Lyrica (Pregabalin) is an anticonvulsant drug utilized primarily to treat neuropathic pain. It is also used as an adjunctive treatment option for adults with partial seizures. In countries outside of the United States, it was approved in 2007 to treat generalized anxiety disorder. Doctors also have found that it works well to treat chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia in select patients.
It was originally designed to be a more promising offshoot of the drug Gabapentin. The drug works by binding to voltage-dependent calcium channels in the central nervous system, which leads to decreases in release of various neurotransmitters including: norepinephrine, substance P, and calcitonin gene-related peptide.
Despite carrying a relatively low abuse potential, it is classified as a Schedule V drug in the United States. It is regarded as being a depressant of the central nervous system (CNS). There is some evidence suggesting that there may be initial mood-boosting effects associated with Lyrica usage, but these tend to disappear with long term use.
Many people experience an array of uncomfortable symptoms when they initially discontinue this drug. There is significant evidence of withdrawal effects, especially if a person has used the drug for a long period of time. Most doctors should know to have their patients conduct a gradual taper off of the medication to reduce severe withdrawal effects.
Factors that influence Lyrica withdrawal
When discontinuing any medication, there are various factors that play a role in the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms. These factors include things like time over which you took the drug, your dosage, how abruptly you discontinued, as well as some individual factors.
1. Time Span
How long were you on Lyrica? Those who took the drug for many years are thought to have a tougher time with discontinuation compared to those on it for shorter terms. When you are on a drug for a long period of time, your nervous system adjusts to accommodate the drug. The transition back to sober functioning is usually a longer process when you’ve taken a particular substance for a long term.
2. Dosage (150 mg, 300 mg, 450 mg, 600 mg)
Those who took a higher dose of the drug are thought to have more intense withdrawals than people on a relatively low dose. When you take a high dose on a daily basis, your body will eventually develop a tolerance to that particular dose and the drug will eventually lose effectiveness; this is inevitable.
Dosing tends to vary based on the condition being treated as well as the individual. Those who take it for pain associated with diabetic neuropathy may take between 150 mg and 300 mg daily, while someone being treated for seizures may take up to 600 mg daily.
3. Cold Turkey vs. Tapering
Unfortunately many doctors aren’t even aware that there are withdrawal symptoms associated with Lyrica. This leads to them telling patients that it’s fine to discontinue the drug “cold turkey.” Those who quit the drug abruptly or “cold turkey” tend to have longer lasting withdrawals with more severe symptoms than those who conduct a gradual taper. Therefore, it is always recommended to follow some sort of tapering protocol when you plan on quitting.
For long term users, you may want to consider tapering at a rate of 10% per month. By tapering your current dose at just 10% every 4 weeks, you are giving your nervous system plenty of time to adjust to changes in dosing. If this seems too slow for you, you could consider dropping at a rate of 15% or 20% a month depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing.
4. Individual Factors
When withdrawing from any drug, it is important not to get caught up too much in others’ experiences. Some people will withdraw and not really notice any symptoms. Others will withdraw and have a very difficult time performing basic functions.
Various individual factors that are thought to influence withdrawal include individual physiology, withdrawal sensitivity, whether you are taking any other drugs, and daily habits. People who are getting daily exercise, eating healthy diets, and getting good social support are thought to recover at quicker rates than those who aren’t.
Lyrica Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities
Below is a list of possible symptoms that may occur when you discontinue Lyrica. Keep in mind that although many of these are common symptoms, everyone is affected differently.
- Anger: Some people have reported feeling very angry, nearly to the point of rage when they stopped this drug. Feeling angry can be a natural consequence of withdrawal from a drug that can have a calming effect. If you find yourself getting angry, keep in mind that this symptom should fade with time.
- Anxiety: In countries outside the U.S., this drug is actually approved to treat anxiety. When a person stops taking it, they may experience a spike in anxiety. The quicker a person withdraws from the drug, the greater the anxiety is thought to be.
