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Commonly known as Effexor, venlafaxine is a popular psychiatric medication prescribed to manage the symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. With millions of prescriptions written for it globally, venlafaxine remains the most commonly prescribed and used drug worldwide. Ironically, it is also notorious for triggering antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (ADS), a constellation of symptoms linked with antidepressant withdrawal.

More than one-quarter of the people using venlafaxine regularly suffer from ADS in an attempt to quit it cold turkey. Characterised by highly uncomfortable symptoms, such as visual disturbances, vertigo, anxiety, insomnia, and tingling sensations in the body, venlafaxine withdrawal can be intimidating for anyone. Hence, the best way to stop using this drug is through a professional rehab specialising in these addictions.

Attempting a venlafaxine withdrawal cold turkey can give rise to several uncomfortable psychological and physical symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • Muscle ache
  • Headache
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain
  • General malaise
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive sweating
  • Vertigo
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Dryness in mouth
  • Gait disturbances
  • Constant dizziness
  • Tremors
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle twitching
  • Tinnitus
  • Hot flashes

Due to the side effects of venlafaxine withdrawal mentioned above, attempting to quit this medication without professional help can be challenging. This is also true for someone using the lowest drug dose, as the symptoms can be equally disabling irrespective of the prescribed amount. Moreover, these symptoms can linger on for weeks and provoke dangerous mechanisms in the body that may prove fatal if left untreated.

Apart from the physical symptoms of venlafaxine withdrawal, people who cease its use often develop a range of psychological symptoms which might be equally challenging to overcome. These symptoms include:

  • Poor concentration
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Euphoria
  • A lack of inhibition
  • Agitation
  • Dysphoric mood
  • Increased irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Mood swings
  • Somnolence
  • Panic attacks
  • Mental confusion
  • Progressively worsening depression
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Blurry visions
  • Tingly sensations
  • Crying spells
  • Cataplexy
  • Psychotic episodes

Some individuals also report experiencing electrical sensations in their heads, a phenomenon known as brain zaps. Although it primarily affects the head region, these zaps may also spread to other body parts. In most cases, these zaps are triggered by some action, such as movement of the eyes. Other symptoms, like disorientation and ringing in the ears, commonly accompany them.

If coming off venlafaxine successfully is your goal, it is essential to undergo the procedure under professional supervision. This is because specific symptoms associated with withdrawal, such as brain zaps, require medical management. Moreover, some individuals experiencing withdrawal develop suicidal thoughts and may end up harming themselves if there is no support from others.

Many individual factors determine the time required for an individual to overcome these withdrawal symptoms. Some of these factors include the duration and quantity of usage, age, hydration level, body mass, and if there was a concurrent use of any other drug.

Nevertheless, a general overview of the venlafaxine withdrawal timeline is explained below:

Day one to three after the last dose

During the initial few days, mild withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, stomach pains, and fatigue, appear.

Day four and five after the last dose

As the withdrawal process progresses, the symptoms become more intense and may include dizziness, shakiness, nausea, and insomnia, among others.

One to three weeks after the last dose

For many people, withdrawal symptoms may persist for weeks but gradually fade with time. In most cases, symptoms are completely gone by the end of the third week after initiating detox. A tiny number of people may keep experiencing milder symptoms for a few months.

Even though venlafaxine is not addictive as many other prescription and illicit drugs, quitting it can be profoundly uncomfortable and even debilitating for many. The best strategy to adopt in this case is to taper off venlafaxine slowly and gradually to attenuate or eliminate the risk of acquiring ADS.

For many people, behavioural therapies work like magic to control the withdrawal symptoms and get them safely through the detox process and addiction. Cognitive behavioural therapy and other mindfulness-based similar practices are essential for supporting people to overcome this addiction.

Many rehab programs ensure an easy and comfortable withdrawal and detox process for individuals concerned about coming off venlafaxine successfully in the UK. These rehabs offer multiple treatment options, some of which include:

Medical Detox

Because the half-life of venlafaxine is only four hours, the detox process required to delete it from the system may typically require only one day. However, the withdrawal symptoms during this process may linger for days or weeks. A medical detox program is, therefore, offered to help people safely go through this process under the supervision of medical professionals. The program also includes the provision of pharmacotherapies to ease the discomfort associated with it. Unfortunately, no reliable medications have been found so far to stop the ADS associated with venlafaxine withdrawal.

Residential Rehab

Residential rehab treatment can particularly benefit people suffering from extreme withdrawal effects due to venlafaxine. It is also suggested to people who have been using venlafaxine to manage their depression for a long time and now wish to stop using it safely without any inconvenience. Inside a residential rehab, clients are provided access to highly-trained medical professionals to provide care and support whenever required. They are also available to address any client queries and help them manage psychological and physical symptoms of a withdrawal with therapy. Additionally, special attention is dedicated to improving the mental well-being of the clients in residential rehabs, particularly those battling long-term anxiety or depression.

Outpatient Rehab

People with mild to moderate venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms may find enough support and help in outpatient rehabs. These outpatient programs successfully provide them with tools to manage these symptoms without staying in rehab. Although less intensive than the inpatient programs, outpatient rehabs also offer clients access to addiction specialists and other experts to understand their problem and overcome it quickly.

Depending on individual needs, outpatient programs may vary in duration and time per session, and some may continue for several hours daily, while others are significantly shorter and less frequent. Irrespective of its length or frequency, the goal of treatment is to equip every client with enough tools to get off Effexor with minimal discomfort.

Dual Diagnosis

Most people battling venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms are simultaneously suffering from anxiety or depression. These co-occurring issues also need to be managed side by side to ensure complete and lasting recovery. A dual diagnosis program effectively tends to achieve this aim and provide a comprehensive plan to address all underlying issues.

Aftercare and Sober Living

Depression is a lifelong disorder for most people. Once they stop using antidepressants like venlafaxine, it is essential to take steps to minimise its recurrence. For this purpose, many rehabs offer aftercare programs involving therapists and support groups to help clients recognise all potential triggers and address them before they lead to a relapse. Sober living programs are also available to those who are not ready to re-enter the outside world without the help of venlafaxine.

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