopram, pronounced ES-sye-TA-loh-pram, or escitalopram oxalate. Oxalate refers to a chemical process that is used in manufacturing the drug. Lexapro has not become a common drug of abuse on the street. When it is found on the street, the pills may have been diverted or produced in an illegal lab or “pill mill.”
Escitalopram is sold under several trade or brand names, including Lexapro and Cipralex. Although escitalopram (Lexapro) sounds similar and has a similar molecular structure to citalopram (Celexa), the two SSRI drugs are NOT identical.
Comparing dosages, a dose of Lexapro (escitalopram) should be limited to half that of Celexa (citalopram) because Lexapro has twice the effect of Celexa on the neurotransmitters and receptors that both drugs target. For example, 10 mg. of Lexapro would be approximately equivalent to 20 mg. of Celexa.
Lexapro Side Effects
There are multiple side effects of Lexapro (escitalopram) that can occur, and some are extremely important to monitor due to their extreme health risks, though their occurrence is more rarely seen. Here are some of the more troubling potential Lexapro side effects to be aware of:
Hyponatremia: occurs where sodium levels are low. This condition should be monitored especially closely in older-aged females, and also in any person who is underweight, and anyone with a history of liver disease or renal retention. Symptoms of this serious condition can include seizures, fatigue, dizziness, lethargy, cramps, cognitive impairment, and confusion, requiring immediate medical treatment should it arise.24
Suicidality: Like all types of antidepressants, Lexapro is associated with increased suicidality most pronounced in children and the young adult population. For this reason, the FDA placed a black box warning on Lexapro with age restrictions.3
Bleeding: Lexapro can increase the risk of bruising, vaginal bleeding, gastrointestinal bleeding, or other internal sites of potential hemorrhage.26
Sexual Dysfunction/ Infertility: Sexual dysfunction can affect both males and females taking Lexapro. Commonly reported side effects are the inability to climax, impotence, and decreased libido. Lexapro can also affect the quality/quantity of sperm in males, and suppress natural fertility in females.7,27
Hypomania/Mania: Lexapro can cause a condition of abnormally heightened euphoria, excitability, lack of the need for sleep, delusional thoughts, behaviors that are erratic, or demonstrate impulsivity or poor judgment.7, 18
Common Lexapro Side Effects Include:
Worsening depression, emotional blunting3,28
Somnolence (sleeping for excessively long periods of time)3,28
Long-term use associated with the risk of cancer.6
At Alternative to Meds Center, many therapies and mental health protocols are available that could be considered Lexapro alternatives. The goal at the center is to provide opportunities to achieve natural mental health without the need for prescription drugs.
Lexapro (escitalopram) FAQs
Here are some of the most common questions about Lexapro (escitalopram):
Is Lexapro the same as Xanax (benzodiazepines)?
No. Xanax is classified as a benzodiazepine drug, which acts on different parts of the central nervous system and brain than SSRI drugs. Xanax is a sedative, acting primarily on GABA receptors, unlike Lexapro which is serotonergic in action and effect.
Is it OK to drink while on Lexapro?
Alcohol is a depressant and can have serious negative interactions in the presence of an SSRI drug such as Lexapro.5
If alcohol and Lexapro are consumed together, their effects are augmented and extremely dangerous to the heart, respiratory system, and other vital organ functions. If you feel unable to eliminate the use of alcohol, discuss the situation with your primary physician or caregiver, who can help you find the best solution.
Treatment for Lexapro Addiction, Lexapro Abuse, Lexapro Dependence
Treatment for Lexapro addiction is a wise choice when dependence on the medication has developed. Dependence can occur even over a short period of time. It is possible to use effective yet gentle methods to help a person reduce their dosage and regain their health. At ATMC, we specialize in holistic neurotransmitter replacement therapy for natural mental health.
Benefits of The Alternative to Meds Center Treatment for Lexapro Medication Tapering:
Lexapro tapering and withdrawals can be extremely difficult to endure without medical guidance and proper support. However, with the right nutrition and other therapeutic support offered at ATMC, the process can be surprisingly mild and tolerable.
Health Goals During Lexapro Withdrawal Include:
Better quality sleep
Increased energy levels
Improved and stabilized emotional mood
Improved overall health through nutritional support
For More Information on Alternative to Meds Lexapro Withdrawal
The Alternative to Meds Center drug tapering treatment program uses multiple methods to facilitate and ease the process. Lab testing, correction of diet, neurotoxin removal, and rehabilitation of healthy neurochemistry are some of the types of treatments used in our programs. Monitoring throughout withdrawal is important to ensure the process is going smoothly, safely, and as comfortably as possible. Our inpatient residential setting provides many adjunctive therapies for physical comfort, de-stressing, and relaxation, all of which are tremendously beneficial throughout Lexapro withdrawal and recovery.
Please ask us for more information on the process of safe medication tapering and find out if it might help in your unique health situation and recovery goals. Our inpatient residential program at Alternative to meds Center provides ideal resources in a serene setting, for positively life-changing results. We look forward to your inquiry about our inpatient Lexapro withdrawal treatment program.
11. John M. Eisenberg Center for Clinical Decisions and Communications Science. Second-Generation Antidepressants for Treating Adult Depression: An Update. 2012 Jul 30. In: Comparative Effectiveness Review Summary Guides for Clinicians [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2007-. Table 1, List of Second-Generation Antidepressants Included in the 2011 Updated Review. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK99902/table/clindep2.t1/ [cited 2021 April 19]
15. Frost, L., & Lal, S. (1995). Shock-like sensations after discontinuation of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 152(5), 810. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.152.5.810a [cited 2021 April 19]
24. Skånland SS, Cieślar-Pobuda A. Off-label uses of drugs for depression. Eur J Pharmacol. 2019 Dec 15;865:172732. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2019.172732. Epub 2019 Oct 14. PMID: 31622593. [cited 2021 April 19]
Diane is an avid supporter and researcher of natural mental health strategies. Diane received her medical writing and science communication certification through Stanford University and has published over 3 million words on the topics of holistic health, addiction, recovery, and alternative medicine. She has proudly worked with the Alternative to Meds Center since its inception and is grateful for the opportunity to help the founding members develop this world-class center that has helped so many thousands regain natural mental health.
Medical Disclaimer: Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.