- Body aches: Many people take this drug to help manage neuropathic pain. When you stop taking the drug, you may note that the original pain reemerges. The pain may even be more intense than it was when you first started taking the drug. This is because your body had become accustomed to receiving analgesic effects from the drug and it needs to reinitiate its natural pain response.
- Chills: Some people have reported chills upon discontinuation. If you experience chills, it is likely that your nervous system is attempting to function without influence from the drug. It is unlikely that you will experience chills for longer than a couple weeks following your last dose.
- Crying spells: Many people become depressed when they quit taking Lyrica. This is a drug that acts on neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, which may be abnormally low or altered during withdrawal. This may lead a person to experience overwhelming emotion and cry.
- Depersonalization: You may feel as though you feel unlike your normal self or completely void of emotion. This is a zombie-like effect that some people experience when they withdraw from this medication. It’s a result of brain chemical alterations and changes following medication usage.
- Depression: Do you feel severely depressed now that you’ve stopped taking your Lyrica? It is well documented that this drug can affect norepinephrine levels and other chemicals in the brain. It is known that low norepinephrine and depression can be linked. Withdrawal could lead to a temporary chemical imbalance, which results in depressive thinking. Assuming you weren’t depressed prior to taking this medication, you should eventually get better.
- Diarrhea: Some people have reported diarrhea when stopping this medication. The diarrhea is usually accompanied by an upset stomach and shouldn’t last longer than a week or two. If you are having difficulty coping with this symptom, get yourself some Imodium (available over-the-counter).
- Dizziness: It is normal to feel dizzy when you discontinue this drug. The dizziness is thought to be intensified if you quit cold turkey. Usually the more gradual you taper, the more dizzy sensations and/or vertigo is reduced. This will fade over time, but may be present for weeks following your last dose.
- Fatigue: Having low energy levels are commonly noted during withdrawal. You may experience deep physical and mental exhaustion and/or lethargy. Doing seemingly everyday tasks such as cooking meals, going to work, and cleaning may seem very difficult. Keep pushing yourself through this fatigue and know that in time, it will improve.
- Flu-like: The combination of feeling chilled, hot flashes, dizziness, headaches, and nausea can lead a person to feel like they have the flu. It is more common to feel “flu-like” if you quit cold turkey.
- Headaches: This is a very common symptom that people cope with during withdrawal. Some people actually take this drug to help prevent migraines (despite no evidence supporting this treatment option). In any regard, dealing with headaches (mild or severe) is common during withdrawal.
- Hot flashes: These are sudden sensations of heat throughout the body. Between these and “chills” some may have a difficult time dealing with the temperature changes that can occur during withdrawal.
- Insomnia: Another common withdrawal symptom is the inability to fall asleep at night. You may feel tired, but unable to sleep. If this symptom becomes bad, you may want to consider some relaxation exercises and/or taking a supplement like melatonin.
- Irritability: Things that don’t normally bother you may really irritate you during withdrawal. Realize that an irritable disposition is temporary – as your brain readjusts, this symptom should gradually subside.
- Itching: Although this is a less common symptom to experience during withdrawal, some people do report itching. You may initially think you have developed a rash. This is usually caused by sensitive nerve endings as a result of drug discontinuation. Consider taking an antihistamine until the symptom clears up.
- Joint pain: This drug can work very well for pain management, but when a person discontinues, they may experience an increase in joint pain. It is important to understand that this is a normal symptom of withdrawal, but may very uncomfortable. Do your best to cope with the pain in your joints and keep faith that it will improve.
- Mood swings: During withdrawal, your mood may be in constant flux. Usually people experience negative emotions such as anger, depression, anxiety, and unwanted thoughts. Moods will eventually improve and should fully stabilize in time.
- Muscle spasms: Muscles may be more prone to spasms when you quit the drug. Although not everyone will have spasms upon stopping this medication, some people do. Realize that this is just part of the way the nervous system is reacting.
