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The drug companies won’t call it withdrawal, but “discontinuation syndrome” is a serious and sometimes debilitating problem for many people trying to wean off antidepressant or anti-anxiety meds. What’s worse, most patients are not warned about this possibility when they start taking the drugs.
A New York Times analysis revealed that long-term use of antidepressants, a class of drug that has only been studied for use for two months, is surging in the United States. Almost 25 million Americans have been on antidepressants for two or more years, an almost 60 percent increase since 2010.
The use of anxiety meds, or benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax, have increased by about 30 percent since 1996. However, overdose deaths related to benzos quadrupled during that time. Also, long-term use has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Withdrawing from your antidepressant
Few patients are warned about the risks of withdrawal symptoms, or “discontinuation syndrome,” when they begin taking antidepressants. In fact, the drugs were approved for short-term use with studies lasting just two months. Yet many people stay on them for years.
Many people can taper off their antidepressants with few problems. For others, however, the effects can be so debilitating they can’t work or function normally.
Symptoms may include dizziness, confusion, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, insomnia, nausea, hyperarousal (overstimulated easily), brain “zaps and shocks,” and more.
For some, it only takes a couple of weeks to taper off with some mild discomfort during that time. For others, it’s a months-long process with symptoms so bad that some throw in the towel and remain on the antidepressant. In a study of 180 long-term users of antidepressants, 130 reported withdrawal symptoms coming off and about half said they felt they were addicted to them.
Benzo risks and withdrawals
Withdrawing from benzos is a documented hell from which some never recover.
Like antidepressants, short term use of benzodiazepines can provide much needed relief that allows a person to function. However, it’s easy to quickly become dependent on and tolerant of benzos, with the user needing ever increasing doses. Withdrawals from powerful, fast-acting benzos such as Xanax are said to be worse than heroin withdrawal and quitting cold turkey can even be fatal.
A slowly tapered benzo withdrawal can last more than a year with some people never fully recovering. Symptoms include fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, disorientation, malaise, severe panic and startle reactions, nerve pain, muscle aches, and memory loss.
Functional medicine alternatives for depression and anxiety
It’s not always easy to alleviate or reverse depression and anxiety, but it’s frequently doable, often with astounding results when you address the root causes.
Depression is simply decreased firing of the frontal lobe. The reasons for its under activity can differ for different people. In functional neurology, we do both neurological and metabolic screening to find what is driving your depression, and then we create a custom rehabilitation program tailored to your underlying causes. This can involve functional neurology exercises along with dietary and lifestyle adjustments. Many people experience profound results when their brain gets the support it needs.
Likewise, anxiety can have myriad causes. For instance, even poor balance can be a cause. When the areas of your brain and vestibular system (inner ear system) are damaged or compromised, this can create chronic anxiety as the brain is in a state of feeling continually unsure and on the edge.
By identifying and addressing the root causes of depression and anxiety, many people are able to not only banish or significantly relieve symptoms, but also improve many other aspects of their well being. Ask how functional neurology can help you with your depression and anxiety.