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Depakote (Valproic Acid) Withdrawal Symptoms + How Long They Last

Depakote (Valproic acid) is a compound that is utilized as an anticonvulsant to help prevent seizures in epileptics. It also has mood stabilizing properties and is approved to help treat and prevent mania among individuals with bipolar disorder. In some cases it is prescribed for the treatment of migraine headaches as well. Other off-label uses for Depakote include: impulse control disorders and spasms.

Most people that use it for the intended purposes of treating epilepsy and/or mania in bipolar disorder find that it works quite well. Despite the fact that the drug can be very effective, the way it works is not well understood. Some hypothesize that it may work on voltage-dependent sodium channels and may increase GABA to prevent both seizures and mania. Studies in animals have lead researchers to believe that this may inhibit the reuptake of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain.

Although many people take this medication for a period of time, some have a difficult time dealing with side effects. Various side effects include: hair loss, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, indigestion, and vision problems. Additionally it may lead a person to gain weight and cause memory problems. The potentially debilitating side effects are reasons people typically end up withdrawing from this medication.

Factors that influence Depakote (Valproic acid) withdrawal

When coming off of any medication, there are various factors that play a role in determining how long the withdrawal process takes as well as the severity of discontinuation symptoms. These factors include things like: the time span over which you took the drug, the dose that you were on, whether you quit cold turkey or tapered, as well as other personal factors.

1. Time Span

How long were you taking Depakote? Those who were on it for a long term may have a more difficult time withdrawing than someone who was on it for a shorter term. In general, the longer you were on a medication, the more your body becomes dependent on it for functioning. Someone who is on Depakote for a few months is likely going to have an easier time coming off of the drug than someone who was on it for years.

2. Dosage

Individuals that were on a higher dosage tend to have a more lengthy withdrawal than individuals on a lower dose. When you are on a high dose, your brain and body become used to the higher levels of the drug for functioning. Therefore it takes longer to taper as well as readjust after you quit from a high level of the medication.

The initial starting dose of this drug is 25 mg/kg per day in an extended release (ER) formula. The dose is then titrated upwards to the lowest possible dose that yields therapeutic effects. The maximum recommended dose is 60 mg/kg per day. If you are at the upper end of the spectrum (e.g. 60 mg/kg per day), you may have a tougher time withdrawing.

3. Cold Turkey vs. Tapering

It is always recommended to conduct a gradual taper off of anticonvulsant medications. Since this is a drug that affects various neurotransmitters as well, it is important to gradually taper as opposed to quitting “cold turkey.” By slowly tapering, you are giving your body and brain some time to gradually adapt as you get used to functioning with less of the drug.

If you quit cold turkey, you may experience more debilitating withdrawal effects for a longer period of time. Quitting cold turkey essentially strips your nervous system of a stimuli that it was used to receiving for a long period of time. In some cases, by not tapering, it is thought that you may shock the nervous system and it may take even longer to readjust to functioning without the drug.

Most sources suggest tapering at a rate of 20% to 25% every 2 weeks.  You could taper slower or quicker, but this makes roughly for about a 2 month withdrawal period.  Even 25% may be too quickly for you if you have been on the drug for a long period of time at a high dose.  Take the time to work with a professional and come up with a custom plan to minimize withdrawal symptoms. To be on the safer side you could even reduce at a rate of 15% every 2 weeks.

4. Individual Factors

Other individual factors will play a role in determining the difficulty of your withdrawal. These factors include things like: social support, daily habits, and your individual sensitivity to drug withdrawal. People that get wrapped up in physical symptoms and/or those who constantly analyze every symptom that they experience during withdrawal may have a much more difficult time handling the process.

It is also important to note that some people may be on other drugs and/or transitioning to a new medication which may ease many of the withdrawal symptoms. It is important to avoid comparing yourself to what other people are experiencing and/or how long their withdrawal lasts. You may experience a much quicker withdrawal or yours may be much longer and more drawn out – it totally depends on your circumstances.

Depakote Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities

Below are a list of possible symptoms that you may experience when coming off of Depakote. Keep in mind that you may not experience every symptom listed below and that the severity of what you experience will largely be based on individual circumstances.

