Lexapro (Escitalopram) has emerged as one of the most popular antidepressant drugs in the United States. It works as an SSRI (selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor) and has approval to treat major depression in individuals over the age of 12. In addition to being utilized for depression, it is also prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It is strikingly similar to the drug “Celexa” in the fact that it contains just the (S)-stereoisomer (without the (R)-stereoisomer).
There is controversial evidence suggesting that Lexapro may be slightly more effective than Celexa. In some cases, Lexapro is used to treat social anxiety disorder, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and panic disorder. This is one of the most prescribed SSRI’s in the United States due to the fact that it has been found as one of the most effective. Most people stay on this medication until it either stops working or they are compelled to quit.
When a person quits, they may not expect to experience any significant withdrawal symptoms – especially if this is a person’s first SSRI. If you plan on stopping this medication, it is important to know what you should expect and prepare yourself for the symptoms. Most people experience a pretty severe withdrawal period when they come off of Lexapro, which goes to show the power of this drug.
Factors that influence Lexapro withdrawal
There are a few factors that are thought to influence the severity of withdrawal from Lexapro. These include things like: time span (i.e. how many months or years you were on this drug), the dosage that you took, whether you quit cold turkey or tapered, and your individual physiology.
1. Time Span
How long were you taking Lexapro? In the event that you were on it for years, the withdrawal process is likely going to be longer for you than someone on it for months. In general, the longer you take Lexapro, the more intense the withdrawal process.
2. Dosage (10 mg to 20 mg)
Most people take anywhere from 10 mg to 20 mg of Lexapro. The recommended starting dose is 10 mg, but for some people this isn’t quite strong enough. Therefore most doctors continue increasing the dose to achieve the desired effect. Doses tend to increase up to 20 mg, and then it is up to the patient and doctor whether 20 mg needs to be exceeded. Keep in mind that the higher the dose you are on, the greater the difficulty of the withdrawal process.
3. Cold Turkey vs. Tapering
It is never recommended to quit Lexapro “cold turkey.” Although some have done it, quitting cold turkey leaves your brain in a state of chemical disarray. Some people do not have the patience to taper because they feel so crappy on the drug. If you are able to taper, try to work with your doctor to gradually reduce your dosage. The higher the dose you are on, the longer the tapering process should be.
4. Individual Physiology
To a lesser degree than the other factors, your individual physiology will play a role in determining how quickly you bounce back from the discontinuation symptoms. Some people find that they feel normal within a few months of quitting the drug, while others find that it takes months to start feeling a little bit better. Everyone responds differently and heals at a different pace.
Lexapro Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities
Below are some symptoms that you may experience when you stop taking Lexapro. This is a collective of some common symptoms that people experience when they withdraw from this drug. You may only experience some of the symptoms listed below, but in any event, it is better to be mentally prepared for what you may experience so that you don’t become overwhelmed.
- Anxiety: Most people will experience anxiety to a significant degree when stopping Lexapro. This is a drug that inhibits the reuptake of serotonin. If you have been taking it for an extended period of time and discontinue, your serotonin levels are likely lower than average – causing severe anxiety. This is because your brain had become reliant upon the drug to increase serotonin and is no longer receiving it.
- Appetite changes: You may experience changes in appetite when you first quit taking this drug. Some people notice that they aren’t quite as hungry and/or aren’t eating as much, while others regain appetite. Usually changes in appetite are opposite to your experience while on the drug.
- Brain Zaps: It is common to experience “brain zaps” or sensations of electrical shocks throughout your brain when you stop taking Lexapro. This is a common symptom that occurs when withdrawing from many different antidepressants. These usually subside within a few weeks.
- Concentration problems: One thing that most doctors will not tell you is that your concentration may be extremely poor during withdrawal. You are experiencing a ton of withdrawal symptoms which naturally detract from concentration, but the neurotransmitter levels are imbalanced – creating a state of brain fog.
- Depersonalization: This involves feeling unlike your natural self. Most people feel depersonalized and when they try to describe it to someone else, the other person may just not understand what they mean. It can feel as though all natural emotions have been sucked out of the body and the person is lifeless. The emotions will eventually return as the person stays off of SSRI’s for awhile.
