Cymbalta (Duloxetine) was officially approved by the FDA in 2004 as a new treatment for major depression. It is classified as an SNRI antidepressant which means it inhibits the reuptake of serotonin as well as norepinephrine. This medication was also devised to target more of the physical symptoms associated with depression and was approved by the FDA to treat nerve pain in diabetics. A few years later it was approved to treat anxiety disorders, fibromyalgia, musculoskeletal pain (in arthritis and lower back pain).
This means that many people have turned to this drug for relief in their specific condition. This drug has become highly popularized due to the fact that it was approved to treat so many different conditions. It has also been promoted like crazy on TV and throughout various types of social media. The promotions lead doctors as well as patients to believe that it is essentially a breakthrough drug in the world of depression and pain. Anyone who has experience taking it knows the true potency of the drug Cymbalta.
Many people end up finding that Cymbalta is not a good medication for their condition and/or just isn’t working as well as research suggests. This means that many people end up having to go through a withdrawal period. The withdrawal process associated with Cymbalta can be both physically and psychologically debilitating. Since the drug targets both physical pain and depression, you may experience physical as well as powerful psychological withdrawal symptoms.
Factors that influence Cymbalta withdrawal include
There are many different factors that will play a role in determining the degree of withdrawal difficulty for Cymbalta. The amount of time you took the medication (e.g. weeks, months, years), the amount you were taking, your personal physiology, as well as how quickly you tapered off of it are all going to play a role. When I came off of this medication, I had withdrawal symptoms so severe that they triggered a nervous breakdown.
1. Time Span
How long were you taking Cymbalta? The longer you were taking this medication, the tougher withdrawal will be. When your brain becomes reliant upon a drug for everyday functioning and processes – especially for a long period of time, withdrawal is going to be tough. The shorter the period of time you were on this medication, the easier it will likely be to come off of this drug.
2. Dosage (20 mg, 30 mg, 60 mg)
Cymbalta comes in capsules containing either 20 mg, 30 mg, or 60 mg of the Duloxetine formula. People may take up to 120 mg per day for major depression – which is a pretty significant dose. If you are on a high dose, you will need to conduct a gradual taper off of this medication unless you are prepared to fight some major withdrawal demons. Based on my experience, even the 30 mg was extremely powerful. We are dealing with a powerful drug here and the higher the dose you are taking, the tougher the withdrawal.
3. Individual Physiology
Individual physiology plays a huge role in determining symptoms. Certain people experience minimal to zero symptoms when they quit this medication. Back when I was first on this drug, most people were telling me that they barely experienced any symptoms or that the withdrawal only lasted a couple weeks. Being only 16, I thought that my withdrawal would be quick too, but it turned out to last months (almost a year) – not a few weeks. Age as well as physiology may play a role – especially if you are taking this medication and still have a developing brain. I also withdrew from the 30 mg cold turkey.
4. Cold turkey vs. tapering
It is highly recommended to taper off of any antidepressant, especially that of Cymbalta. The worst part aspect of the tapering process is when most people make the leap from 20 mg to 0 mg. This medication is designed to have “beads” inside of capsules – making withdrawal increasingly difficult. Once you have “weaned” your way down to 20 mg, I would highly recommend actually opening the capsules and reducing the amount of beads that you take over a period of weeks until you are down to nothing.
That said, the beads can be tricky because you need to be careful not to crush the beads. Crushing the beads in any way can result in problematic absorption, leading to adverse effects. If you are using this method, talk to a psychiatrist or pharmacist for further instruction. I strongly advise against quitting “cold turkey” unless you think it’s necessary.
Cymbalta Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities
Below are some of the more common symptoms associated with the withdrawal process. Keep in mind that you may not experience all of the symptoms listed. This is a general guideline for people to reference. The withdrawal process affects everyone differently in terms of symptoms and severity.
- Anger: Coming off of this medication may make you extremely angry and frustrated. You may be prone to anger spells and have a difficult time controlling your anger. Some people end up experiencing full blown “rage” at times as well.
- Anxiety: This medication is developed to treat anxiety. Since it has an impact on both serotonin and norepinephrine, when you come off of it, you may have to deal with pretty extreme anxiety. Everything may make you nervous including going to school, work-related functions, your relationship, etc. Do your best to cope with this anxiety in whatever healthy way you can.
