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Zoloft Withdrawal Symptoms, Side Effects, Treatment Help

Last Updated on May 13, 2021 by Carol Gillette

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Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Written by Diane Ridaeus Published Sep 13, 2018
Medically Reviewed by Dr John Motl MD

Many of our Zoloft withdrawal clients have reported being prescribed Zoloft within a 30-minute doctor visit. There was no investigation into other life factors, lab testing, or any conversation about what side effects might present. The failings of this approach may cause quite a burden on the patient.

Depression, lack of sleep, fibromyalgia, and other symptoms that Zoloft is often prescribed for might stem from hormonal inadequacies,6 diminished vitamin D levels,7 dietary concerns8 and food allergies,9 mitochondrial dysfunction,10 neurotoxic accumulation,11 and many other reasons.

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Alternative to Meds Resources to Assist Zoloft Withdrawal

This page covers Zoloft withdrawal symptoms, the side effects of taking Zoloft, information about the drug and how it may act upon neurochemistry and receptors, and answers some Zoloft FAQ. We have other pages that you might find useful to consider; One is our Zoloft alternatives page that discusses other holistic ways to treat symptoms that Zoloft is prescribed for. Another is Zoloft tapering which gives information about weaning off of Zoloft. No one should try tapering Zoloft without medical oversight and guidance.

Zoloft Withdrawal Symptoms

Up to 56% of people attempting Zoloft withdrawal or coming off other antidepressants experience an antidepressant withdrawal syndrome. This is also known as Zoloft discontinuation syndrome. 46% of those who experience withdrawal claim it is severe.44

One of the most commonly reported symptoms experienced while coming off SSRI medications is known as brain zaps, described as feelings of electric shock passing through the brain/head/neck.12

Brain zaps, or shivers, can be severe, unbearably so, and come on unexpectedly—sometimes in rapid succession. Why they occur remains a mystery but are thought to be related to neurochemical changes as the body and central nervous system attempt to adjust to or compensate for reduced levels of sertraline or other SSRI medication in the system.1

It is highly likely that the body was depending on the drug’s artificial support of serotonin levels, and that the person may be experiencing a sudden deficit while their own natural mechanisms are attempting to, but unable to fully come back online to compensate.

The most common Zoloft withdrawal symptoms reported include what can be summed up in the mnemonic FINISH: Flu-like symptoms, Insomnia, Nausea, Imbalance, Sensory disturbances, and Hyperarousal.14 While some people can shake these withdrawal symptoms over a short period of weeks, others experience a protracted withdrawal that can carry on for months or even years.15,16 Many of our patients come to us to help with these Zoloft protracted withdrawal experiences as they are tremendously difficult to overcome without the correct help.

Zoloft withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Increased suicidal ideation* 13,17
  • Brain zaps, shivers, shocks passing through the brain, head, neck 3
  • Seizures 3
  • Ringing in the ears 3
  • Tremors 17
  • Akathisia 33
  • Diarrhea 17
  • Nausea 3
  • Vomiting 14
  • Headache 3
  • Fatigue 3
  • Insomnia 3
  • Mania or hypomania 3
  • Mental fog, confusion 3
  • Hallucinations 17
  • Mood swings, crying spells, irritability, etc. 3
  • Aggression, hostility 14
  • Rebound depression 17
  • Anxiety 3
  • Return of original symptoms, sometimes intensified 17

*The FDA issued a mandatory “black box warning” on SSRIs because of an increased risk of suicidality.3

Discontinuing / Quitting Zoloft ( sertraline )

Coming off Zoloft (sertraline) can take a considerable amount of time. Individual differences such as age, general health, dosage, length of time on the drug, and other factors all have some impact on withdrawal.4 Almost all people can comfortably get off of Zoloft at Alternative to Meds Center within 8 weeks and avoid the harsh withdrawal symptoms in the process. While some people feel that leaving loved ones at home this long can be unbearable, they often find this temporary separation preferable to the trauma that they put themselves and the family through at home while trying to do this unsupported. For others, 8 weeks may seem too abbreviated of a withdrawal period, especially with what they have already endured in possible previous at-home attempts. There is a lot that goes into our program and how we support natural neurochemistry to ease the process. Our strategies are designed to ease the process considerably. We encourage you to view our services section of the website to get an idea of the inventive support we offer.

The FDA and other regulatory bodies recommend never to abruptly stop taking antidepressants.3 Rather, the safest approach would involve a slow Zoloft withdrawal process. By easing a reduction in dosage, over time, various other measures can be utilized for added support while tapering off Zoloft. These can include natural neurochemical support, targeted nutrition, adequate rest, and a less stressful daily schedule to allow time for self-care, etc.

