Tips on minimizing withdrawal symptoms from Effexor (aka Venlafaxine)

Posted by richyrich @richyrich, Nov 2, 2016

I have been taking Effexor/Venlafaxine for years and tried to get off it a few times but each time I try to give up the chemical withdrawal symptoms are a horror story and I give up giving up. Anyone got any tips or tried and tested strategies? Thank you

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@coloradogirl

So, I just finished this process with Zoloft (sertraline) and here are some things that worked for me. Your mileage may vary, but hopefully these are low risk for you to try.

1) You may need to ask your doctor for a slower tapering program than other patients. Some people are just more sensitive to dosage changes. Be aware that symptoms will get better, then may reappear each time you taper. AAFMA (practice group of family physicians) says that the symptoms typically last 1-2 weeks and as long as 4 weeks, so I just kept reminding myself that it was temporary.
2) Be watchful for things that make your symptoms worse. For example, caffeine seems to trigger the brain zaps for me (still, even after being off for several weeks), so I cut back my caffeine intake. I didn’t give it up completely (because I still need to function), but cut back on how much real coffee I was drinking, mixed decaf with regular, and switched to tea sometimes. In the end, I probably cut my daily caffeine intake in half, and it did help quite a lot.
3) Ibuprofen or other pain reliever can help with the flu-like body aches.
4) Benadryl helped with the brain zaps.
5) Exercise helped with both. Even if I wasn’t up to a run, a few blocks of walking would settle down the symptoms for a while at least. (Then, when they come back, just take another walk. We took a lot of walks for a while there).
6) Get enough sleep. As I came down off the meds, my normal sleeping patterns returned, which was great, but it did mean that I needed to plan time to let my body rest.
7) Pay attention to your diet. Your brain uses carbs to make seratonin, so now is not the time to go on the Atkins diet. Eat well and make sure you’re getting enough healthy carbs. You may crave sweets; I certainly did. I tried to counteract this by having bananas, graham crackers, and other healthy things I could snack on instead of sticking my head in a birthday cake like I seemed to want.

No lie – it’s a painful process, but this did really help make it easier. Also, at a certain point, when I was down the below the normal starter dose, I just ripped off the bandaid and went to zero. At that point, it felt like each taper was just prolonging the suffering. Don’t just go cold turkey from your current dose, though, as that can be dangerous. Also, don’t add any supplements or substitutes for the SSRI without talking to your doctor first (also dangerous).

And of course, watch for the return of depression / anxiety type symptoms. For a while it was hard to tell whether I was tired because of the change in meds or because my depression was returning. I figured as long as I felt okay enough to function and wasn’t thinking about being harmful to myself or anyone else, I could play it out and see. It turned out to be the meds and on the other side, I can see that I was more worried about it than I needed to be.

I wish you the best of luck and a healthy life.

Mardee

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@coloradogirl how much Benadryl did you take? it makes me very drowsy, i may break it into 4 pieces.

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@victorlucasg

Hi. I have seen that you may have the same symptons as my friend have. He abruptly stopped taking venlafaxin and very soon developed a chronic anxiety. He is in a constant state of afflction that doesn't seem to be cured by any treatment. He even tried Cetamine Infusion. Is your case similar? Have you got over it? If so, how?

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Anxiety is often a withdrawal symptom. If your friend didn’t have to quit taking venlafaxine because it was causing other health issues, or he can no longer get/afford a prescription, posters to this thread have found that the quickest “fix” is to reinstate venlafaxine. Getting relief from withdrawal symptoms by reinstating will be dependent on how long your friend has been off this drug and if it will work for him again—he may need to take a higher dose than he used to and it may take weeks to kick in.

I did not try to reinstate. I didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms until 6.5 weeks after my last tapered dose (a tiny chip of a 25 mg regular-release tablet).

Hindsight is 20/20—if I had known all the problems I would have from quitting, the expense of the supplements I took to ease the withdrawal symptoms and ESPECIALLY how long it’s taken to get back to “normal,” I would DEFINITELY have just stayed on it. My prescription only cost $25 for a six-month supply and I never had any problems with this drug unless I forgot my daily pill (I’d get a very particular headache the next day)—I was only taking 25 mg venlafaxine for hot flashes and no longer needed them for that purpose.

Through trial-and-error and research, I came up with a number of OTC medications and supplements that helped me and have listed the supplements I took in previous posts (click on my name to go back through and read). The most helpful are l-tryptophan (it CANNOT be taken while still on venlafaxine) and GABA. I also now take Calm, a magnesium supplement drink mix.

