Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
If you’ve been diagnosed with major depression, an anxiety disorder or a related mental health issue, your healthcare provider may prescribe the medication Paxil® (paroxetine) to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
Paxil is an effective antidepressant that, for most people, only produces mild to moderate side effects. However, if you stop taking Paxil abruptly without gradually tapering your dosage, you may develop symptoms of Paxil withdrawal.
Paxil withdrawal symptoms can potentially be severe, making it important to closely follow your healthcare provider’s instructions if you want to stop taking this medication.
Below, we’ve explained what Paxil is, as well as how it works as a treatment for depression and anxiety disorders.
We’ve also discussed the symptoms of Paxil withdrawal, as well as when you can expect these issues to develop if you suddenly stop using Paxil.
Finally, we’ve shared some techniques that you can use to reduce your risk of developing Paxil withdrawal symptoms while switching antidepressants or stopping treatment with Paxil.
Like other SSRIs, Paxil works by increasing levels of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is a type of natural chemical called a neurotransmitter that may play a role in regulating your anxiety levels and moods, including feelings of happiness.
Your brain and body also use serotonin for other functions, such as stimulating the parts of your brain that regulate sleeping and waking.
Paxil is currently approved by the FDA to treat major depressive disorder (MDD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder (PD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In addition to its use in the treatment of depression, Paxil is commonly prescribed as an off-label medication for other conditions.
Common off-label uses for Paxil and generic paroxetine include:
Body dysmorphic disorder
Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)
In men, Paxil is sometimes prescribed off-label as a treatment for certain sexual function issues, such as premature ejaculation.
Our full guide to Paxil provides more information about how this medication works, its uses, side effects and more.
Antidepressants such as Paxil are often effective at reducing the severity of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. Many people who use SSRIs find that they offer real benefits and make recovering from a mental health disorder an easier process.
Compared to older psychiatric drugs, SSRIs such as paroxetine are less likely to cause severe, dangerous side effects and/or drug interactions.
For this reason, SSRIs are usually prescribed as a first-line treatment (meaning the first type of medication used to treat a certain condition) for depression and certain forms of anxiety.
Although SSRIs are less likely to cause side effects than older antidepressants, many drugs in this class can cause withdrawal symptoms when they’re stopped abruptly. In this case, Paxil is no exception.
In fact, because of its shorter half-life, Paxil may be more likely to cause withdrawal symptoms than other SSRIs used to treat depression and anxiety.
Stopping treatment with Paxil suddenly can potentially result in antidepressant discontinuation syndrome — a group of withdrawal symptoms that usually occur within a few days of adjusting your dosage or stopping your use of antidepressants.
Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome affects approximately 20 percent of people who stop using SSRIs such as Paxil abruptly.
Antidepressant withdrawal syndrome can involve a range of symptoms, most of which develop two to four days after dose reduction or abrupt cessation of antidepressant therapy.
It’s normal for symptoms to last for one to two weeks, although some can persist for months or as long as one year.
Common symptoms of withdrawal from Paxil or other SSRIs include:
Other physical sensations
These withdrawal symptoms are occasionally referred to using the mnemonic FINISH — flu-like symptoms, insomnia, nausea, imbalance, sensory disturbances and hyperarousal.
Suddenly stopping treatment with Paxil may also increase your risk of experiencing a relapse of feelings of depression, anxiety or other mental health issues.
If you’ve recently stopped using Paxil and have withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider. They may suggest tapering your dosage or switching to a medication that’s similar to Paxil to reduce the severity of your withdrawal symptoms.
Our guide to switching antidepressants provides more information about what to expect if you’re instructed to stop treatment or change antidepressant medications.
Withdrawal symptoms from Paxil can be challenging to deal with, especially if they are severe or develop suddenly after you stop using your medication.
The good news is that it’s often possible to avoid withdrawal symptoms from Paxil or reduce the severity of these symptoms by stopping treatment carefully.
Use the following tips to reduce your risk of developing discontinuation symptoms from Paxil:
Talk to your healthcare provider before stopping Paxil. Your healthcare provider may switch you to another medication or instruct you to gradually reduce your dosage of Paxil to prevent withdrawal symptoms from developing.
It’s especially important to talk with a medical professional if you still notice symptoms of depression, anxiety or a similar mental health disorder.
Gradually taper your Paxil dosage. You may be instructed to slowly lower your dosage of Paxil over the course of several weeks. Make sure to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and reduce your daily dose of Paxil according to their schedule.
If you’re prescribed a low dose of Paxil, or have only taken your medication for a period of a few weeks, you may be able to taper your dosage at a faster rate.
Keep in mind that symptoms don’t last forever. If you start to experience withdrawal symptoms after stopping treatment with Paxil, it’s important to remember that they won’t last forever.
Most of the time, antidepressant withdrawal symptoms improve over the course of a few weeks without any significant, long-lasting issues.
Some withdrawal symptoms of Paxil can be difficult to deal with, especially if they get in the way of your normal life.
If you develop withdrawal effects after stopping Paxil, try using the techniques below to deal with them successfully:
Use over-the-counter medication to relieve pain and/or nausea. If you develop pain or nausea after stopping treatment with Paxil, it’s usually okay to take over-the-counter medication to relieve your symptoms.
Make sure to ask your healthcare provider if you’re prescribed other medication that can interact with pain relievers or medication for relieving nausea and vomiting.
Let your friends and family know how you’re feeling. Sometimes, having someone to talk to about how you’re feeling can make dealing with Paxil withdrawal easier.
If you’re beginning to develop withdrawal symptoms after abrupt discontinuation of Paxil, let a trusted friend, family member or your partner know. They might be able to help you deal with adverse effects and stay focused on making progress.
Use relaxation techniques to deal with anxiety. If you feel anxious or stressed due to antidepressant withdrawal, try using techniques such as mindfulness to get control over your feelings and reduce the severity of negative thoughts.
Keep yourself physically active. Exercise can not only distract you from the symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal, but it’s also an effective natural treatment for certain forms of depression and anxiety.
Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs. While drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs may seem like good ways to deal with withdrawal symptoms, doing so is more likely to make you feel worse.
If you have severe withdrawal symptoms after stopping treatment with Paxil, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as you can.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to help you manage your symptoms, or give you a more gradual tapering schedule to prevent severe symptoms from developing.
Like many other antidepressant drugs, Paxil and generic paroxetine can often cause withdrawal symptoms when they’re stopped abruptly.
Withdrawal from paroxetine and other SSRIs can involve mental and physical symptoms, some of which may have a significant impact on your wellbeing and quality of life.
Although there’s no precise Paxil withdrawal timeline, these symptoms usually start within a few days and typically last for several weeks.
To reduce your risk of developing withdrawal symptoms after stopping treatment with Paxil, talk to your healthcare provider before reducing your dosage or making any changes to the way you use your medication.
Dr. Vicky Davis is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, leadership and education.
Dr. Davis' expertise include direct patient care and many years working in clinical research to bring evidence-based care to patients and their families.
She is also an active member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
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