  • Anger: Some individuals report feeling anger to the point of rage when they initially come off of this drug. It may have to do with the fact that the drug itself tends to elicit a calming response – inhibiting the reuptake of GABA. When stopped, this may lead a person to feel more angry than usual.
  • Anxiety: If you notice that you feel more anxious and less relaxed, it’s largely due to withdrawal. It is pretty common to experience anxiety and have anxious thoughts when you initially stop this medication. If you didn’t have anxiety prior to taking this drug, you should gradually become less anxious over time.
  • Bipolar relapse: For those who have bipolar disorder and are on the drug to help control manic cycling, you may experience mania when you quit. When you take away the drug that was helping control the cycling, it is possible to experience a shift in mood.
  • Concentration problems: A very common problem that people report during the first couple weeks of withdrawal is concentration problems. These can be more severe if you quit cold turkey or taper too quickly. In general you may have a difficult time staying focused and completing work or school-related tasks.
  • Confusion: There are a combination of symptoms that contribute to feeling confused. These include things like: foggy thinking, poor concentration, mood swings, memory issues, and physical symptoms. The confusion should ease up as your brain gradually begins to function without the drug.
  • Depression: Another common symptom to experience is that of depression. Although Depakote does not prevent cycling into depression, coming off of it can lead a person to feel depressed. It could be in part due to neurotransmitter changes, particularly involving GABA.
  • Dizziness: Perhaps the most common symptom associated with the withdrawal process is that of dizziness. Many people report feeling extremely dizzy and or have sensations of vertigo. If you feel dizzy, just know that it will improve in time. If you quit cold turkey, this may be significantly more severe.
  • Fatigue: Do not be surprised if you feel pretty tired with low energy for the first couple weeks after you quit this drug. Do your best to work with the energy that you’ve got and eventually you should notice your energy levels increase.
  • Headache: Many people experience general headaches when they stop this medication. Individuals that were taking Depakote for migraines may notice rebound migraines upon discontinuation.
  • Insomnia: This drug tends to calm people down and can make individuals sleepy. When you discontinue, you may notice that you experience an inability to fall asleep at night. This may be in part due to anxiety and/or inadequate GABA.
  • Irritability: It’s pretty normal to feel irritable when withdrawing from this drug. Expect the irritability to slowly decline in intensity over the course of a few weeks following your last dose.
  • Mood swings: It is common to experience general mood swings (non-bipolar) upon discontinuation of this medication. One moment you may feel very angry, the next depressed, and the next very anxious. Just know that you may experience some general fluctuation in moods as you recover from withdrawal – these will eventually subside.
  • Muscle weakness: Some people tend to experience muscle weakness and/or pains when they initially quit this drug. This weakness should improve gradually over the course of a few weeks until you no longer feel weak.
  • Nausea: In some cases, people end up feeling nauseated if they taper too quickly or during the first week of withdrawal. This nausea may be unpleasant, but keep in mind that it will eventually subside.
  • Seizures: If you have epilepsy you may experience rebound seizures during withdrawal if you remain unmedicated.  It is always important to make sure that you slowly taper from AED’s or you could experience a seizure.  If you are unsure of a good tapering protocol, talk to a professional.
  • Sleep changes: You may experience changes in your sleep patterns during withdrawal. In other words, you may have difficulty falling or staying asleep or you may sleep too much. You may also have difficulty sleeping at normal times (e.g. sleepy during the day and unable to sleep at night).
  • Suicidal thinking: In some cases, the depression that people deal with during withdrawal can lead to suicidal thinking. If you are feeling suicidal and haven’t felt this way before taking the medication, you should recover to normal thinking in some time. In the meantime, be sure to see a therapist and talk about your feelings if they are extreme.
  • Tremors: Withdrawal can lead some individuals to experience shakes or tremors upon discontinuation. These can be minimized if a proper tapering protocol is followed, but if a person quits too quickly, the tremors may be severe.
  • Vision changes: It is common to experience vision changes while taking the drug. Some people experience similar vision changes when they withdraw as well. Over time your vision should return to normal functioning – give it some time.
  • Weight loss: Since many people gain weight when they take Depakote, it should be obvious that they are going to lose it when they stop taking it. If you gained weight while on the drug, you should eventually lose most of it as time continues to pass. The weight loss will not be immediate, but should occur gradually.