- Nausea: The body can take some time to adapt to changes during discontinuation. In some cases, this can lead some people to experience nausea when they stop the drug. The nausea may be uncomfortable, but shouldn’t persist for an extended amount of time.
- Panic attacks: When anxiety becomes overwhelming during withdrawal, it could lead some people to panic. It is especially common to panic when dealing with both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. It is recommended to use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing to help curb anxiety and reduce the possibility of panic.
- Poor concentration: This is a drug that influences neurotransmitter levels such as norepinephrine. Norepinephrine can improve vigilance and concentration while a person is taking the drug. Unfortunately during withdrawal, a person may have difficulties with concentration.
- Restlessness: You may feel especially restless when you come off of Lyrica. If you are feeling restless, the best thing you can do is to get some sort of mild exercise (e.g. walking) and/or engage in a relaxation exercise (to help decrease anxiety). In particular, many people note having restless legs.
- Seizures: In people taking this drug for seizures, withdrawal can lead to recurrence of seizures. The seizures experienced during withdrawal may be stronger and more frequent than normal. It is important to with a doctor during withdrawal if you are prone to seizures.
- Shortness of breath: Some individuals have experienced shortness of breath when they initially come off of the drug. This tends to be a more common side effect while taking the drug, but can also occur during withdrawal.
- Sleep problems: You may notice changes in your sleep patterns when you first quit the drug. This is because your nervous system is attempting to balance out the changes that it is experiencing. In addition to insomnia, you may not be able to get good quality sleep and may wake up frequently throughout the night. Your sleep should improve over time.
- Stomach pain: Many individuals report stomach pain and/or cramping when they initially stop the drug. This pain will likely be uncomfortable, and there’s no telling how long it will last, but usually improve within a couple weeks.
- Suicidal thinking: Many people report feeling suicidal depressed when they initially withdraw from Lyrica. If you feel suicidal, it is important to recognize that the brain is temporarily chemically imbalanced during withdrawal; sometimes to a significant extent. As the brain recovers, neurotransmitter levels will be restored, but this is a gradual process. If you cannot cope with this feeling, be sure to seek professional help.
- Sweating: You may start to sweat a lot when you first quit taking the drug. The sweating may be prevalent throughout the day and while you sleep. Sweating is a natural response exhibited by the body when undergoing withdrawal.
- Vision changes: It is certainly possible to experience visual disturbances during withdrawal. You may note blurred vision and/or other disturbances in your field of vision. Vision should return to normal over time so try not to work yourself up.
- Weight loss: If you gained while taking the drug, you should expect your body to fluctuate back to the pre-drug weight. The weight loss may not come overnight, but as time passes, you should drop back down to your normal weight.
Lyrica Withdrawal Duration: How long does it last?
There’s no exact timeline that can be followed for withdrawal from Lyrica. In general, withdrawal length will be subject to variation based on individual experience. Among people who have been on high doses of the drug for years, withdrawal symptoms may be more intense and longer lasting. In people who took the drug for a shorter duration at a lower dose, withdrawal symptoms may be minimal.
The half-life of pregabalin is (on average) 6.3 hours, indicating that Lyrica stays in your system for approximately 1.5 days after your final dose. Although the drug may be fully out of your plasma, withdrawal will just be starting. The symptoms for the first few weeks of withdrawal can be very discouraging and debilitating. These symptoms are caused by your nervous system expecting to receive the drug, and scrambling to function soberly.
For some individuals the most severe withdrawal symptoms will clear up within a week. For others, it may take months to fully recover from the discontinuation effects. You may feel as if you are never going to get better, but you will. Your nervous system will be able to readjust itself back to normal functioning and symptoms will eventually fade.
In order to speed up the withdrawal process, it is recommended to engage in healthy activities such as: getting light exercise, socializing, and staying productive. Additionally it is recommended to eat a healthy diet, get plenty of rest, and consider taking supplements that promote healing. If you have gone through withdrawal from Lyrica, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.