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tapering off zoloft

Zoloft Tapering

Some strategies for Zoloft tapering can also support natural mental health and greatly reduce or eliminate unwanted withdrawal adverse effects.

If you have found Zoloft treatment less than satisfactory because drug-based treatment didn’t meet your expected goals, you may want to consider the option of Zoloft tapering. It could be time to start taking advantage of alternative strategies to reduce or eliminate persistent symptoms. But please avoid abruptly getting off Zoloft, as doing so may have even worse health consequences.

Zoloft is an SSRI type of medication which indicates that it will have some effects on serotonin. Whether starting on or stopping Zoloft, the way serotonin is distributed in the body will be affected. Zoloft does not create new serotonin. SSRI drugs accelerate how quickly available serotonin gets used up. The accelerated purge of serotonin is what is believed to create a lift in tone, hence the drugs are called “antidepressant”. But this process is also likely to ultimately leave a deficit of your body’s natural neurochemicals in its wake. This could be likened to the way alcohol metabolizes or burns up certain vitamins at a supranormal rate. The next day, the deficit which was created becomes very apparent, and is most often referred to as a “hangover”.

Another type of neurotransmitter that Zoloft is thought to affect is dopamine, sometimes called the pleasure hormone. Along with a surge of serotonin, Zoloft will trigger a surge of dopamine to be released. Dopamine is also called the “reward” chemical, being associated with pleasure centers in the brain. Releasing both of these neurochemicals is thought to cause an enhanced, perhaps more potent mood-lifting effect upon the person. Of all of the SSRI class of medications, sertraline (Zoloft) was the only one found to increase extracellular dopamine amounts in the nucleus accumbens and striatum of rats. (7)

Over time, however, both of these natural neurochemicals may become spent, after exhausting available stores in the body. It is at this point that a person may begin to notice that the Zoloft “isn’t working anymore”. This may lead to considering alternative treatments for depression or other symptoms, and getting off Zoloft. However, it is advisable that one first learns as much as possible about how to get off Zoloft or other antidepressants. Zoloft cessation may be made more difficult than it has to be by going at it too fast and without proper guidelines and preparation.

General Information: What You Should Know About How to Get Off Zoloft Safely

Withdrawal from Zoloft merits careful preparation and realistic goals, and knowledgable guidance along the way. it is possible to learn how to get off Zoloft using trusted and proven methods to reduce the discomforts that could otherwise make Zoloft cessation intolerable. This guidance is provided at the Alternative to Meds Center in its inpatient programs for clients trying to quit Zoloft or other medications.

FDA WARNING: It bears repeating that the FDA warns against abruptly stopping Zoloft as to do so can be injurious to health. Tapering Zoloft gradually can make the process more tolerable, and indeed, can actually prevent much of the harsh discomfort associated with trying to quit Zoloft or similar medications too quickly. (4)

Zoloft Tapering and Pregnancy

Zolof has been rated as known to cause harm to pregnant animals. Humans are not tested because of ethical implications. Zoloft has not been tested in clinical trials involving pregnant women and therefore, it is still legal to prescribe if for humans. Veterinarians, however, would opt not to prescribe it to female animals, because the drug HAS been proven to cause birth defects in animals.

It is perhaps a tragedy that Zoloft is still legal for prescribing to women whether the woman is pregnant or not. However, a woman who is planning on becoming pregnant may choose trying to quit Zoloft as a self-directed cautionary step before getting pregnant. The FDA does caution against Zoloft in pregnant women, due to potential birth defects it may cause. (6)

Women who are considering starting Zoloft of other SSRI type medication may not always be informed of the 3-5% increased risk of birth defects compared to placebo according to trials which have been done extensively. (1) To avoid these complications and risks, one may want to seriously consider Zoloft tapering before one becomes pregnant, both for the future health of the baby and the health of the mother.

Since pharmaceutical companies are not required by law to do human clinical trials on pregnancy and SSRI drugs, and since some research may have been done on animals but their results may not have been vigorously disseminated to prescribing doctors or the public at large, women would be well-advised to do their own careful research before continuing to take SSRI medications especially if they are planning a pregnancy.