How long do Depakote withdrawal symptoms last?

There is no exact timeline for withdrawal from Depakote that applies to everyone. Your experience when coming off of any drug is going to be unique and largely based on individual circumstances. There have been cases of people withdrawing from this medication and feeling better within a week or two, and there have been other cases of people still experiencing withdrawal effects months after their last pill. In most cases, withdrawal symptoms should start to gradually lessen over a period of weeks to months.

The half life of the drug ranges from 9 to 16 hours, therefore the drug itself will be completely cleared from your system within 2 days. Although the drug will be cleared from your body in a relatively short-order, it doesn’t mean that you won’t experience any withdrawal following the second day. Depending on how long you took this medication, it may take a relatively lengthy time period for your nervous system to readjust for functioning without the drug.

Additionally this is a drug that is thought to affect neurotransmitters in the brain – particularly GABA. It may take some time before your GABA levels to reach normal levels after your withdrawal. During withdrawal do your best to realize that these discontinuation effects are not permanent – you will eventually recover to how you were before you used Depakote.

In the meantime, be sure to engage in healthy activities such as: exercise, eating right, and staying socially involved. Over time, you should notice that withdrawal symptoms gradually subside and you feel more like your old self. If you have gone through Depakote withdrawal and would be kind enough to share your experience in the comments section below, you may really help another person who is facing withdrawal.

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{ 107 comments… add one }
  • John March 19, 2017, 11:42 pm

    Finally free of Depakote! It took me basically 8 months of reducing 300 mg at a time from 1200 mg a day. The reduction periods varied from 4 weeks at the start to 2 months before the last reduction. I was on Depakote for 27 years because of epilepsy having had 2 grand mal seizures in my teens.

    The symptoms was actually the worst when I was on only 300 mg a day. Headaches, nausea, that nervous jagged feeling, anxiety, heart palpitations, difficult sleeping etc. But now that I am free it is like discovering the world of normal emotions again.

    Music is more amazing, movies, and my body feels lighter and with more energy. And my hair is coming back! :D So it is a long difficult process but it is worth it. You can do it folks! Get rid of this terrible drug!

  • Douglas Miller March 10, 2017, 11:44 pm

    I’ve been on depakote 1500mg/day plus keppra 1000mg/day for about 12 years. 2 years ago my previous neurologist decided to take me off depakote rather quickly only because of possible liver problems medication may cause. Less than a week after being totally off depakote I was rushed to the ER after onset of multiple complications: vision loss numbness and tingling, difficulty breathing, confusion, and could not comprehend or understand words.

    Very scary moment, almost the same symptoms as a massive migraine on steroids but worse….Fast forwarding to today being 2 years later I’m being taken off depakote and increasing keppra. Unfortunately this time my blood-work had come back with liver enzymes showing more than double what they should be and no choice but to wean me off depakote.

    Very nervous and scared of going through same episode as before even though more precautions are being taken. Currently weaning off and at 500mg depakote/day and 2000mg/day keppra for 5 more days then no more depakote and 2500mg/day keppra. Been seizure free since 2005 when keppra was added to depakote. My diagnosis was right frontal lobe/complex partial seizures.

    I hope my information can help someone cope and understand what symptoms may arise and that there not alone… For all of you dealing with situations similar or alike, stay strong and positive. Faith and Blessings!

  • Brett March 3, 2017, 8:54 pm

    Really appreciate this site. On Monday, I will be admitted for a VEEG, and attempt to come off of Depakote/Zarontin. I’ve been on both for 42 years and have been seizure free for 35 years. I just want to see what life is like without 8 pills per day!! The comments here concern me, but I will give it a shot!!

  • John holtson February 12, 2017, 1:18 am

    Quit taking the drug cold turkey as insurance went away. Worst withdrawal was in the first week. Using melatonin to help with sleep. Sort of lethargic going into third week. Getting by OK with lazy days when I’m off of work. Drinking more water and trying to get good nutrients. I use caffeine to feel more peppy during the day. Walking and showers help too.

