I'm a clinical psychologist who works with children and adults. In this article, I share my personal experience with depression and Effexor.
What is Effexor?
Effexor withdrawal syndrome is increasingly becoming recognised in professional mental health circles. Effexor (or Efexor) is the brand name of Venlafaxine, an antidepressant in a group of drugs known as selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSNRI). It is widely prescribed for individuals experiencing depression(major depressive disorder), general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder and has shown particular success in treating refractory depression (treatment-resistant depression). Effexor is manufactured in an immediate release form or a more modern extended-release form known as Effexor XR. Typical doses range from 75 mg to 375 mg.
Effexor withdrawal can be extremely difficult if not done under the careful supervision of a psychiatrist or other experienced health professional. In the past few years, mental health professionals are beginning to recognize that abrupt withdrawal of this medication can lead to severe Effexor withdrawal symptoms(discontinuation syndrome). It has even been proposed that Effexor itself is the antidepressant which has the worst discontinuation syndrome and there is an Effexor XR lawsuit in progress in relation to the withdrawal effects. Even when the Effexor dose is tapered down slowly significant side effects have been reported by some individuals who have been taking the drug.
Effexor Withdrawal Symptoms
- sensory disturbances (including 'brain-zaps' or 'brain shivers')
- impaired coordination
- loss of appetite
Advice for Minimising Effexor Withdrawal Symptoms
- Only attempt to start the withdrawal process from Effexor with the support of a fully qualified and experienced mental health professional.
- Go slow! I cannot emphasise this enough. Effexor withdrawal should be a gradual process in which you slowly wean yourself off the drug. Respect the fact that if you have been taking Effexor for a couple of years it may take months or longer to slowly reduce the levels of Effexor in your blood.
- Surround yourself with people who provide you with support and positive energy.
- Keep going. Try not to change your daily routine as much as possible. If you keep yourself busy and distracted it provides you with less time to focus on your own physical experience of the Effexor withdrawal.
- Don't panic. Remind yourself that others have been through the same symptoms as you may be experiencing and have come out the other end.
- Consider taking an over-the-counter anti-histamine such as Benadryl or Loratadine (e.g. Claritin) to cope with some of the physical discontinuation side effects such as itching.
- Eat well.
- Get enough sleep.
- If you are having a difficult time withdrawing from Effexor talk to your doctor about the possibility of taking a small dose of Prozac (fluoxetine). The addition of a small dose of Prozac has been shown to be successful in minimizing Effexor withdrawal symptoms.
My Personal Experience of Effexor Withdrawal
Initially, I was prescribed Effexor for treatment-resistant depression after numerous failed attempts to find an anti-depressant that 'clicked' with me. I was taking lithium carbonate along with Effexor as part of an augmentative therapy for refractory depression. I started both medications at separate times and, while I noticed a significant impact of lithium on my suicidal feelings, I did not feel any great benefit from Effexor over the first few months in which I started it. My psychiatrist was reluctant to stop the Effexor and had the attitude of 'if you feel good now, it doesn't matter which medication is working, just stay on them both'. Looking back seven years later I realise the stupidest decision I ever made was to continue taking a drug that I was unsure if I was gaining any benefit at all from.
My successful withdrawal from Effexor took two and a half years as I went from 300 mg a day to nothing. I call it a successful withdrawal now purely because I managed to survive it and come out the other end Effexor-free. The first year and a half was relatively hassle-free as I slowly weaned down from 300 mg to 150 mg. I then cut my dose to 75 mg and started to feel the full force of Effexor withdrawal. I had a week of solid dizziness, headaches, stomach upset and anxiety. The experience itself was enough to stop me from dropping my dose any lower for another six months. The real 'fun' started when I tried to stop taking my 75 mg a day dose. It was absolutely horrendous . . . an overwhelming physical experience. I had severe diarrhea, body shakes, headaches, anxiety, sensory disturbances and nightmares for a week as I tried to fight through it cold turkey. I couldn't do it. I relented and started taking my 75 mg dose again. I felt better within a few hours of taking the dose again. I repeated this failed cold turkey process another time before my psychiatrist kindly told me that I might gain benefit from stepping down to 37.5 mg dose rather than stopping the Effexor entirely. Why oh why he did not suggest this before then is beyond me! I fought through severe withdrawal effects at 37.5 mg until it stabilised and I stayed on that dose for three months.
