Thinking of Weaning Off Your Meds? Here’s What You Should Know First
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Mental health medications play a crucial role in helping to manage the symptoms of many common mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. These conditions affect nearly 23% of adults in the United States each year as of 2021. If you’re one of the millions of people who take medication to help manage symptoms and feel your best, you may still wonder if there will ever come a time when you can stop taking them. In some cases, it can be possible to wean off your medications. However, it’s essential to consult with your doctor or mental health provider before you stop taking medications and then only do so under their careful guidance. 

Why might you consider weaning off medication?

There are several reasons why someone may think about weaning off and stopping their medication:

  • No longer experiencing symptoms
  • Found other ways of coping
  • Medication seems ineffective
  • Wanting a break after long-term use
  • Major life event like pregnancy, job change or divorce
  • Side effects
  • Social stigma
  • Pressure from friends or family
  • Medication change
  • Financial difficulties

Symptoms of medication withdrawal

It’s important to know that abruptly stopping some medications can cause you to experience withdrawal symptoms. Around 20% of people who stop taking antidepressants experience antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. Medication withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the type of medication and how long you’ve been taking it. Symptoms of medication withdrawal may include:

  • Mood swings
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or other stomach issues
  • Excessive sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares
  • Restless legs
  • Tremors
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Relapse of mental health condition
  • Suicidal ideation

Withdrawal symptoms can happen after a reduction in dosage, during a taper off medication, during a medication switch, or after stopping the medication. Symptoms may last for several weeks

If you and your doctor or prescribing mental health provider decide that weaning off medication is a good choice for you, it’s crucial to begin by tapering your dose. Tapering is a process of slowly reducing your dosage over time. This allows your body time to adjust. Your specific timeline will depend on the type of medication, how long you’ve been taking it and your individual needs. It’s important to work closely with your provider to develop a safe and personalized taper plan.

Helpful tips for weaning off medication

Weaning off medication managing your mental health can be difficult and bring up a lot of complex emotions. Some helpful tips to keep in mind to help your process go as smoothly as possible are:

  • Take your time — It can be tempting to chuck your medicine bottle in the trash, but it’s important to follow a taper schedule to reduce your risk of relapse of your condition. Your provider can instruct you on your tapering schedule. It can take two to six weeks between reductions to allow your body time to adjust. 
  • Keep a mood calendar — Keeping a record of your moods during your taper schedule can help you keep track of any potential withdrawal symptoms or signs of relapse. 
  • Adopt healthy habitsExercise can help you manage symptoms and reduce your risk of depression in the future. Getting adequate sleep, eating a balanced diet and using stress-reduction techniques can also help you cope.
  • Consider psychotherapy — An effective alternative treatment for mental health conditions is psychotherapy. Working with a therapist can help you learn strategies and coping mechanisms to navigate challenges created by mental health conditions. A unique approach to treatment for a variety of mental health conditions is process-based therapy (PBT). PBT allows a therapist to create a fully personalized framework using the most effective components of evidence-based modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and cognitive processing therapy (CPT). It also incorporates compassion-based and somatic therapies to help target the drivers behind mental health conditions and their symptoms. These drivers are the four core processes that are essential for mental health: emotional regulation, thought processing, behavioral activation and relationship effectiveness. 
  • Seek support — If people realize that you’re weaning off your medication and that you may experience withdrawal symptoms, they may be able to keep an eye open for signs of your condition recurring that you may not notice. Having a strong support system around you can help you through the process. 
  • Stay in touch with your provider — It’s essential to stay in contact with your provider as you go through the process of weaning off medication. Let them know about any physical or emotional symptoms that can be related to stopping. If your symptoms are mild, you may be reassured that these are just temporary and a result of the medication working its way out of your system. If they are more severe, you might need to go back up to a previous dose or reduce your dose more slowly. Keep checking in after you’ve stopped the medication altogether. Your provider can make sure any potential symptoms have eased and you don’t have any signs of your condition returning. 

Weaning off and stopping medication for your mental health condition can be a good option for some people, but not everyone. It’s important to come off medications correctly to help you avoid physical and mental side effects. Take it slowly and reach out for help if you need it. It’s also OK if you change your mind and decide to stay on your medication if you feel like it isn’t the right time to stop. You can discuss changing your treatment plan with your doctor to a different medication if possible or consider a combination of medication and psychotherapy. 

Lightfully Behavioral Health can be your partner in your mental health wellness journey

At Lightfully, we understand that medication can be a beneficial tool, but it’s not your only option. Our expert licensed clinical therapists have pioneered the use of PBT to provide whole-person-centered care. Your therapist will create a compassionate, personalized and holistic treatment plan that focuses on your immediate needs and bigger goals. Whether you’re seeking an alternative treatment option, considering medication reduction with support or exploring a combination approach, we’re here to guide you. We can work together to empower you to heal, feel your best and thrive. 

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, contact us. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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