Getting Off My Antidepressant Medication Made Me Feel Like A Drug Addict

For those with persistent anxiety or depression, it’s tempting to try out medication, especially since doctors will easily prescribe it to you. But my personal experience of trying to wean off this drug changed my entire outlook on antidepressants.

By Hannah Leah4 min read
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I’ve struggled with severe anxiety ever since I was a child. Now, as an adult, the types of things I get anxious about have changed, but it still takes very little for me to stress over something. Over the years, I've heard people make the argument against antidepressants, saying, “Just try not to worry so much, you don’t need medication.”

But anyone who has regular anxiety knows it’s not as simple as that. We can’t easily turn the worry off. We wake up with it, and we battle it all throughout the day, and it can often make us physically ill. And from what I've heard, people with depression have the same type of experience. We’re battling our minds and thoughts constantly. 

What’s Worse, Feeling Anxious or Feeling Numb?

A few years ago, my doctor suggested I try an antidepressant for my anxiety. I was having major digestive issues and migraines, which I thought might be triggered by my anxiety, so it didn’t take much convincing for me. Looking back now, I should’ve done research on the drug before taking it without caution, but at that time in my life, I felt desperate. I took it for a couple years, and while I found myself less anxious, I was also very numb. 

My family described me as cold and emotionless. I'll admit I wasn’t worrying as much about every little thing, but I had new issues. My personality was basically gone, and I had no motivation to do anything. I really didn’t care about anything going on in my life. Eventually, I was just tired of being tired. And quite frankly, it didn’t help my stomach or migraine issues anyway. I had headaches every single day, migraines multiple times a week, and the same digestive problems I had before. 

I called my doctor and got instructions on how to safely wean off the antidepressant and started the process of quitting. But my experience getting off this medication was hell. It changed my entire outlook on antidepressants. I just wish my doctor would have warned me about it first. I can’t put the blame all on her, because, unlike many doctors, she first suggested that I go to counseling, but I wasn’t interested. However, it only took a simple “no thanks” for her to go ahead and prescribe the medication. 

My Symptoms of Withdrawal 

I’m grateful that I’ve never experimented with recreational or hard drugs. But I know people who have, and my heart goes out to those trying to quit because battling addiction is a very difficult thing. The withdrawal symptoms are excruciating, which is probably why so many of them go back on drugs – it’s easier than dealing with the withdrawal. This is how I felt when weaning off my antidepressant. 

I had a terrible headache for days on end, and I was nauseous, dizzy, and irritable.

The worst symptom was dizziness. I truly felt like I was going out of my mind. As a hairstylist, I stand all day, and being extremely dizzy while trying to cut hair is unrealistic. I would have to regularly grab the salon chair to catch myself from falling. There were a couple of days when I had to take off work because not only was I dizzy, but I felt lightheaded and confused. My eyes felt crossed all the time. 

Along with being dizzy, I had a terrible headache for days on end. I was nauseous, moody, and irritable, and I had terrible brain fog. My anxiety was amplified, probably because I knew it was impossible for me to do life feeling this way. I also felt paranoid a lot. I read online that getting off these kinds of medications can take around two weeks, but for me, it took a few months to feel normal again. There were days when I just considered taking it every day again, so I didn't have to deal with the withdrawal symptoms. But thankfully, I pushed through until I was better.

The Effectiveness of Antidepressants

Antidepressants are used to target low serotonin levels and to correct chemical imbalances, but a recent study in London found that depression and anxiety are not linked to chemical imbalances in the brain. They also found that taking these drugs long-term could result in a lower serotonin level. 

The author of this study stated, “Thousands of people suffer from side-effects of antidepressants, including the severe withdrawal effects that can occur when people try to stop them, yet prescription rates continue to rise. We believe this situation has been driven partly by the false belief that depression is due to a chemical imbalance. It is high time to inform the public that this belief is not grounded in science.”

She continues, “Our view is that patients should not be told that depression is caused by low serotonin or by a chemical imbalance, and they should not be led to believe that antidepressants work by targeting these unproven abnormalities. We do not understand what antidepressants are doing to the brain exactly, and giving people this sort of misinformation prevents them from making an informed decision about whether to take antidepressants or not.” Other recent research shows that antidepressants and placebo pills have about the same effect in 85% of people in clinical trials.

Other Options To Cope with Anxiety and Depression

Once I finally went back to “normal” after getting off the medication, I was still left with severe anxiety, and I knew I had to find other ways to manage it before I felt desperate again. There is no way I would consider going back on that medication. Here are some ways I found to deal with my anxiety:

Emotional Therapy 

Talking with a counselor (in person or online) is a great option for people with severe anxiety and depression. More people than you think go to therapy. When looking for a therapist, I found that most of them have a long waitlist, which means that lots of people are in counseling and lots of people are waiting to be counseled. A clinical psychologist can help you find the root cause or external forces that are contributing to your issues and give you tools to help you manage it. 

Physical Therapy

My anxiety was causing me to tense up, without even realizing it. Your body has different ways of responding to stress, so it's important to deal with the physical part of stress along with the emotional. Physical therapy was very helpful for me in identifying some of the areas my body was responding to stress and correcting them. 

Your mind affects your body, but your body can affect your mind too.

Diet and Exercise

The things you give your body have an effect on the way you feel. Feed your body the nutrients you need so you have a better quality of life. Exercise is a great stress reliever and can be an outlet for you when you’re anxious. 

Form Better Daily Habits

Evaluate your daily habits, and see if anything you’re regularly doing could be contributing to your anxiety. Scrolling on your phone too much, a high intake of caffeine, not getting enough sleep, and things of that nature can all be factors in your anxiety. Create new habits that benefit you, such as fixing the previously mentioned issues, journaling, drinking more water, doing breathing exercises, getting more sunlight, etc. 

Getting out of Your Head

This is easier said than done, but to conquer your anxiety, you have to get your mind in the right place. There is a dialogue happening in my head 24/7. I'm always thinking about something, which sometimes takes my thoughts to places it doesn’t need to be. You have more control over your thoughts than you might think. Take those thoughts captive and organize them in a practical way (write them down), and remember that the external situation isn’t as intense as what you’re feeling internally. 

Closing Thoughts

I’ve heard some really harsh opinions on taking antidepressants, but I could never judge someone for trying it because I've been there. Most of us are misinformed about its effectiveness and just the idea of it helping us cope makes it all the more enticing to try it. But I would encourage anyone thinking about getting on medication to try other things first and to weigh the risk against the rewards. And for anyone wanting to get off their medication, don’t let my experience scare you too much. It was hard, but I feel much better now that I’m on the other side of it! Not everyone has the same experience getting off them. It might be challenging, but it will be worth it. 

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