When I decided to stop my 37.5 mg dose I thought I would try it every second day. This resulted in severe side effects for 24 hrs followed by a slight relief when I took my next dose. I was getting nowhere fast. My final dose of Effexor was the beginning of an extreme two-week period in which I experienced significant suicidal ideation, anxiety, full body shakes, nausea, dizziness and headaches. My head would twitch sometimes in public and I truly felt like I must have looked like a crazy woman. My psychiatrist recommended anti-histamines and immediately I felt the benefit. My dizziness and itching lessened hugely. It was an extremely emotional period. I am not someone prone to irrationality but the littlest thing had in me in either floods of tears or agitated and confused. I was a mess. On more than one occasion I sat with the Effexor capsules in front of me and was seconds away from taking a dose to make the symptoms disappear. I eventually threw them in a bin on the street! I didn't wake up one day and just feel 'better' again it was a slow process that probably went on for a few months before I felt that I could say I felt like 'me' again both physically and mentally.
Looking back now my horrific Effexor withdrawal experience seems like a bit of a blur. I'm just so glad I wrote in my journal throughout the final withdrawal phase because, reading it back now, there is absolutely no way I will put myself through that again when I already have to manage my depression on a daily basis. I would never advise anyone to take or not to take a drug based on my own personal experience. I just believe everyone should be aware of Effexor's withdrawal effects before they start treatment in order to make an informed decision.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Khannea on September 21, 2019:
I quit both effexor 300 and depakine in a long weekend in 2003. The nightmares were excutiating, and I am still get the shivers thinking about it. Symptons when I was awake were annoying, but once I fell asleep I was completely convinced I was in Hell.
Chantal R. on May 27, 2019:
I was on 75mg a day for 12 mths and was better so we started the weaning off process where I did 2 weeks of 37.5 and then they told me 1 week of skipping days. Thats when hell started.. skipping days for a week seemed pointless as it seemed I was just dragging out the pain. so I just stopped and then was hit with the full force of the diarrhea, vomiting, vertigo, mild headaches and the full on flu like feelings where I sat and cried asking when would this end?! I took advil, tylenol, gravol and all that seemed to do was help me sleep.. while I waited. I'm on day 4 of no dose at all and still feel meh, my symptoms worsen as the day progresses.. and wondered if benadryl would help after reading to take anti histamine?
Stargazer on January 15, 2019:
I have been on Effexor longer than I can remember. I feel like it’s a life sentence for me at this point. Tried pigging backing with other drugs to reduce withdrawals, tried slowly reducing the dose. The headaches are debilitating, Combined with vertigo and brain zaps. If the dr had of informed me of the pros and cons of the medication, as well as the likely hood of never being able to get off of it because it’s a highly addictive drug and the withdrawals are so bad. I would not be suffering now trying to function.
Rash on May 13, 2018:
Coming off 75mg per day of Venlafaxine. Morning headaches and itchiness all over.
Ash on March 08, 2018:
I'm taking 100mg of Pristiq a day. It helps me tremendously. How ever if I go more than 2 days if I run out I get exactly what this article describes. It's awful. I had to go 8 days with out it before due to finances and I ended up in the hospital for 24 hours on a psych hold because my anxiety was crazy and the suicidal thoughts were worse than before I went on it. Luckily I did stay in the hospital any longer than that and they sent me home with a 7 day supply so I could get the money for my RX at the pharmacy. It was insane and I never want to go through that again.
K stewart on January 31, 2018:
I was on this Drug for 3 months. I was told that coming off would be like having Flu symptoms. After reading I now know that it was the Effexor Dr 75mg. Started with very vivid horrid nightmares, sweating non stop, upset stomach, diarrhea, and a headache I have never experienced before, from the front of my scalp to the back of my scull down to my neck as well. Then I started having severe muscle weakness, I could not lift my arms, walking was so weird I would just sit, my scalp itched and felt like something crawling under the skin. My skin was so numb but felt like it was on fire at the same time. Ringing in the ears and popping that was non stop. 2 weeks in and slowly feeling better. Best of luck to all. Hope this helps.
B Hayes on October 21, 2017:
I was on 150 mf Effexor for about 2 years. I had gained about 25 lbs. and didn't feel the med was helping any more. 2 mos. ago I tried to get off too quickly. Nightmare! The brain zaps were the worst! Have had nausea, anxiety, headaches and just generally feeling crappy. I take the capsules and read online to break them open and count the white beads n slowly taper down. I just went thru 4 days of horrible nausea. I think it may have been some final weaning. I am literally down to taking 10 white beads n will hopefully be off completely within the week. I started the process 2 mos. ago. Bottom line, withdrawal is a nightmare. Take all the time u need. Be good to your self in the process and don't give up.
Karen Johnson on October 11, 2017:
I was on 75Mg. xr. for over 15 years. The last 4 yrs. I had tried to reduce. Horrific results. The last 2 years I weaned myself down to 37.5 mg. But still had bad side effects going below that. I Googled this problem Someone said that went on prozac 20 mg. per day. And they had no side effects going off Effexor. I went to my Doctor and he put me on 20 g Prozac and 1 Mg. Rexulti. MIRACLE !!! Please Try this !!!! Let me know !!!!
