Zyprexa (Olanzapine) is an atypical antipsychotic drug that is commonly utilized for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It works more on serotonin receptors than dopamine receptors, but targets both. Although this is a drug that can work well for treating severe mental illnesses, more than 50% of people quit taking it during clinical trials due to severe side effects. In comparison to the older “typical” antipsychotic drugs, the only advantage this medication has is slightly fewer side effects.
However, it is associated with greater weight gain than older antipsychotic medications. Of all antipsychotic drugs, this is the drug that has been found to cause the most weight gain. Zyprexa has been tested for eating disorders and anxiety disorders, but has not been found effective for treating either condition in clinical trials. The only conditions that this drug should be used to treat are schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – after other options with less side effects have been explored.
Most people that have taken Zyprexa end up coming to a point where they have to weigh the benefits they are getting with the side effects of the drug. A majority of individuals end up quitting simply because the side effects are overwhelming. These side effects can include: increased cholesterol, weight gain, metabolic changes, increased stroke risk in elderly and/or the development of diabetes.
Factors that influence Zyprexa withdrawal
Below are several factors that influence withdrawal from Zyprexa. Perhaps the most influential factors are time span over which you took the drug and your dosage. However individual factors and how quickly you taper off of the medication can also play a role.
1. Time Span
How long were you on Zyprexa? In general, the longer you take an antipsychotic medication, the more dependent you become on it for everyday functioning. If you took this drug for many years, it will likely be much more difficult to withdraw from in comparison to someone who just took it for a month or two.
Most people that are on this drug for an extended period of time end up having to increase their dosage. The greater the dosage you take, the easier it is for your body to build a tolerance to that higher dose. When you withdraw from the medication from a higher dose, you will likely need to conduct a longer taper than someone who is just on a low dose. If you quit cold turkey from a high dose, the withdrawal symptoms are thought to last much longer and be more severe.
For schizophrenia, most individuals take between 10 mg and 15 mg daily. The recommended starting dose is typically 5 mg. In general, most psychiatrists will gradually titrate a patient up to a dose that provides relief from symptoms. Antipsychotics carry powerful side effects and usually the lowest effective dose is recommended to minimize those effects.
3. Cold Turkey vs. Tapering
Did you quit cold turkey or did you conduct a gradual taper? Antipsychotics like Zyprexa are very serious drugs and the withdrawal effects can be debilitating. It is always recommended to conduct a very gradual taper to allow your body to slowly adjust to functioning without the drug over a period of time. In general the tapering period should be influenced by your current dose as well as how long you took the drug.
If you were on this particular drug for an extended period of time, it is recommended to taper at a rate of 10% per month. By slowly reducing your dose, you will give your neurotransmitters some time to accommodate and adjust to changes in the amount of the drug you ingest. If you are very sensitive to even minor reductions in dose, you can request a liquid compound that will allow you to reduce your dose by fractions of milligrams.
4. Personal Factors
Individual factors play a huge role in determining the difficulty of withdrawal. Some people naturally are very sensitive to changes in dosage and may have a much more difficult time withdrawing. Additionally some people have much more social support than others which helps them cope with their experience coming off of the drug.
People taking other medications or transitioning to another antipsychotic may not even notice much of a withdrawal compared to individuals who were only taking Zyprexa. Some individuals have better dietary habits, sleeping patterns, exercise habits, less stressful jobs, etc. – all these factors can play a role in influencing withdrawal. Therefore it is recommended to not compare yourself to that of other people when withdrawing.
Zyprexa Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities
Below is a list of symtpoms that you may experience when coming off of Zyprexa. Keep in mind that not everyone will experience every single symptom listed below. You may experience a few of the symptoms or many and the severity of withdrawal will be influenced by individual factors.
- Anxiety: Many people report very extreme anxiety when they quit Zyprexa. This is a drug that many people find calming and when taken away, a person can feel extremely anxious. Do your best to practice relaxation exercises and recognize that the anxiety is part of withdrawal.
- Appetite changes: While on Zyprexa, many people experience significant increases in appetite. A person may feel as if they are never full and/or are transforming into Hulk as a result of the food that they eat. When coming off of Zyprexa, most people experience decreased appetite.
- Bipolar symptoms: Some people may experience a reemergence of Bipolar symptoms (e.g. mania) when they quit taking this drug. If you have Bipolar disorder and are on this medication, proceed slowly and with caution when withdrawing.
- Concentration problems: If you find it very difficult to concentrate on tasks such as reading, writing, and/or work, you are not alone. Many people have major difficulties with focusing when they are going through withdrawal. This symptom tends to improve over time as your brain adapts to functioning without the drug.
- Confusion: When you experience a bunch of uncomfortable physical symptoms accompanied by foggy thinking, concentration problems, and emotional disturbances, this can result in a state of confusion. If you feel confused often, just know that this will improve over time.
- Crying spells: The depression that people experience when quitting an antipsychotic like Zyprexa can be very tough to deal with. This may result in a person crying excessively because they feel so down in the dumps.
- Depersonalization: Do you feel unlike your old “normal” self? This is because your neurotransmitters are out of balance and have changed since you took the medication. It will likely take your brain some time to reset its homeostatic functioning.