Inpatient care is highly recommended during this often difficult period of readjustment. There is wisdom to this choice, as the withdrawal manifestations are not only difficult on the individual but also challenging for the family members and friends who may misunderstand the process and inadvertently convolute the situation.

What is Zoloft?

Zoloft (sertraline) is an antidepressant medication developed in the 1970s 18 with FDA-approval granted in 1991, allowing Pfizer to bring it to market. This SSRI drug is prescribed in treating adult depressive disorders (MDD), panic disorder, OCD, social anxiety, PTSD, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).3 By 2005, Zoloft was the most prescribed antidepressant in the United States.19 Sertraline is categorized as an SSRI drug and is considered a potent serotonin reuptake inhibitor. However, Zoloft is sometimes and maybe more accurately referred to as an SDRI drug due to its secondary (weaker) dopamine reuptake inhibiting characteristic.20 As such, we feel that it would be akin to a mood-elevator similar to Effexor, which these dopamine-norepinephrine type drugs may also exacerbate anxiety.21 It has been suggested, though not conclusively proven, that increasing dopaminergic, as well as serotonergic activity, may be relevant to the medication-based treatment of depression.22

Like all SSRI drugs, Zoloft withdrawal can produce certain side effects sometimes called Zoloft discontinuation syndrome. The following information covers some of the most common questions asked and searches done on the drug.

What is Zoloft (sertraline) Used For?

Zoloft (sertraline) is an antidepressant medication used to treat adult MDD (major depressive disorder). The Black Box warning on the drug’s packaging mentions that the drug should not be prescribed to anyone under the age of 25, due to a known increase in suicidal thoughts. There is an exception for patients under the age of 25 who have been diagnosed with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).3

Adult-only uses for the drug provided in a clinical or treatment setting include: 3

  • MDD:  Major Depressive Disorder
  • PTSD:  Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Anxiety disorder, i.e., social phobias
  • OCD:  Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • PMDD:  Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Zoloft ( sertraline ) Alternative Names and Slang

Zoloft is a brand name for the generic drug sertraline or sertraline hydrochloride. In the UK, sertraline was sold under the trade name of “Lustral” in the 1980s. In the US, sertraline and Zoloft are available by prescription only.

Zoloft ( sertraline ) Side Effects

Patients can experience a wide range of commonly experienced Zoloft side effects. Women, in particular, should be aware that any drug ingested during child-bearing years may come with liabilities should they become pregnant.3 There have been studies done to explore the risks of pregnancy that link certain birth injuries to mothers who were prescribed SSRI drugs.23 Always speak to your physician if you are or could become pregnant and are considering starting an SSRI prescription.

zoloft side effectsZoloft was given a “C” rating by the FDA, meaning the drug was shown to cause harm to animals when tested, but for ethical reasons, no human testing has been done on pregnant women.24,26 Still, the drug remains legal to prescribe to women of child-bearing age, or who are pregnant. In June 2015, however, the alphabet rating system was replaced by the “PLLR” rating system, known as the Pregnancy and Lactation Labeling Final Rule. Despite studies that show sertraline (Zoloft) shows up in breast milk, long-term effects have not been adequately evaluated.27

According to a 2015 study published in the BMJ and then picked up by the CDC, Zoloft did not increase the chance of birth defects over baseline, and that in this way it was considered safer for pregnancy than many other SSRIs. 28

Nonetheless, there are certain adverse conditions in infants whose mothers took an SSRI. Many have been documented, are publicly available, and would be worth reading before starting or stopping Zoloft or a prescription to any SSRI drug while pregnant, lactating, or planning a pregnancy.

Some reported and documented birth defects and injuries include:

  • PPHN or persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, a heart and lung condition which can result in respiratory failure, decreased oxygen to the brain, and multiple organ injury.29
  • Congenital Heart Defects connected to Zoloft and other SSRIs include ventricular septal defects and atrial septal defects, also referred to as “holes in the heart”, related to heart murmurs, suppressed appetite, breathing difficulties, tiredness, inadequate growth, etc.30
  • Increased Risk of Autism has been extensively reported but evidence has not yet been considered conclusive enough for regulatory bodies to ban prescribing to pregnant women.31
  • Increased Risk of Clubfoot connected to SSRIs during pregnancy as reported by NIMH, where sertraline exposure had the highest increase in clubfoot of all SSRIs.32
  • Increased risk of atrial/ventricular defects and craniosynostosis was reported in a Canadian study from 1998 to 2010 and published in the June 2015 issue of the American Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics.33

Generally, SSRIs can have an emotional deadening effect, sometimes described as a “zombie-like” feeling. Clinical studies call this an SSRI-induced-indifference.35 While such emotional masking can provide a temporary measure of relief to an individual, there may be other drug-free treatments that may be more appropriate, less risky, and more permanent.