DF on September 27, 2017:
I was on 300mg of Effexor back when it was a fairly new anti-depressant. It did help me so I stayed on it. Was on it for about 3 years when I unexpectedly got pregnant. Had just moved to another state so did not have a job yet or insurance, not to mention a physician. I was so freaked out when I discovered I was pregnant (birth defects) that I stopped Effexor cold turkey. (clearly not wise) So I had messed up hormones, HORRIBLE medication withdrawal symptoms, and OH! Then 9/11 happened. I would not wish that kind of emotional, mental agony on anyone. I somehow made it through and have a healthy 15yr old but it was a wicked journey.
MH on September 08, 2017:
I have complex PTSD and after a year of trying different antidepressants, I was prescribed Effexor. I quickly went from 75-150-300 mg within 3 mos. I started to feel better and thought I may finally survive this trauma. Now 6 mos into Effexor I am having more panic attacks, dizziness, crying spells, and the worse are the nightmare/strange dreams. I mean these dreams are vivid and so strange that I can't function the next day. Someone told me to be careful with the antidepressants and dreams, so I Googled and here I am. I thought I was doing a good job by staying away from addictive drugs and my Rx paper doesn't have Effexor as addictive, but the withdrawal symptoms listed and the length of time sound like it is addictive. Based on the comments here I know that I need to come off this, but I am really scared of the withdrawal symptoms and having PTSD. I feel like I should go to a detox center and I am not saying that lightly.
Rachel on September 04, 2017:
I was on Effexor for almost ten years. 300mg for the past five. Tried many times to stop and failed miserably. Today I am delighted to say I am on day two of zero Effexor and feel pretty good surprisingly.
Five times I've tried and failed. This times is 100% different so far.
I made sure to have my life in order as much as possible to start. I dropped to 150mg for a month pretty easily. Then 75mg for a month. I notice a lot of changes emotionally and physically. From tears at simple things to wanting to eat way more then I'd wanted to in years. I was very gentle with myself, kind and patient. Dropped to 35mg for three weeks and the last week I cut them in half. Taking 15mg for five days.
Day to Effexor free. I some itching on my scalp and a slight clicking in my ears on occasion from blinking. Which has always been the worst side effect I've physically noticed and that was scary, confusing, and slightly debilitating throughout my ten years of Effexor. I had very very very stiff muscles from the drug. I am making a conscious effort to take care of myself physically with diet and exercise adding salt bath soaks to detox my body, deep massage to penetrate deep into the muscles to rid the drug from my tissue and water lots of water. I've also cleansed, started meditation, stretching, yoga, be mindful of the way I speak to myself in my head and finding five gratitudes every day.
I hope this helps someone. You don't have to be a slave to the meds. It is possible to be Effexor free. I never thought I'd would be.
jenny on September 03, 2017:
thank you for sharing your experience. before i started my taper-off, i read this, realized the severity of the withdrawl, and saw a naturopath who supported me in taking the taper very slow and using supplements like l-theanine and 5HTP to support my seratonin levels. I've been on 150mg for 12 years, tried to go off once about 9 years ago with the wrong advice from a doctor (had me go fast) and it was the worst period of my life. I went right back on after i fell into another depression. This time my taper has felt much better, with the exception of today, when I left my pills in my parents car and did not have it in my system for over 24 hours. I had diahhrea first, which was followed by a panic attack, puking and nausea. Horrible. I will NOT forget them again. I just hope that once I make the leap from 37.5 to 0 that this doesnt happen again....
Bobbi on August 31, 2017:
Thank you so much for sharing your experience - it was the reminder I needed today that the symptoms I'm going through aren't permanent, though they aren't going away quickly.
I've been struggling through this process for a couple of months now, even though I have only started taking Effexor a 4 or 5 months ago. My maximum dose was 150 mg and I've been weaning off for the last two month, reducing by 37.5 mg at a time. I've experienced a range of symptoms, starting with severe brain fog (enough that I didn't feel safe driving a car) and then usually several days of EXTREME irritability before feeling like I could function somewhat normally again. I took 2 weeks with each step down.
I went to zero almost two weeks ago now and this has been the roughest yet, despite taking lots of supplements recommended by my naturopath, including fish oil. I'm still getting overwhelmed by severe bouts of irritibility. I'm fortunate that I was able to take time away from working to deal with all of this - there is no way I would be able to be working through this. I know everyone's different, but I can't understand how this is such a common drug if it affects so many people like this when they stop taking it.