- Appetite changes: I experienced significant reduction in appetite, in part due to the extreme anxiety I experienced coming off of it. Some people may experience increased appetite as well. This drug can have weird affects on people’s eating habits and hunger levels.
- Brain damage: There is no link that this drug “causes brain damage” but I am here to tell you that it may feel as though you have been victim of brain damage after taking it. Based on the symptoms that you may experience, it may seem as if your brain has been damaged in some way. Realize that this will eventually improve over time and your functioning will return to normal.
- Brain zaps: Fortunately I didn’t experience any “brain zaps” but many people report little sensations of electrical shocks through their head when quitting Cymbalta. I experienced these zaps coming off of Paxil, so I know that they are no picnic.
- Concentration problems: Your doctor may tell you that withdrawal isn’t associated with any cognitive problems like lack of focus or concentration. That’s because these symptoms go unreported and aren’t well studied. It is very possible to be unable to focus on any tasks when coming off of this drug. You need to suck it up and try your best – realizing that things will eventually improve.
- Crying spells: The emotional pain associated with coming off of this medication can be so powerful that you want to sit in a corner and cry. You may cry your eyes out many times during the withdrawal process.
- Depersonalization: One of the most challenging aspects of withdrawal is feeling like you are someone other than yourself. It may feel as though your soul has been completely sucked out and you have no life. You feel like someone has taken over your body and brain and your authentic self is gone forever. This can be very uncomfortable and causes many people to panic. It is a result of a serotonin imbalance which causes high stress – this leads to feeling depersonalized.
- Depression: The depression that you experience when withdrawing from Cymbalta may be the most severe depression that you ever go through in your life. It may suck your soul and you may feel as if you have no hope to carry on through life. Take things one day at a time and do whatever you can to maintain faith that you will get better. I am proof that you can recover, and my withdrawal lasted over a year.
- Dizziness: Some people experience extreme dizziness for long periods of time during withdrawal. This is a common symptom during withdrawal from all types of antidepressant medications. In some cases, people also experience “vertigo.”
- Fatigue: The fatigue you may experience during Cymbalta withdrawal may be so severe, that you may think you are developing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) – or at least I did. I could barely drag myself out of bed each day and felt like I was in a haze of tiredness, depression, and eternal sadness. It may be difficult to realize, but this symptom is from your drug withdrawal.
- Flu-like symptoms: Many people report flu-like symptoms when coming off of Cymbalta. The combination of sweats, aches, pains, and nausea can be eerily similar to the actual flu. Keep in mind that this will eventually subside.
- Headaches: Some people end up having to deal with pretty intense headaches throughout the withdrawal. If they become too extreme, consider a slower taper and/or over-the-counter headache relief.
- Hopelessness: You may feel completely hopeless in regards to your future especially if you experienced no success on Cymbalta or other antidepressants. Realize that this feeling is exacerbated by the withdrawal process and that you will eventually return to having some hope again.
- Hostility: Certain people become very hostile when coming off of antidepressants – this one is no different. Don’t be surprised if someone starts acting mean, distant, and possibly violent during the process.
- Hypersensitivity: Some people experience a hypersensitivity to loud sounds and bright sights. This is thought to be a result of high stress and low serotonin. For me this lasted many months before I was able to “desensitize” my brain to these triggers.
- Insomnia: You may be unable to fall asleep at a normal time each night. Instead you may experience thoughts of depression and anxiety that keep you awake. This is a result of your brain trying to re-establish normal levels of serotonin and norepinephrine.
- Irritability: It may be difficult to function in society without feeling irritated and/or irritable during the withdrawal. Your neurotransmitters are thrown out of homeostasis and your brain is trying to fix itself.
- Lightheadedness: In addition to feeling dizzy, you may also feel lightheaded or “faint.” Understand that this will lessen with time.
- Memory problems: You may feel as though your memory has been permanently damaged or altered. You are correct to a certain extent, however, your memory should return to normal after enough time passes. My memory felt fried (both long term and short term), but returned to normal functioning after about a year. Don’t get mad at yourself about your memory – do what you can to work with it and realize that it will get better.