One person may experience no side effects at all, where another person may experience one or multiple adverse symptoms when taking sertraline. Symptoms can range from mild to moderate to severe, with the most severe potentially requiring immediate medical intervention.

Here are some of the known side effects of Zoloft (sertraline):

  • Serotonin syndrome:3 A life-threatening condition requiring immediate medical care in a hospital emergency clinic or ICU. Symptoms to watch for include sudden fever, losing consciousness, inability to move or speak, copious sweating, dilated pupils, chills, tremors, convulsions, diarrhea, agitation, restlessness, racing heart, etc.
  • Suicidal thoughts (common) 3
  • Suicide attempt (common) 3
  • Hyperkinesis (muscle spasms, movement disorder) 3
  • Worsened depression 36,37
  • Aggression 38,39
  • Paranoia (rare) 40
  • Anxiety 40
  • Mania (common) 3
  • Convulsions 3
  • Unconsciousness 40
  • Coma 3
  • Teeth grinding 40
  • Akathisia (relentless internal restlessness and discomfort marked by repeated motions, pacing, rocking, etc., can lead to suicidal thoughts as a means of relief) 40
  • Tachycardia (racing heart, even when the body is at rest) 3
  • Rash 40
  • Itching 40
  • Burning, crawling feeling in the skin 40
  • Fever 40
  • Tics, sudden jerky movements, myoclonus 40
  • Emotional blunting 3
  • Behavioral apathy, SSRI-induced-indifference 41
  • Pain on urination or difficulty urinating 40
  • Cloudy urine 40
  • Headache 40
  • Sexual impairments, i.e., anorgasmia, inability to ejaculate, lowered libido 3
  • Mood swings 40
  • Pain around the eyes or eye sockets 40
  • Sleepiness 3
  • Bladder pain 40
  • Prickling skin sensation 40
  • Numbness 40
  • Sensory disturbances 40
  • Insomnia 3
  • Depersonalization (common) 40
  • Nervousness 40
  • Nightmares (paroniria) 3
  • Hostility 40
  • Nausea 3
  • Diarrhea 3
  • Weight gain 53

The list noted above is not a complete list. Be sure and speak to your prescribing physician if you are experiencing any discomfort or unusual feelings while taking sertraline.

A Note on Uncommon Zoloft Side Effects

At Alternative to Meds Center, we have certainly seen some rather bizarre symptoms over the years. Prior to us, some people have gone to all sorts of specialists, gastroenterologists, neurologists, etc., to try to get an understanding of what they are going through. It is highly common for us to find that medication was the culprit or at least a contributing factor.

Can Zoloft Make Depression Worse?

One notable research effort on antidepressants was a study published in July 2011 in the Frontiers of Psychology journal. This study revealed that antidepressant users with major depression are far more likely to have subsequent reoccurrences of major depression than those who avoid antidepressants. This was a case review study headed up by McMaster University evolutionary psychologist Dr. Paul Andrews and his colleagues. They reviewed 46 studies carefully selected based upon reliability to compare outcomes for patients who used antidepressants versus patients who used placebos. They concluded that antidepressant users experience depressive relapse 42% of the time as compared with a 25% chance of a symptomatic return for those who avoided antidepressant medicating.36,37 This would suggest that there is a possibility that in some cases, antidepressants like Zoloft can make the cycle of depression worse.

Zoloft Aggression in Children

Previous studies have also indicated a link between SSRIs and violent behavior. This has a term called antidepressant disinhibition, also called antidepressant-induced activation. It occurs in 10-20% of children taking SSRI antidepressants.42,43 In two clinical trials performed by Pfizer, aggression was the most common reason noted for children to discontinue Zoloft.38,39

Zoloft ( sertraline ) FAQs

Can You Get Addicted to Zoloft ( sertraline )?

Yes. It can take a significant period of time for the central nervous system to become accustomed to sertraline and the effects that it induces on brain chemistry. This will also be true about the readjustment period after Zoloft withdrawal. The body/brain adapts to these changes and alters its neurochemistry to align with and compensate for the drug’s effects.

After dependence has developed, the body/brain/neurochemistry may react to a withdrawal of Zoloft (sertraline), resulting in the emergence of withdrawal symptoms.14,44 In a 2020 article published by Addictive Behaviors the authors reported that 61% of people stopping an antidepressant experienced withdrawal manifestations, with 44% of those indicating that the withdrawal symptoms were severe. 40% claimed that they felt addicted, with 39% labeling the addiction as severe. Curiously, only 0.7% of those studied could recall that their prescriber had mentioned the possibility of antidepressant or Zoloft withdrawal complications, dependency, or addiction.45

Sometimes called addiction or abuse, a person may crave the drug’s “feel good” effects, and may begin to take more of the drug than has been prescribed. In either case, the drug has now become entrenched into the system, and careful tapering would be the best option to resolve this unhealthy condition.

