How Long Does SSRI Withdrawal Take to Kick In
Antidepressant or SSRI withdrawal typically takes about 1-3 days to kick in after you stop taking the medication

If you suddenly stop taking an antidepressant, like SSRI, especially if you've been taking them for longer than 4-6 weeks, you may experience unpleasant symptoms due to antidepressant withdrawal, also called antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (ADS). 

Antidepressant or SSRI withdrawal typically takes about 1-3 days to kick in after you stop taking the medication. Symptoms may last between 1-3 weeks.

What are the symptoms of SSRI withdrawal?

Within 1-3 days of suddenly stopping an antidepressant, you may notice symptoms such as:

Most SSRI withdrawal symptoms are moderate and transient, although they can be misinterpreted as physical illness.

In rare cases, antidepressant discontinuation may result in abnormally elevated mood or mania. Older antidepressants such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors can cause confusion and psychotic symptoms. Some antidepressants are more likely than others to cause withdrawal symptoms.

Antidepressant withdrawal symptoms do not indicate antidepressant addiction. Addiction involves long-term, detrimental chemical changes in the brain. It is characterized by strong desires, an inability to manage substance use, and negative effects from that use.

Timeline of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome

In general, the timeline of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (ADS) is uncomplicated and does not appear to be distinguished by substantial stages of various clusters of symptoms.

  • Some people experience initial symptoms 1-3 days after suddenly stopping the medicine. 
  • Symptoms usually peak in the first week and persist for 1-3 weeks. Some people may experience the symptoms even beyond that, for weeks or months.
  • Resuming the antidepressant medication can relieve symptoms within 24 hours.

The onset of withdrawal symptoms depends on the time it takes for the drug to be cleared from the body. This is often expressed as the half-life of the drug.

Table. Common antidepressants and their approximate half-lives
Antidepressants (brand name) Half-life (approximate)
Wellbutrin, Zyban, and others (bupropion) 21 hours
Celexa, Cipramil, and others (citalopram) 36 hours
Cymbalta, Ariclaim, and others (duloxetine) 8-17 hours
Cipralex, Lexapro, and others (escitalopram) 30 hours
Prozac, Sarafem, and others (fluoxetine) 96-144 hours
Paxil, Seroxat, and others (paroxetine) 24 hours
Zoloft, Lustral, and others (sertraline) 22-36 hours
Effexor and others (venlafaxine) 4-7 hours


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How to prevent or minimize antidepressant withdrawal

Before stopping an antidepressant, consult your doctor to reduce the risk of antidepressant withdrawal. To give your body time to adjust to the absence of the medicine, your doctor may advise gradually reducing the dosage over a few weeks or even months. As sudden withdrawal is the cause of ADS, this tapering strategy is beneficial in preventing ADS in many people.

Physicians may provide symptomatic treatment for nausea, headache, dizziness, and other flu-like symptoms. Sedatives and other medications can be used to treat problems such as sleeplessness

In rare cases, your doctor may provide you with a brief prescription for another antidepressant or drug to help with symptoms while your body adjusts to the change. When transitioning from one type of antidepressant to another, your doctor may advise you to begin taking the new drug before completely stopping the old one. Studies report that switching to a different antidepressant with a longer half-life and then tapering down carefully with that medicine can help prevent ADS symptoms.

Once you stop taking an antidepressant, it can be challenging to differentiate between withdrawal symptoms and the recurrence of depressive symptoms. Describe your signs and symptoms to your doctor. If your depression symptoms return, your doctor may advise you to restart taking an antidepressant or seek other treatment.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/4/2022
Image Source: iStock image

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