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Antidepressant medications can be a helpful solution for many people in the treatment of depression. In fact, over 13 percent of U.S. adults used antidepressant drugs between 2015 and 2018 to help manage common symptoms of depressive disorders like major depression, anxiety disorders and other mental health disorders.
However, antidepressant medications work differently for everyone and you may find that Zoloft® — the brand name for the drug sertraline — isn’t the best antidepressant for you.
While an FDA-approved and commonly used antidepressant medication, Zoloft does come with risks. Abrupt discontinuation of this antidepressant drug could result in Zoloft withdrawal effects.
Just as people experience antidepressant medications differently, people can experience symptoms differently. Some may have severe symptoms while others have a different experience.
You may have your reasons for wanting to stop taking Zoloft. Maybe it’s not effective for managing your symptoms or maybe you’re considering switching to a medication you think is a better antidepressant for you. Whatever the reason, knowing what to expect from a Zoloft withdrawal can help you be prepared.
Below, we’ll explain the Zoloft withdrawal timeline, withdrawal symptoms and how to cope with Zoloft withdrawal side effects.
To understand Zoloft withdrawal symptoms, let’s first explain how Zoloft works.
A selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor is thought to work by regulating your brain's serotonin levels — one of the chemicals that helps regulate mood. SSRIs not only help treat symptoms of depression but also have generally tolerable and some of the lowest side effects of antidepressant medications.
Zoloft is approved for the treatment of panic disorder, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Healthcare providers may also prescribe Zoloft “off-label” to treat generalized anxiety disorder and eating disorders.
You can learn more about Zoloft and how this antidepressant works in our full guide.
Although Zoloft does take time to start improving a depressed mood for most people — about six to eight weeks — you shouldn’t immediately stop taking the medication, even if you feel better.
However, it should be noted that although you can experience Zoloft withdrawal symptoms, it’s not considered an addictive or habit-forming medication.
While withdrawal may make you think of someone who is craving another dose, Zoloft withdrawal affects your brain differently.
Abrupt discontinuation of Zoloft won’t have you experiencing cravings for it. But you may experience other withdrawal effects.
Just as it takes a few weeks to feel the effects on your mood, the same is true if you stop taking Zoloft but in reverse — your brain gradually adjusts to not having the effects of the medication. Unfortunately, there can be some adverse effects along with discontinuing an antidepressant.
SSRIs and other antidepressants that influence serotonin are associated with several withdrawal symptoms, often called antidepressant discontinuation syndrome or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor discontinuation syndrome. Abruptly stopping the use of Zoloft may also be referred to as discontinuation syndrome and can result in discontinuation symptoms.
Abrupt discontinuation of Zoloft could also result in a relapse of depression or anxiety — which differs from discontinuation symptoms. Discontinuation symptoms are different from depressive relapses in a few ways:
Discontinuation symptoms appear sooner (within days after stopping the medication) while depressive relapses develop gradually
A relapse of depression doesn’t include the physical symptoms that antidepressant discontinuation syndrome has, only the emotional symptoms
Depressive relapses may get worse while discontinuation symptoms resolve as your body adjusts or go away if you start taking Zoloft again
Some research has found that about 20 percent of people who suddenly stop taking antidepressants or even reduce their dosage experience discontinuation symptoms. Other research suggests 80 percent of people who abruptly stop taking Zoloft or other antidepressant drugs have withdrawal symptoms.
Experiencing Zoloft withdrawal symptoms is fairly common when you stop taking the medication. Some research that almost half of the people who discontinued using antidepressants like Zoloft experienced severe withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, withdrawal effects can be mild, especially if done under the guidance of healthcare providers.
Everyone experiences symptoms differently but you may experience the following withdrawal effects from the abrupt discontinuation of Zoloft:
Lack of energy
Now that you know about Zoloft discontinuation symptoms, you may be wondering: how long does Zoloft withdrawal last?
The Zoloft withdrawal timeline can depend on each person and how their body flushes the medication out of their system after they stop taking it. Tapering off medication — or gradually reducing your dosage with the guidance of healthcare providers — is one way to avoid discontinuation symptoms.
When tapering medication, discontinuation symptoms could last from one to three weeks. Abrupt withdrawal of Zoloft could result in symptoms that last up to a year.
When you decide you want to stop taking Zoloft, healthcare providers typically recommend tapering off medication before eventually discontinuing use altogether.
Healthcare providers may suggest tapering off medication over the course of six to eight weeks to reduce the chances of severe symptoms. Or they may suggest switching antidepressants to one that is less likely to cause withdrawal symptoms.
While you’re tapering the use of medication, there are also self-care tips you can follow to cope with withdrawal or severe symptoms. These can include:
Getting good sleep
Eating a nutritious diet
Reaching out to loved ones for support
Going to therapy
Zoloft is one of many different antidepressant medications that is a useful tool for the treatment of depression and other mental health disorders. However, if you abruptly stop taking Zoloft without gradually tapering your dosage, you may develop symptoms of Zoloft withdrawal.
Going through an abrupt withdrawal can result in severe symptoms, with both emotional and physical symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include anxiety, mood changes, sweating, nausea, dizziness or lethargy.
Rather than abruptly stopping the use of Zoloft, healthcare providers recommend gradually reducing your dosage until you no longer need it. They can work with you to determine a plan to taper your medication.
Going off Zoloft can take time so be sure to have patience with the process and talk to your healthcare providers about any symptoms you’re experiencing or concerns you have.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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