Prozac, a brand name for fluoxetine, is one of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants in the world. However, every medication comes with risks, especially when you stop taking it.
When should you stop taking Prozac? Are there Prozac withdrawal symptoms? Is the medication addictive?
Learn everything you need to know about using Prozac and similar medications so you can stay informed and know how to seek treatment when something goes wrong.
What Are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors?
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a group of medications typically used to treat clinical depression. They work by increasing serotonin levels–the “happy chemical”–in the brain. Prozac is one of several popular options for SSRIs.
Benefits of Prozac (Fluoxetine) When Used Properly
While Prozac is primarily marketed as a way to alleviate depressive symptoms, this is not its only use. Psychiatrists are drawn to Prozac for its flexibility in other treatments:
- Anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and social phobias
- Eating disorders, particularly bulimia nervosa
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Bipolar Disorder
- Mood aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (a severe form of PMS)
- Poor sleep and appetite
- Low energy levels
- Suicidal thoughts (indirectly)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Though it is not FDA recommended for this purpose, Prozac is sometimes prescribed to treat adults diagnosed with OCD. Depression and anxiety worsen the symptoms of OCD. Mitigating these factors in turn lessens the severity of the condition.
However, there is no evidence to suggest that antidepressants can treat OCD directly. As such, Prozac should not be the primary treatment option for patients with this disorder.
Common Reasons for Discontinuing Prozac
While Prozac has a list of impressive benefits, no medication is without its drawbacks. These are some of the most common reasons why a patient may wish to stop taking Prozac.
- Ineffectiveness or worsened symptoms
- A desire to switch medications
- Incorrect dosage
- Conflict with other medications, such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and other antidepressants
- Lack of access due to financial or environmental factors
- Development of a dependency or addiction
- Adverse effects, which may include the following:
- Allergic reaction
- New or worsening depression or anxiety
- Changes in mood, appetite, sleep, vision, or sexual function
- New or worsening suicidal ideation
What Makes Stopping Prozac Difficult?
Most people take Prozac for years or even decades. It can be difficult to change that part of their routine. Often, when people discontinue Prozac, they feel like a part of them is missing.
Taking Prozac or other SSRIs for so long alters the chemical makeup of the brain. When an individual stops the medication, it can be difficult for their brain to adjust to sudden change. This can result in chemical imbalances and a resurgence of symptoms previously managed by Prozac.
Patients may experience strong suicidal thoughts for several months. Should this occur, they should seek help immediately and inform their psychiatrists of any other symptoms they’re experiencing.
While Prozac is not chemically addictive, its psychological effects can make people dependent upon it. These patients often feel they cannot control their negative symptoms without using Prozac. In essence, they create a placebo effect for themselves, believing the medication helps them more than it actually does.
The biggest reason why it’s difficult to stop taking Prozac is due to withdrawal symptoms. Even patients who have not formed a dependency can still experience withdrawal symptoms. As with any other drug, antidepressant withdrawal can be a harrowing process.
Common Prozac Withdrawal Symptoms
When quitting Prozac, these are the most common symptoms of withdrawal from the medication. A correct dose will produce milder effects compared to an overdose.
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms
- Flu-like symptoms
- Fatigue or lethargy
- Numbness or tingling
- Change in speech pattern
- Muscle tension or pain
- Nausea and digestive issues
Mental Health Symptoms
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Depression relapse
- Trouble sleeping or eating
- Memory problems
- New or worsening anxiety, depression, or thoughts of self-injury
- Increased risk of suicidal behaviors, particularly in young adults
- Mood swings
- Worsening symptoms of existing mood disorders
- Crying spells
- Fits of rage
How to Stop Taking Prozac Safely
After deciding to no longer continue Prozac, many people attempt to quit suddenly. This is not a recommended strategy, and it often leads to severe symptoms of withdrawal or addiction relapse.
The safest way to stop taking Prozac is through a gradual process laid out and monitored by a medical doctor or psychiatrist. These individuals have years of experience and training to mitigate withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of failure.
Sometimes, the best guarantee of success is through a treatment clinic. Most patients can manage outgoing care, but some with severe withdrawal symptoms or addiction may need to be regularly monitored during in-patient care.
Withdrawal Process Timeline
Even under the best treatment program, a patient will still experience Prozac withdrawal symptoms. As with other medications, the process of quitting a psychiatric medication can be long, complex, painful, and tiring. Here is what you can expect.