If your friend tried a ketamine infusion, he probably has access to medical care. While it’s not a good idea to exchange one drug that can become problematic for another, he could ask his doctor about something to help in the SHORT term:

1) Some folks on this thread used a “Prozac bridge” to ease off venlafaxine. Essentially, the Prozac cushions the effect of no Effexor and lets you "ride out" the withdrawal process. Then, you taper off the Prozac.

2) While still on venlafaxine, my primary care doc had me take Xanax for a few days when I developed serotonin syndrome after he prescribed dextromethorphan for severe sinus congestion and it interacted with the venlafaxine.

3) Before I came up with an effective regimen of OTC medications and supplements, my akathisia and anxiety became overwhelming and I went to a walk-in healthcare clinic. The Care Now doctor was familiar (very unusual!) with venlafaxine withdrawal and had me stay home for three days and take 5 mgs Valium twice a day to “get ahead of the anxiety.”

4) My oncologist (who prescribed the venlafaxine for hot flashes resulting from my breast cancer treatment) followed up with a limited Valium prescription to take as needed when the akathisia and/or anxiety got too bad. (I took those Valium sparingly, seldom more than a 1/2 tablet and no longer than a day, or two.)

Self-care is also important—sunshine, fresh air, physical exercise (walking, yoga, running, etc.), hobbies/distractions and supportive friends/family are very helpful as is reducing stress and (for me) avoiding frenetic, violent, or disturbing music/TV/movies/books.

It took almost three years for my withdrawal symptoms to go away; they would ebb and flow with longer and longer periods in between. The stress of losing my job due to the pandemic and the isolation from friends/family for over a year because of Covid lockdown added at least a year to my recovery time.

I strongly recommend that your friend (and maybe, you as well) start at Page 1 of this thread and read ALL of it. There's a lot of good information on this discussion board. May your friend soon find ways to mitigate his anxiety.

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@careth2

Hi there! I am new to Connect, but hopefully can offer some insight. I DID go off 150 Effexor XR (name brand) COLD TURKEY on January 2016. I survived it, but will never in my life EVER go off ANY antidepressant cold turkey. I had taken Effexor for at least 8 years, Zoloft prior to that and and Imipramine (sp?) as the first antidepressant (in all 25+ years on antidepressants.) It all started with running out of meds over a long weekend and deciding it was time to try to get off antidepressants to see how I would do. Since I had recently retired from teaching, thought this would be an ideal time to give it a go. In addition, Effexor just wasn’t helping all that much anymore (I thought.) The first 3 days I felt like I was going to die! When I realized that I wasn’t dying, decided to keep going to get it all over with. In addition to the symptoms you have heard about, I had deep bone/joint pain that felt like I was being pinched with clamps. Also had skin sensations and peeling, and noticed a strange smell on my skin. Each day got a little better and by the 3rd week started to function a bit more normally. I was very emotional, however, which caused my family great concern. Well, to make a long story short, the depression crept back in full and I am still trying to get my life back. I did everything I could to stay stable, including herbal supplements and took a vacation where I hiked 6 miles daily for 9 days on hilly, rocky terrain. I finally had to accept that I’m a person who will need antidepressants for the rest of my life. With the help of a PCP and counselor, I am on my 3rd antidepressant & may need to resort to going back on Effexor, because nothing seems to be working. All in all, in my opinion, the chronic depression is worse than the withdrawal symptoms that do eventually end. If you are a person with situational depression, you may be successful weaning off Effexor gradually. If I were to do it again, that’s what I would do (while replacing Effexor with something else.) Here are the things that helped me with the physical withdrawal symptoms:
1. Get plenty of sleep/rest.
2. Eat a very well-balanced diet (this is not the time to worry about your weight.) Lots of soup & easy to digest foods the 1st few days.
3. Drink plenty of water, including coconut water.
4. Have a glass of wine in the evening (if advisable.)
5. Get outside and walk or other excersize (the warm sunshine will feel good!)
6. Hot yoga 3-4 times per week. Stay in class even if you feel nauseous & can only do a few postures.
7. Soak in a hot tub (with bath salts if available.)
8. Use a good moisturizer on face & body several times per day.
9. Get several professional massages.
10. Take Tylenol for muscle pain, if OK on your stomach.
11. A heating pad is also helpful at bedtime or during naps.
12. If you are single & live alone, make sure a few trusted friends/family members know what you are doing.
13. In general, be kind & gentle to yourself.
14. NEVER give up! Keep going, even when you don’t feel like it (which will be often.) YOU ARE WORTH IT!!!

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Can I ask how long the body pain lasted? I am off of it now for 5 weeks and my body hurts so much. Legs, back, feet…it's awful. Just wondering if this is my new reality. I'm just 51.
Thank you

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