Please note that NIMH has published findings regarding increased instances of infants with clubfoot born to mothers taking Zoloft, which may be of particular interest to researchers on the subject of women’s health. (2) (4) (6) Again, we stress for the sake of an unborn child’s health, women are advised to do their own research to make the best decisions concerning health and pregnancy. Speak to your doctor before getting pregnant if you are taking Zoloft.

zoloft tapering

Other Health Concerns that May Precipitate Stopping Zoloft

Published research studies demonstrate that when a person has been taking antidepressants for some time, the body tries to compensate by reducing the number of serotonergic receptors, as much as 60% of them in some cases. This is one way the CNS attempts to normalize despite the drug-induced flooding of serotonin into the nervous system. Antidepressant patients can therefore develop chronic apathy and worsened depression. This is not mental illness returning, this is the effect that serotonergic medications have upon the human body. This antidepressant-induced apathy creates “zombie-like” or deadened feelings. Clinicians may refer to the effect as SSRI-induced indifference. Elderly patients with dementia are particularly susceptible to antidepressant-induced chronic apathy. (3)

A person may wish to avoid this potential risk and can do so by initiating gradual withdrawal from Zoloft and also by not staying on an antidepressant for very long. A person suffering from this chronic apathy may require some help in the form of encouragement from family members or others who can support their loved one through the process of Zoloft tapering.

A person taking antidepressant medication may be subject to various adverse reactions, generally referred to as side effects. These can include:

  • Suicidality
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Convulsions
  • Spams of muscles, movement disorder
  • Akathisia
  • Grinding of the teeth
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rash (can be severe enough to warrant emergency/hospital care)

And many, many others.

Each person is a distinct and unique expression and can often react to medications in unpredicted or surprising ways. This unpredictability and the severity of certain side effects may present other reasons a person may consider getting off Zoloft to make improvements to health.

Are Brain Zaps Always Part of Withdrawal From Zoloft?

While brain zaps are commonly reported during Zoloft cessation, a proper Zoloft tapering regimen can tend to lessen or even eliminate these reactions entirely. There are ways to support the withdrawal by bolstering the neurochemistry with naturally occurring substances that will tend to combat the deficiency of Serotonin during the withdrawal. The Alternative to Meds Center programs for stopping Zoloft and other medications seek to prepare a person in several fundamental ways before the process of Zoloft tapering even begins. It can seem a particularly daunting task to withdraw from Zoloft, especially getting off Zoloft or any prescription drug all on your own. We have helped many thousands of clients and we may be able to assist you or your loved one as well

Please contact the Alternative to Meds Center for more information on our safe and gradual Zoloft tapering program, delivered in a luxurious, warm and nurturing inpatient setting and always with 24/7 oversight and care.

  1. Source: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2008/0915/p772.html, accessed Sept 20, 2019.
  2. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4180776/, accessed Sept 20, 2019.
  3. Article Published in Clinical Journal of Psychiatry, 1987, “Receptor Alterations Associated With Serotonergic Agents: An Autoradiographic Analysis” by MDs Wamsley, Byerley, McConnell, Dawson and Grosser, accessed Sept 20, 2019.
  4. FDA Zoloft label, https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2016/019839S74S86S87_20990S35S44S45lbl.pdf, accessed Sept 28, 2019.
  5. Article published by CDC, entitled “Pregnant or Thinking of Getting Pregnant?”, https://www.cdc.gov/pregnancy/meds/treatingfortwo/facts.html.
  6. FDA Drug Safety Communication, Zoloft, https://www.fda.gov/drugs/postmarket-drug-safety-information-patients-and-providers/sertraline-marketed-zoloft-information, accessed Sept 29, 2019.
  7. Sertraline increases extracellular levels not only of serotonin, but also of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens and striatum of rats. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20816814 accessed Nov, 28, 2019.

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

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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