The First Week
Prozac withdrawal symptoms are unique compared to most other SSRIs. Typically, patients do not experience symptoms for the first several days or even several weeks. This is due to the drug’s longer half-life compared to other antidepressants.
What Is a Half-Life?
The half-life of a drug is a measurement of how long it takes for your body to process and discard half of the drug. While medications have a general half-life, the actual amount of time will vary based on the user’s weight, age, genetics, and other health factors.
Understanding a drug’s half-life is important because it indicates an individual’s dosage, how long the person can safely last between dosages, and how long they need to wait before beginning a replacement medication.
While this may sound like it puts Prozac at a disadvantage, SSRIs with shorter half-lives are more likely to result in serotonin syndrome. This potentially life-threatening condition is caused by excess serotonin levels.
After the First Week
Sometimes, patients do not experience withdrawal symptoms until the end of their second or third week. Individuals who used Prozac for a long time are more likely to experience severe symptoms. However, people who took Prozac for a short period may experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
The dosage will also affect Prozac withdrawal. Heavier amounts of the drug will cause more issues than lighter dosages. Individuals who overused the drug are also at heightened risk of severe withdrawal symptoms.
As time goes on, symptoms should lessen. When they do not, it is usually an indication that the patient has another health issue and needs to consult with a doctor.
People should also seek immediate help if they experience a relapse in their depression or the emergence of suicidal thoughts. Treat your mental health symptoms as seriously as your physical ones.
Treatment for Fluoxetine Withdrawal Symptoms
The most important aspect of withdrawal treatment is having someone to help you. This can be a dedicated friend, a counselor, a treatment center, or a support group. Attempting to handle withdrawal alone is often a recipe for disaster.
After consulting your doctor, you will likely be placed on a plan to gradually reduce your Prozac intake over time. Weaning off the drug will lessen the severity of withdrawal. However, long-term users and people under heavy dosages will still suffer the most.
Sometimes, Prozac withdrawal is intense despite efforts to carefully reduce the drug over time. You can mitigate the severity of your symptoms in the following ways:
- Use over-the-counter medication to treat physical aspects of the withdrawal, such as nausea.
- Improve your diet to include natural supplements that can alter your body’s chemicals in a way similar to medication. For example, tryptophan works similarly to SSRIs and is found in several fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise and get plenty of sleep. These activities can produce more serotonin and reduce stress.
- Seek additional counseling if you experience changes to your mental health or have considered continuing Prozac to reduce symptoms.
- Try alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, essential oils, yoga, and support groups.
Risks of Stopping Prozac Alone
Attempting to end antidepressant use alone can exacerbate withdrawal symptoms by increasing stress. The more pressure you place upon yourself, the greater the chances of failure. Returning to a medication you attempted to quit will make it harder to quit the second time around.
Some of the symptoms of Prozac withdrawal can be dangerous in severe cases. It is always best to have someone who will help you through the effects and monitor your health along the way.
Signs of Prozac Abuse
With prescription medication, it can be difficult to determine when someone is abusing the drug or has developed a dependency. Due to the user taking the medication daily, they may not even be able to tell when they have formed unhealthy habits.
A person who has become dependent upon Prozac may exhibit these behaviors:
- Overdosing or attempting to persuade their psychiatrist to prescribe extra medication
- Acquiring Prozac from another individual
- Attempting to receive multiple prescriptions from different doctors
- Paranoia or hallucinations
- An increase in irritability and aggression
- Financial instability due to recent job loss or purchasing Prozac illegally
- Neglecting personal relationships and responsibilities
- Decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Excessive sweating and tremors
- Lack of sleep and appetite
- Relying on Prozac as a go-to solution for external problems
Get Help for Prozac Addiction
Don’t suffer through a Prozac addiction alone. An antidepressant dependency is a common form of drug abuse that often goes undetected and untreated.
At Crestone Detox Austin – Alcohol & Drug Rehab, we tackle a wide range of substance misuse and abuse without judgment. Contact us today to schedule an appointment. We will use a 17-item instrument to perform a thorough assessment. After a follow-up assessment, we will begin working on a treatment program to identify all your triggers and risk factors and give you the tools you need to beat your addiction.
We’ll be right next to you every step of the way. Contact us or visit our site in Austin, Texas area for help fighting any addiction.