What’s the Difference Between Zoloft and Xanax?

Zoloft is an SSRI medication, an antidepressant, used to treat depression and anxiety. Xanax is a benzodiazepine, also known as a tranquilizer. Xanax is prescribed mainly for the treatment of anxiety, but is also prescribed to treat depression.

These two drugs have different chemical components and work differently in the brain. Xanax affects GABA transmission, which can slow the central nervous system to reduce anxiety.46 Zoloft blocks the reuptake of serotonin.

Xanax is known to be more prone to dependence/addiction and can generally have more complications if abruptly stopped, including seizure.47 For safe Zoloft withdrawal, the drug must be slowly tapered to allow the central nervous system and neurochemistry to safely normalize.2,5

Is Zoloft a Controlled Substance?

No, Zoloft is not classed as a controlled substance in the US and is not a DEA scheduled narcotic.48

How Long Does Zoloft Stay in Your System after Zoloft Withdrawal?

In 2018, Harvard Medical School updated its 2010 article about Zoloft withdrawal, noting that the half-life of Zoloft is estimated at 26 hours and after approximately six days the drug should be 99 percent out of the system.49

Many factors can help determine or affect how a drug metabolizes, thereby increasing or decreasing the timeline for elimination.

Can You Overdose on Zoloft ( sertraline )?

Yes, it is definitely possible for SSRI poisoning to occur. A substantial Zoloft overdose requires emergency medical intervention as it can lead to major health problems. We could not find any recorded instances of fatal Zoloft overdose, though certainly there are cases where the overdose required urgent medical attention.50 At an ICU, there are proper equipment and personnel to treat such a dire situation in a timely and effective manner.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the use of intravenous benzodiazepines is sometimes required during Zoloft overdose to prevent seizures. Extra cooling measures must be used to reduce hyperthermia, always under the direction of EMT or other medical staff attending to the patient.51

Treatment for Zoloft Withdrawal ( sertraline )

Zoloft has become one of the most frequently prescribed antidepressants in the US. Of equal importance is that depressive disorders have become one of the most frequently diagnosed conditions. These two facts together underscore two important steps toward improved health:

  • Providing safe treatment programs for those who have decided on Zoloft withdrawal, and
  • Offering drug-free options as a means to regain natural mental health without the need for prescription medications.

zoloft withdrawalThe ATMC program offers a Zoloft withdrawal and Zoloft tapering program that seeks to satisfy both of these steps to better health. Using specific lab tests and other diagnostic tools, the program aims to stabilize neurochemistry without prescription drugs. Instead, natural substances such as pharmaceutical grade supplements, proper diet, accumulated neurotoxin removal (including environmental toxins), careful Zoloft tapering, amino acid treatments, clay packs, biotransformative sauna, nebulized glutathione treatments, and many other forms of therapies make the tapering process gentle, mild, and as comfortable as possible.

Once the neurochemistry normalization is well in progress, other work can begin with CBT and other forms of counseling, strongly recommended in the treatment of depression and anxiety.

Our comfortable and nurturing facility is staffed by highly qualified medical and nursing practitioners as well as a full range of skilled, compassionate therapists. Adjunctive therapies are provided such as therapeutic massage, Reiki, yoga,52 trainer-led exercise, equine-assisted therapy, and many other effective holistic therapies that help people overcome the challenges of chronic or acute depression while accelerating recovery. Zoloft withdrawal at Alternative to Meds Center provides our clients with the very best quality inpatient treatment possible.


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7. Penckofer S, Kouba J, Byrn M, Estwing Ferrans C. Vitamin D and depression: where is all the sunshine?Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2010;31(6):385-393. doi:10.3109/01612840903437657. [cited 2021 Feb 21]

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18. Bio Space Pfizer Zoloft Co-Inventor Ken Koe Dies at 90 Years of Age Published: Oct 14, 2015 By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff. [cited 2021 Feb 21]

19. Drug Watch Zoloft WRITTEN BY Michelle Llamas. [cited 2021 Feb 21]

20. Psychotropical Research SSRIs – Sertraline by Dr Ken Gillman Published on Nov 14, 2014. [cited 2021 Feb 21]

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45. Read J. How common and severe are six withdrawal effects from, and addiction to, antidepressants? The experiences of a large international sample of patients. Addict Behav. 2020 Mar;102:106157. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2019.106157. Epub 2019 Nov 30. PMID: 31841871. [cited 2021 Feb 21]

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53. Rivera E, “Does Taking Zoloft Cause Weight Gain?” fact checked by Camille Freking, medically reviewed by Dr Gerardo Sison, PharmD, 2021 Mar 12, updated 2021 Mar 23 [cited 2021 Apr 6]



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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