Effexor, whose generic drug is venlafaxine, is an antidepressant used to treat psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, depression and panic disorder. Effexor works by allowing the parts of the brain that send messages about things such as emotions, behavior and hunger to move freely by stabilizing a brain chemical called serotonin.
But Effexor is a difficult drug to stop taking because of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, often severe in nature, related to the sudden imbalance of serotonin. You'll need help from your doctor to wean off Effexor safely.
What to Expect
Serotonin also affects the central nervous system part of the brain, and this factor is responsible for many of the withdrawal symptoms.
The symptoms can include headache, dizziness, agitation or restlessness, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations, increased body temperature, loss of coordination, nausea, overactive reflexes, rapid changes in blood pressure and vomiting.
Patients who wean off slowly are less likely to experience severe withdrawal, and the weaning-off technique can have a direct effect on how bad the symptoms become.
The Importance of Monitoring
The first step patients should take is to meet with their prescribing physician to discuss weaning off Effexor. Patients should not try it without the supervision of a physician.
The patient should talk with his doctor about his daily life, children, work and whether his job involves a lot of driving. These factors are important when determining the weaning pace. The best solution patient and doctor can agree on would be one that allows the patient to lead a regular daily life without too much interference from withdrawal symptoms.
Effectively and Safely Weaning off Effexor
A technique known as bridging involves using another antidepressant while weaning off Effexor. The reasoning behind this method is that the brain will still be chemically balanced with the bridging drug, allowing the Effexor to safely withdraw from the patient's central nervous system.
Week by Week
For the first two weeks, take 75 mg of Effexor once daily and add a low dose of the bridging drug.
For the third and fourth weeks, continue taking 75 mg of Effexor and increase the dose of the bridging drug to the next level if necessary and your physician approves.
In the fifth and sixth weeks, decrease the Effexor dose to 37.5 mg every day, and continue the dose of the bridging drug used in weeks three and four. If you experience more side effects than you're comfortable with, the doctor can increase the dose of the bridging drug depending on the guidelines for that medication. Ask your physician about anti-nausea medication if needed.
For weeks seven and eight, begin taking 37.5 mg of Effexor every other day and remain at the same dose of the bridging drug.
In weeks nine and 10, take 37.5 mg every third day and remain at the current dose of the bridging drug.
By weeks 11 and 12 you should be ready to stop the Effexor completely. Continue with the bridging drug as long as it helps your moods.
Weaning does not happen as quickly as previously thought. It takes patience, time and close supervision. If you experience more withdrawal symptoms than you want, or if the symptoms interfere with your life, lengthen the time for the weaning process.