- Depression: Many people report extreme depression when they stop taking this drug. The depression is thought to be a result of lowered levels of dopamine and serotonin. You should eventually experience some lift in mood after some time off of the medication.
- Diarrhea: Some people experience diarrhea when they discontinue this medication. This isn’t an extremely common symptom, but one that has been reported. If this is the case, you may want to consider some over the counter Imodium.
- Dizziness: Among the most common withdrawal symptoms from any psychiatric medication is that of dizziness. It is common for people to feel very dizzy, especially if the tapering was done too quickly. Dizziness will eventually lessen over time as the brain functioning readjusts.
- Fatigue: Most people report excessive tiredness and general fatigue when they come off of Zyprexa. You may have a difficult time performing everyday tasks because your energy level is so low. Just know that your energy level will eventually return as time passes.
- Hallucinations: There is evidence pointing to the fact that some people experience psychotic symptoms as a result of withdrawal. This is thought to be a result of changes in dopamine receptor functioning and dopamine levels.
- Headaches: Some people experience splitting severe headaches when they come off of this medication. Having headaches accompanied by dizziness can be a very difficult one-two punch. Just know that these should subside after your body restores proper functioning.
- Insomnia: This drug tends to calm people down and in many cases makes them sleepy. When coming off of it, the opposite can be true. Some people report such intense anxiety and an inability to fall asleep. Insomnia may persist for quite some time after your last dose. It should improve as you make some lifestyle changes and your neurotransmitter levels change.
- Irritability: Do you notice yourself becoming increasingly irritable? If you feel more irritable than normal and little things set you off, it may be a result of withdrawal. Neurotransmitter levels are in fluctuation, which is thought to lead to people feeling irritable.
- Memory problems: It is very common to experience poor memory functioning upon drug discontinuation. It isn’t well known as to why these drugs can lead to memory problems. With that said, most people do experience improvements in memory with time off of the drug.
- Mood swings: Some people experience pretty severe mood swings upon discontinuation. One minute you may feel as though the withdrawal is over, the next you may feel swamped in a state of deep depression. For this I’m not referring to “bipolar” mood swings, rather just unexpected changes in mood.
- Muscle cramps: Those who have taken this medication over the long term may experience muscle cramps and/or weakness during the withdrawal process.
- Nausea: Many people report intense nausea during the time in which they discontinue their medication. The nausea can be severe to the point that a person also vomits. In general, the nausea after the last dose shouldn’t last more than a couple weeks.
- Panic attacks: Some individuals report experiencing heightened anxiety to the point of panic attacks. In other words, a person experiences such high arousal that everyday activities lead to intense feelings of panic.
- Psychosis: It has been documented that withdrawal from antipsychotics can cause psychosis. It is not very common to experience this upon withdrawal, but it does happen. Obviously this may signify the reemergence of schizophrenia, but in those without schizophrenia, it can be part of withdrawal.
- Restlessness: If you feel especially restless for no apparent reason, it is likely due to the withdrawal that you are experiencing. The changes in neurotransmitters, elevated level of arousal, and anxious thinking can make a person restless.
- Suicidal thinking: It is extremely common to feel suicidal during your withdrawal. You may experience suicidal thoughts that seem as if they will never subside. Over time, these should gradually subside. If you feel suicidal and cannot cope with these thoughts, please seek professional help.
- Sweating: Many people sweat intensely when they withdraw from psychiatric drugs – this antipsychotic is no exception. If you notice that you are sweating profusely throughout the day and wake up sweating in the middle of the night, just know it’s part of the process.
- Vomiting: Feel flu-like to the point that you are nauseous and keep vomiting? Some people have reported intense vomiting spells during the first week or two when they initially quit this medication. To reduce this symptom, be sure to wean off of Zyprexa as gradually as possible.
- Weight loss: Taking this drug is known to increase appetite and slow metabolism, which leads to many people gaining weight. Zyprexa is one of the worst drugs for trying to keep weight off – most people eat way too much food on this drug in particular. When you stop taking it and stay off of it for awhile, you should also lose the weight that you gained.
Zyprexa Withdrawal Length: How long does it last?
When it comes to withdrawal from Zyprexa, there is really no exact timeline that can be followed. The withdrawal symptoms and length have a lot to do with individual factors such as: how you tapered off the drug, how long you had taken it, and whether you are on other medications. For people that have taken this drug for a long term, the withdrawal symptoms may linger for over 90 days. For others, the withdrawal may only persist for a couple of weeks – it totally depends.
If you worked closely with a professional for tapering off of Zyprexa and gradually weaned off of the drug over a period of weeks or months, you may not have many symptoms following your last dose. On the other hand, someone who has taken it for years and decides to quit “cold turkey” may find themselves really struggling with severe symptoms as their brain attempts to rewire itself for functioning without the drug.
I always recommend evaluating symptoms after 90 days. Many people overreact with intense panic and anxiety in the first few weeks thinking that their withdrawal symptoms will never improve. The reality is that with good sleep, proper diet, exercise, and structure (e.g. work), most people will notice improvement in their withdrawal after 3 months being drug-free. Even if you are not fully recovered after 90 days, you will likely feel much improved compared to the initial couple weeks of withdrawal.
If you have successfully withdrawn from Zyprexa or are currently experiencing withdrawal symptoms, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. Your experience may greatly help another person who is going through the same withdrawal.