- Nausea: During the withdrawal process, you may feel nauseated a lot. In some cases this may make you want to throw up. I felt extreme nausea when I came off of Cymbalta to the point where I thought I was going to throw up my lunch for about 2 weeks straight.
- Suicidal thoughts: Many people experience intense suicidal thoughts when coming off of antidepressants. This medication helps inhibit the reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine – when you stop it, you are going to have decreased levels. This can make people more prone to thoughts of suicide. For me the suicidal thoughts were so intense that I damn near had to be hospitalized.
- Sweating: It is very common to experience sweats throughout the day and especially at night when you withdraw from this drug. You may wake up soaked in sweat in the middle of the night. Realize that this is all part of the withdrawal process – this is how your body detoxifies itself.
- Tingling sensations: Some people report feeling tingling across their skin and extremities when they quit Cymbalta. The tingling sensations are usually a result of your body trying to function without the drug.
- Tremors: You may experience muscle spasms and/or tremors when you stop taking this medication.
- Vision changes: Some people notice various visual effects when they quit Cymbalta. For me I noticed some changes in vision and for awhile I actually thought that my vision was becoming worse. In reality I was just seeing “floaters” or shapes that float in the field of vision – they are not harmful.
My personal experience with Cymbalta withdrawal
Cymbalta was the single toughest antidepressant that I’ve ever withdrawn from and I have been on most of the notable ones. Prozac, Paxil, Effexor, Wellbutrin, etc. Although my withdrawal from Paxil was hell, the withdrawal from Cymbalta was like hell 2.0 – a whole different kind of hell. I experienced depression, anxiety, and suicidal thinking, but the most debilitating symptom of the withdrawal was the depersonalization – I felt as though my brain was numb and my entire soul had been eaten by this drug.
The withdrawal seemed to never end, and in my estimation, it took about 6 months before I felt even halfway normal again. I was trapped in an eternal state of anxiety, depression, and depersonalization and saw absolutely no way out. My psychologist and psychiatrist thought that I was exhibiting premorbid schizophrenia – all as a result of the withdrawal symptoms.
It has been almost 8 years since I’ve taken this medication and I never went on to developing schizophrenia – it was the withdrawal symptoms that were driving me crazy. Funny thing is before I went on this medication, I thought it was going to be the “holy grail” and eradicate my depression because it was a “new drug.” I learned from that experience that “new” does not mean “better” – in some cases it can mean “worse.” In all honesty I do not believe I would have made it through this withdrawal without family, friends, and online support.
People do not understand how powerful this withdrawal process really is unless they’ve taken the medication. For me it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through in my entire life. I honestly don’t know how I made it through, but by some miracle I was able to keep fighting. It is literally like being locked in a cage and having minimal control over your brain for an extended period of time.
Cymbalta Withdrawal Timeline & Duration: How long does it last?
There is no clear cut answer to the duration of withdrawal. If you tapered off of the drug to the lowest possible dose (e.g. by counting beads), then you will likely heal quicker than someone who is thrown off guard by a sudden “cold turkey” withdrawal. Although the drug may be out of your body within a day (half life of 12 hours), this doesn’t mean that you won’t feel the effects of withdrawal once it is cleared.
I personally would give the withdrawal process 90 days before re-evaluating symptoms. When I first came off of this medication, it took a lot longer than suggested before I started feeling normal. Since I wasn’t feeling “normal” within a few weeks, this caused me to freak out and think that something else was wrong with me – even though it was just the effects of quitting a powerful medication that I had been on.
Most people do not count beads and conduct a gradual taper, therefore they jump from 20 mg to nothing – and this is a pretty significant jump. If you quit this medication from an even higher dose than 20 mg such as 30 mg or 60 mg – you may experience some very debilitating symptoms. Although this drug is approved for a variety of conditions and is considered “safe” by the FDA – realize that you know your body better than anyone else.
I honestly felt as though this medication caused permanent brain damage that I was never going to get over. In reality I think it may have been the withdrawal or me freaking out that I still felt drugged up even though I had been off of the medication for months. Make sure you work closely with your doctor, get support, and do your best to tough through the process. For me Cymbalta was a drug from hell and a nightmare – fortunately some have easier withdrawals than others. If you are going through withdrawal or have successfully withdrawn from this medication, feel free to share your experience with others.