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How To Discontinue Taking Anxiety Medications

Henry Vyner, MD, Psychiatrist
How To Discontinue Taking Anxiety Medications

You suffer from anxiety. You want an immediate solution, and primary care physicians will often prescribe a benzodiazepine or an SSRI. The only quick fix for anxiety is anxiety medicine. Psychotherapy and mindfulness training will take time.

But it is also well known that anxiety medicines have debilitating side effects, and that they can be addictive.

However, the primary problem with taking medications is that they don’t solve the underlying problem. They can provide relief, but they don’t deal with the psychological causes of your anxiety.

Nonetheless, anxiety medications definitely have their place. Prescription medications can be effective in the short run and relieve painful and debilitating anxiety.. You can, for example, take a benzodiazepine and feel almost immediate relief. But there are studies that show that the relief from anxiety that the Benzodiazepines gives you is only short term. There are also studies that show that sometimes can work in the long run

Both benzodiazepines and SSRI have serious side effects. most common adverse effects are drowsiness/fatigue, memory/concentration difficulties, and sexual dysfunction with benzodiazepines; and drowsiness/fatigue, sexual dysfunction and nausea/vomiting with SSRI’s. This is another incentive to discontinue medications.

There are a lot of reasons to think twice about taking medications for anxiety. But the most important are that: (1) they can cause addiction and (2) they don’t don’t address the underlying psychological problems that are causing the anxiety in the first place.

WARNING: READ THIS BEFORE GETTING STARTED.

If you're on anxiety meds, and decide that you want to discontinue them, you should never stop taking them without first consulting your doctor. In addition, you should never stop taking them abruptly. Doing so will cause severe and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, and may actually cause anxiety more severe than when you initially started the medications. Most importantly, even if you experience severe side effects, continue taking the medicine and contact your doctor for a safe way to reduce the dosage.

Talking to Your Doctor About Withdrawal

Discontinuing benzodiazepines is a serious matter. Always talk to your doctor about the safest way to gradually reduce your medication, and follow your doctor’s instructions. Your doctor will taper you off of the medication, and perhaps give you other medications to ease you off of your medication so that you will not have withdrawal symptoms.

Do not use the Internet, including this article, as a source for how to stop taking them. Your body type, the length of time you've been on the medication, your dosage - all of these affect how dosing should be completed in order to safely stop taking medications.

With drugs like benzodiazepines, a very slow withdrawal is crucial. Some studies have put the withdrawal rate as slow as 25% less per month, implying as long as 3 to 4 months or more before the drug is wiped from your system. Weaning off of these drugs can be a very slow process, and one that must be completed exactly as directed to avoid withdrawal.

Things to You can do to Help

Once you have gotten through the period of time where you could have problems with withdrawal, you will want to take new and different measures to reduce your anxiety. 

The most important things you can do to reduce your anxiety is to go into psychotherapy, do meditation or seek out mindfulness training. 

You can also try herbal remedies. Do not try Kava, It can help anxiety, but even short term usage can cause severe liver damage. However, there have been a few studies that show that both Valerian and Passionflower do help some people. They are worth a try.

Another helpful thing to do is to avoid unnecessary triggers of your anxiety, and slow down the pace of your life. Make sure that you don’t put yourself into the same stressful environments that were stressful for you before. 

Finally, talk to your doctor, friends and family about what you can do if your anxiety comes back strong after you have stopped taking the medications. The sooner you react to this anxiety, the easier it will be to get back into managing your life.

The bottom line is that it is admirable to try and reduce your anxiety without taking medications. But always do so with a doctor’s guidance and the greatest caution. 

However, there is no need to be ashamed if you need to take medications. But the best thing to do if you need medications is to combine them with psychotherapy. The two work well together.

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