  • Nate February 8, 2017, 3:10 pm

    I stopped taking 500mg daily of depakote, cold turkey, 9 days ago. I am a 39 year old man with bipolar disorder. I stopped taking it because of muscle weakness and worsening pain while exercising, and general feelings of apathy, not feeling myself.

    Symptoms weren’t bad until today. I have a terrible migraine headache, I can’t breathe deeply without coughing, I feel cold, my legs hurt, my nose is constantly running, my ears are ringing, brain zaps. Be careful with this stuff.

  • Anna February 4, 2017, 6:52 am

    I was taking 1500 mg of Depakote at one point, and have been slowly reducing over the last 6 months. A week and a half ago I took the final step down from 250 mg to nothing. The most noticeable and debilitating side effect is the muscle ache all over my body.

    And with that of course weakness. I also have never dealt with headaches like this in over 10 years. I knew my mood would temporarily get worse after quitting, but I did not expect these physical effects. Reading this article has made me feel a lot better that it is normal.

    My sleep was unaffected until last night. My mind was racing, and it took over 3 hours to fall asleep. But I was able to sleep in and get a decent nights rest. For me the key to not getting manic is to make sure I sleep every night. I hope it goes well tonight.

    My mood has been similar to other times I have gone off of a medication (or reduced). I feel flat and kind of sad. Maybe that is depression, but it is not too bad if I stay busy doing something. My mood is better today than it has been this whole week and a half.

  • Marcy McCahan January 26, 2017, 7:41 pm

    I’ve been on depakote for 16 years now. Started with a hospital stay where I was labeled bipolar wrongly I believe and that got stuck on me ever since through 3 different pdocs since I got out. When I was released back then I was on 1000 mg. Now I’m down to 250 mg. It was a long hard fight for a year of hell to go from 500 to 250. But I did it taking 125 mg sprinkle caps.

    You just open them up and dump out a little at a time and go slow. My brain is grabbing this stuff with all it can and does not want to let go so every little increment is very hard!!! So now I’m working on the last 250 mg. I have two pills left. 1 1/2 actually. It’ll probably take me a year :(.

    Then I have four more psych meds… but I feel all the above symptoms as you guys. I sleep a lot. I live like a hermit. Have a very short attention span. Have irritable bowel and acid reflux I think due to the drugs. Tons of hair loss. I feel older than I am. Etc., etc. etc. I think at some point life will happen again!! :)

  • Becky Price January 26, 2017, 2:11 am

    I have been on Depakote 500 mg. daily for migraines for about 35 years. I gained about 25 pounds when I started it. I am on a cocktail of medications for my headaches because I get them so frequently. Because I take so many medications and would like to lose weight, my neurologist has tapered me off my Depakote over the last month.

    This is my first week without any Depakote and I am eating Imitrex like M&M’s which I know isn’t good. I feel terrible today but am determined not to go back on Depakote, especially after reading everyone’s comments. I am so glad I found this article and these comments so I know what to expect. I am going to print it for my neurologist.

  • L January 17, 2017, 10:46 am

    I’ve been on divalproex for only two weeks – prescribed for migraines. A week on it my stomach started to bloat, I’ve started having blood in my urine and off period bleeding. I have daily headaches now – when before I had irregular migraines, horrible constipation, sounds like I have aliens inside my tummy (so loud the stomach is upset), I’m shivering, extreme fatigue, swelling in my hands and legs, hands are tingling, ears ringing, leg muscle pain, dizzy, and the worst of all a LOT of abdominal pain.

    I’m going tomorrow for a full abdominal ultrasound to see if it has damaged or caused something to my internal organs. Has anyone had severe side effects like me so quickly after being on this drug? And have they gone away by simply stopping to take it? How did it take to go back to normal?

    This has been really hard to deal with as I’m alone with two small children to care for. Thank you so much.

    • L January 20, 2017, 9:20 pm

      Ultrasound has found that I have an hemorrhagic ovarian cyst. Doctor can’t really guarantee it is due to the medicine, but I’ve read online some cases. I’ve never had one before either. Indigestion and swelling have not gone away. Still fatigued. Can’t sleep. Waking up with headaches daily. I’m off the medicine for 4 days now. Hoping to get to normal soon.

      • L January 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

        I am almost back to my usual self. Very happy, took a week after quitting meds. Good luck to you all!

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