Going back on antidepressants after stopping? Here’s what you need to know

Going back on antidepressants after stopping? Here’s what you need to know

Reviewed by:
Brenda Camacho, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
March 20, 2024
In this article

The process of getting mental health treatment isn’t always linear. In fact, it’s pretty common for people to go on and off medication, including antidepressants, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes medication interventions are temporary. You're going through something hard. The medication helps you alleviate symptoms, you've met your treatment goals, and choose to stop because things have stabilized and you're feeling balanced. Other times it might be because you experienced negative side effects or decided medication wasn’t for you at the time.  

Regardless of the reason, you’re not the only one who’s decided to change their mental health treatment plan. As common as it is to stop taking antidepressant medications, it’s also very common to restart. If you’re considering going back on antidepressants after stopping, this article contains the info you need to know. We’ll discuss signs you should restart antidepressants and how to know if you should take the same medication as before.  

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What happens when you stop taking antidepressants?

If you’ve previously taken antidepressants, the doctor who prescribed them to you should have outlined the process of stopping them. If it’s your first depressive episode, many physicians recommend staying on antidepressants for at least six months to a year to ensure you’re in remission first. (Remission just means you’re feeling back to your old self and your symptoms of depression are gone.) If it was your second depression, they may recommend staying on antidepressants for a longer time to prevent a risk of relapse.

To discontinue medication safely, mental health professionals will help you to gradually reduce your dose over time, commonly referred to as “tapering off” the medication. Tapering is meant to make the transition smooth, helping you to avoid the unwanted effects of antidepressant discontinuation symptoms (sometimes referred to as withdrawal) and reduce the risk of relapsing. Not everyone experiences withdrawal or relapse once they’re off antidepressants and working with a doctor can further help prevent that from happening.  

Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome

Some people who suddenly stop or reduce medication might experience withdrawal from antidepressants, also known as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. In one study, about 20% of those who took antidepressants for one month reporting experiencing this, and the chances can be higher for people who have been taking medication for much longer.  

Withdrawal symptoms may depend on the type of medication you’re taking as well as the dose of antidepressant. You might begin to experience antidepressant withdrawal symptoms anywhere from 1-4  days after going off medication—again, usually when you stop medication abruptly or decrease your dose drastically in a short period of time.

Withdrawal effects:

  • Flu-like symptoms: You may experience hot flashes, digestive issues, nausea, or loss of appetite, in addition to other flu-like symptoms.  
  • Dizziness and/or lightheadedness: You may feel as though you’re going to faint or can’t see straight while standing or walking.
  • Trouble sleeping: You may have difficulty falling or staying asleep at night.
  • Vivid dreams: You may experience intense, vibrant dreams or nightmares.
  • Mood swings: You may feel rapid changes in your emotions, including agitation, anxiety, and depression.
  • Irritability: You may experience increased agitation or frustration toward those around you and your environment.
  • Brain zaps: You may feel what some describe as “brain zaps,” a sensation that feels like electric shocks in your brain.

The reason behind this is that antidepressants affect your brain’s neurotransmitters, and over time, your brain and mood adapt to them. Let’s take SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) as an example. This type of antidepressant prevents your neurotransmitters from absorbing too much serotonin—the chemical responsible for your mood—so there’s more of it available in your brain. So, if you abruptly alter your dosage or stop taking medication altogether, the effects will be reversed (there won’t be as much serotonin in your brain) without giving your brain enough time to adjust. The sudden change is what potentially leads to the antidepressant withdrawal.  

Your antidepressant’s half-life also affects your likelihood of experiencing withdrawal. Half-life is the time it takes for a drug to be reduced by one-half in your system. Faster-acting antidepressants—like paroxetine (Paxil) and venlafaxine (Effexor)—have a shorter half-life. That means they will leave your body quickly, and you’re more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. On the other hand, tapering on and off long-term antidepressants—like fluoxetine (Prozac)—which stay in your system longer will make it less likely you’ll have discontinuation symptoms.  

If you’re interested in learning about more antidepressant drugs, check out our guides to citalopram (Celexa), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and sertraline (Zoloft).

Is it withdrawal or depression?

