Study Finds 1 in 6 Experience Antidepressant Withdrawal Symptoms

Daniel Z. Lieberman, MD

Reviewed by Daniel Z. Lieberman, MD

Written by Maxwell Barna

Published 06/20/2024

If you’ve ever considered taking an antidepressant, you know it's common to have a lot of questions. Will you be able to tell if it’s working? And if it does work, how long will you need to take it? Many people worry about antidepressant side effects. Others, who’ve heard stories of antidepressant withdrawal from friends or family, worry about the effects of stopping the medication.


A new study might offer a bit of reassurance to this last group. Researchers found that antidepressant withdrawal, or antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, isn’t as common as once believed. 

In the new meta-analysis, researchers reviewed studies that included more than 22,000 people taking either an antidepressant or a placebo. They found that only about 15 percent of patients (about 1 in 6) reported unpleasant symptoms after discontinuing these medications. Previous estimates had put that number closer to 50 percent.

Among those who did experience symptoms, they typically included dizziness, headache, nausea, insomnia, and irritability. 

The likelihood that someone would experience discontinuation symptoms varied depending on the kind of antidepressant they took. Of the medications studied, those with the highest rates of discontinuation symptoms included imipramine (Tofranil), desvenlafaxine (Pristiq, Khedezla), and venlafaxine (Effexor, others). These drugs belong to a class of medications called serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). 

According to the study, the antidepressants with the lowest likelihood of discontinuation symptoms include fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft). Fluoxetine and sertraline are both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

A Word from the Experts

It’s important to note that when we talk about “antidepressant withdrawal,” we’re not implying that people get addicted to antidepressants. Dr. Daniel Z. Lieberman, senior vice president of mental health at Hims & Hers, explains that there’s a difference between discontinuation symptoms and withdrawal symptoms. 

“The essence of addiction that you see in withdrawal is an overpowering desire to take the drug again — and it’s not just to make the withdrawal symptoms go away,” says Dr. Lieberman, who serves as a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University. “With antidepressant discontinuation, you get symptoms, and they can be very uncomfortable, they can be quite severe, but there's no craving.” 

So, what actually causes discontinuation symptoms? It has to do with the time it takes for your brain to get used to living without the medication. 

Look at when someone first starts taking an SSRI, says Dr. Lieberman. “The first few days, the first few weeks, you don't feel any effects. It's only two, four, maybe even eight weeks later that you're feeling better.”

“It’s the body’s adaptation to the drug,” says Dr. Lieberman, “that’s what leads to improvement.” 

Discontinuation syndrome happens when this process occurs in reverse. 

It’s a shock to the system, says Dr. Lieberman. “When an adapted body or an adapted brain no longer has the thing it’s adapted to.” 

What to Watch For

Discontinuation symptoms, if they do occur, tend to appear about 1 to 10 days after stopping the medication. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. This can be problematic, especially when it delays the process of switching to a different antidepressant.

According to the new study, only about 3 percent of people report severe symptoms after discontinuing antidepressants. But, some critics have pointed to the limitations of the research, noting that it may not fully account for the experiences of long-term users. The average length of time that patients in the study were taking antidepressants was 25 weeks. 

As two London researchers recently argued, long-term antidepressant use is increasingly common, and these are the folks who may be most at risk of experiencing symptoms upon discontinuation. In the U.K., more than a quarter of all patients on antidepressants have been taking them for at least five years. In the U.S., more than 60 percent of people taking an antidepressant have been taking it for two years or longer. 

Debate about the terms, severity, and incidence of antidepressant withdrawal isn’t new — the London researchers echo earlier work, arguing that many clinicians underestimate the likelihood and intensity of discontinuation symptoms.

What You Can Do

Most clinicians and researchers agree that tapering is the best way to reduce your risk of discontinuation symptoms. Medication tapering is the process of gradually reducing a medication so the body has time to adapt. This process should always be done with the guidance of a medical professional. 