- Depression: It is common to experience “rebound depression” when you quit taking Lexapro. It is a drug that was created to treat depression, so when you stop it, the depression will likely return. Many people notice that their depression is actually worse when they stop this drug – this is because the brain has become even more chemically imbalanced after taking this drug.
- Dizziness: Many people report feeling dizziness, in some cases to the point of having “balance” issues. This dizziness can last for an extended period of time and may make life difficult to deal with. Recognize that this is a result of your brain trying to cope without stimulation from the drug.
- Eye floaters: Some people report seeing “floaters” when they come off of Lexapro. Floaters are small shapes that “float” in and out of your field of vision. These are harmless and do not indicate that anything is wrong with your vision. Do your best not to panic and think that you are doomed if you see these.
- Fatigue: It is very common to notice that you feel excessively tired throughout the day. The lethargy, tiredness, and fatigue may become so difficult, that you think it’s never going to end. This is likely due to your brain trying to restore itself to homeostasis.
- Headaches: This is another extremely common symptom to experience when you withdraw from any drug – especially SSRI’s. If headaches are intense, do your best to relax – as many can be caused by tension. Also make sure that you are drinking plenty of water and consider taking headache relief medication if they become too difficult to deal with.
- Insomnia: Some people are unable to fall asleep at night when they first stop Lexapro. This is usually a result of sleep pattern changes and increased anxiety. Some people find that taking a little melatonin supplement helps.
- Irritability: If you are becoming increasingly irritable, do your best to control it without lashing out on others. It can be extremely difficult to control yourself when you feel as crappy as you do, but keep trying.
- Libido changes: Most people notice that their sex life improves when they stop taking antidepressants. Lexapro is known to cause delayed orgasm and in some cases, inability to orgasm. When you stop taking this drug, your sex life should bounce back.
- Mood swings: It is common to experience crazy mood swings when quitting this drug. One minute you may feel as though you’re going to recover and the next you may feel as if there is no hope. People may notice that you are acting especially irritable and angry. Realize that you don’t have much control over these during withdrawal.
- Nausea: It is common to feel nauseated when you first stop taking an antidepressant. In some cases it may lead to vomiting. Do your best to deal with it and understand that it will go away.
- Suicidal thoughts: When coming off of SSRI’s like Lexapo, it is very common to feel suicidal and experience suicidal thoughts. Although you may have felt suicidal before going on this drug, the intensity of these thoughts will likely be higher when you withdraw.
- Sweating: Many people sweat more than average during the withdrawal period. You may sweat more than usual throughout the day and/or notice that you sweat excessively during your sleep.
- Weight changes: Most people experience some degree of weight gain on Lexapro and other SSRI’s. When they come off of the drug, they may notice that they experience weight loss.
How long does Lexapro withdrawal last?
It really depends on a number of different factors including how long you’ve been on the drug and the dosage that you were taking. If you conducted a gradual taper, the symptoms that you experience during withdrawal may be less intense and last for a shorter duration than if you quit cold turkey. Unfortunately there is no exact timeline for determining how long you are going to experience withdrawal symptoms. It is important to recognize that most withdrawal symptoms persist for much longer than professionals think.
I have taken Lexapro and know that the withdrawal process is certainly not as trivial as most people make it out to be. If you withdraw from this medication, you can expect to experience some discontinuation symptoms. These symptoms may only last a few weeks, but in many cases they end up lasting months after the person has taken the last dose of their drug. I would suggest that if you used Lexapro for a year, used 90 days (i.e. 3 months) as a checkpoint.
Most people notice that their severe discontinuation symptoms tend to subside after about 90 days. If yours continue to persist beyond 90 days, just know that it’s most likely that your brain is still in disarray after SSRI usage for an extended period of time. One individual reported that he never fully returned to feeling like “himself” until 48 months had passed (4 years). Although most people will feel “normal” before a three year term, it is important to recognize that withdrawal effects can last months and in some cases, it takes over a year to fully recover.