Discontinuing antidepressants is common, but it also isn’t a decision to take lightly because it could lead to another depressive episode. This is why it’s so important to work with a medical professional to discuss your options and goals, and slowly taper off your medication if that’s what you decide. However, even a controlled tapering process may leave you feeling uncomfortable in the beginning. You may still experience a few withdrawal symptoms, including feelings of depression, which might make you wonder which one you’re experiencing.

The important thing to remember is that withdrawal symptoms will subside after a relatively short period of time, whereas depression may stick around until you restart treatment—like medication or talk therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy) If it has been more than a few weeks since you stopped taking an antidepressant and you’re still experiencing symptoms of depression, contact a medical professional. A therapist, psychiatrist, or even a primary care doctor can help you figure out what’s going on and restart medication if necessary.

If you’re looking for a mental health professional, check out: How to find a psychiatrist.

Can you go back on antidepressants after stopping?

If you’re wondering whether you can go back on antidepressants after stopping, the short answer is yes, you can restart antidepressants after you stop. If you feel hesitant to restart, don’t worry. Restarting antidepressants is nothing to feel ashamed of. In fact, it’s very common. 50% of people who recover from a first episode of major depression have one or more additional episodes in their lifetime. Remember, seeking treatment for your mental health is an important choice that helps you live a fulfilling and present life.

Before restarting, it’s important to consider why you stopped taking antidepressants in the first place:

  • Did you have negative side effects?
  • Were you still struggling with major depression or an anxiety disorder?  
  • Did you stop taking them under the supervision of a doctor?  

Discuss these factors with your clinician before tapering on or off any medications. They’ll be able to help figure out whether you need a new type of antidepressant, a different dose, or if another treatment plan will work better.  

If it’s been some time since you were prescribed medication, you’ll be happy to learn that finding a mental health professional is easier than ever. Thanks to today’s digital world, you can even make an appointment with a psychiatrist online.  

Can you take the same antidepressant medication you previously did?

There are several reasons you may want to reconsider the same antidepressant you used to take. For example, if it had few side effects and you felt better on the medication than you do without it, it might be time to talk to your doctor about restarting that antidepressant again.

However, if you stopped your previous antidepressant because it didn’t work well for you or introduced negative side effects you didn’t feel were manageable—consider talking to your psychiatrist or primary care doctor about a different type of antidepressant.  

Remember, there are several types of antidepressant medications. Common types include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), among others. Your doctor will be able to help you determine whether the antidepressant you were on is a good fit or whether you should try a new one altogether.  

Learn more about how to get medication for depression.

Signs you may need to take antidepressants again

If you’ve noticed your anxious or depressive symptoms worsen, you may want to consider taking antidepressants again and/or discuss a new treatment plan with your doctor. Taking the initial step can seem daunting, but the sooner you do, the sooner you can begin your journey towards feeling better.  

Here are some of the symptoms to look out for.

Depression symptoms

  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Irritability
  • Intense sadness
  • Reduced appetite
  • Trouble remembering and concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts

Anxiety symptoms

  • Sweating and/or trembling
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Intense worry or panic
  • Trouble sleeping

Depression treatment at Talkiatry

If you struggle with depressive episodes or an anxiety disorder, you’re not alone. At Talkiatry, we can help you get a personalized treatment options that may include medication, therapy, or both. Our psychiatrists will work with you on medication management and help you find the right antidepressants for you. We provide in-network, virtual care—and you can schedule a first visit within days. Get started with a short online assessment.

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

Dr. Brenda Y. Camacho holds the position of Staff Psychiatrist at Talkiatry. She is board-certified in Adult Psychiatry. She has been practicing for over 25 years.

While having treated a wide range of adult patients, Dr. Camacho’s primary focus is treating adult outpatients with mood or psychotic disorders. Her practice focuses on medication management. Typically, she offers this in conjunction with supportive or insight-oriented therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. On occasion, Dr. Camacho will believe additional therapy is also needed and asks that you bring a therapist into your care team to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Camacho completed her undergraduate studies at Tufts University. She received her medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA and then continued with Temple for her residency in adult psychiatry. After completing training, Dr. Camacho worked at Cooper Hospital in Camden NJ as Associate Director of Consultation/Liaison Service and Psychiatry Residency Training and Co-Director of the Neuropsychiatry Clinic. She then began working exclusively in outpatient settings, joined NewPoint Behavioral Health Care, and served as Medical Director before and after their merge with Acenda Integrated Health.

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