Unfortunately, antidepressant tapering isn’t always as simple as it should be. It can be difficult when the medication is only available in a limited range of doses, and patients have to cut their pills in half or in quarters. 

In many cases, says Dr. Lieberman, “The slower you taper, the more mild the symptoms are going to be.”  

But this may not be necessary for everyone, he explains. According to Dr. Lieberman, the most important part of any mental health treatment plan is that it be individualized.

This is one area where compounding pharmacies, like the one Hims & Hers works with, may be able to help. With personalized mental health care, clinicians are able to offer solutions that you can’t find at mainstream retail pharmacies.

10 Sources

  1. Lewis, G., & Lewis, G. (2024). Discontinuation symptoms of antidepressants. The Lancet Psychiatry, 11(7), 485–486.
  2. Jha, M. K., Rush, A. J., & Trivedi, M. H. (2018). When discontinuing SSRI antidepressants is a challenge: Management tips. American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(12), 1176–1184.
  3. Gupta, M. (2023, April 29). Withdrawal syndromes. StatPearls [Internet].
  4. Horowitz, M., & Moncrieff, J. (2024, June 7). Study claiming antidepressant withdrawal is less common than thought fails to account for risks in long-term users. The Conversation.
  5. Rachel Schraer, C. H. & L. H. (2023, June 19). Antidepressants: Two million taking them for five years or more. BBC News.
  6. Pratt, L. A., Brody, D. J., & Gu, Q. (2015, November 6). Antidepressant Use in Persons Aged 12 and Over: United States, 2005–2008. National Center for Health Statistics.
  7. Pies, R. W., & Osser, D. N. (2019, March 11). Sorting out the antidepressant “withdrawal” controversy. Psychiatric Times.
  8. Pies, R. (2012, May). Are antidepressants effective in the acute and long-term treatment of depression? sic et non. Innovations in clinical neuroscience.
  9. Horowitz, M. A., & Taylor, D. (2019). Tapering of SSRI treatment to mitigate withdrawal symptoms. The Lancet Psychiatry, 6(6), 538–546.
  10. Horowitz, M. A., & Taylor, D. (2023, September 19). Case-based learning: Safe withdrawal and tapering of antidepressants. The Pharmaceutical Journal.
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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Daniel Z. Lieberman, MD

Dr. Daniel Z. Lieberman is the senior vice president of mental health at Hims & Hers and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University. Prior to joining Hims & Hers, Dr. Lieberman spent over 25 years as a full time academic, receiving multiple awards for teaching and research. While at George Washington, he served as the chairman of the university’s Institutional Review Board and the vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Dr. Lieberman’s has focused on , , , and to increase access to scientifically-proven treatments. He served as the principal investigator at George Washington University for dozens of FDA trials of new medications and developed online programs to help people with , , and . In recognition of his contributions to the field of psychiatry, in 2015, Dr. Lieberman was designated a distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He is board certified in psychiatry and addiction psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

As an expert in mental health, Dr. Lieberman has provided insight on psychiatric topics for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Commerce, and Office of Drug & Alcohol Policy.

Dr. Lieberman studied the Great Books at St. John’s College and attended medical school at New York University, where he also completed his psychiatry residency. He is the coauthor of the international bestseller , which has been translated into more than 20 languages and was selected as one of the “Must-Read Brain Books of 2018” by Forbes. He is also the author of . He has been on and to discuss the role of the in human behavior, , and .


  • 1992: M.D., New York University School of Medicine

  • 1985: B.A., St. John’s College, Annapolis, Maryland

Selected Appointments

  • 2022–Present: Clinical Professor, George Washington University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

  • 2013–2022: Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs, George Washington University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

  • 2010–2022: Professor, George Washington University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

  • 2008–2017: Chairman, George Washington University Institutional Review Board

Selected Awards & Honors

  • 2022: Distinguished Life Fellow, American Psychiatric Association

  • 2008–2020: Washingtonian Top Doctor award

  • 2005: Caron Foundation Research Award


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