Antidepressants are one of the top medications prescribed and used in the United States.
As of 2014, more than 12% of people aged 12 and up took antidepressants within the last month.
SSRIs treat a variety of neurological disorders, including:
- Major depressive disorder (MDD)
- Panic disorder (PD)
- Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
For various reasons, you may need to switch your antidepressant medication or stop taking it.
Some of the most common reasons why people choose to stop taking antidepressants like Paxil include increased suicidal thoughts, reduced effectiveness after time, and weight loss.
If you decide you want to stop taking Paxil, do not stop taking the drug abruptly unless advised to do so by your doctor.
If you do, you could experience withdrawal side effects like headaches, nausea, and irritability.
It’s best to reduce your dosage over time under the guidance of your healthcare provider.
In this article, I’ll tell you what Paxil withdrawal is like, what symptoms to expect, the best ways to manage these symptoms, and when to seek help from your doctor or healthcare provider.
What is Paxil Withdrawal?
Withdrawal is the mental and physical experience you might go through after stopping medication or drug that you’ve been taking for some time.
It is also called antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.
Paxil withdrawal experiences range from a feeling of general unease to heavy nausea, fatigue, and sleeping difficulties.
Paxil withdrawal occurs when someone has been taking the medication for at least 6 weeks and decides to stop taking it without gradually decreasing the dose amount.
Symptoms usually begin 1-2 days after stopping Paxil, peak around day five, and can last for 2-3 weeks.
Withdrawal symptoms are more common and more severe in Paxil than with many other antidepressants.
This may be due to the medication’s short half-life, a measure of how long the drug stays in your system after you take it.
Because of this short half-life, Paxil leaves your system at a faster rate than medications with a longer half-life.
Because of these risks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has added a “black box warning” on Paxil or paroxetine labels, which is used explicitly for warning about dangerous potential side effects.
To reduce the chances of withdrawal, Paxil should be reduced over time and with medical supervision.
Discontinuing any antidepressant can have significant repercussions.
Suddenly stopping an antidepressant can result in withdrawal symptoms that may look like the flu, or even worsened depression.
If you’ve taken and stopped antidepressants before, you may have already experienced antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.
Symptoms of Paxil withdrawal can be serious and alarming.
The most commonly reported symptoms of Paxil withdrawal syndrome include:
Other side effects reported include feelings of being “zapped,” or having electric shocks in the brain.
These can occur multiple times in a day and are sometimes triggered by sudden eye movements.
Although uncommon, some people develop worsening depression and suicidal thoughts when discontinuing Paxil.
If these thoughts develop, contact your prescriber, go to the ER, or call 9-1-1 immediately.
In 2002, as many as 7% of people who stopped taking Paxil reported negative side effects.
If you feel your side effects are intolerable, your doctor may suggest returning to the regular dose amount and reducing your dose over a much longer period.
How Long Does Withdrawal Last?
Withdrawal times vary depending on the individual, drug, and for how long it was administered.
Discontinuation symptoms are reported for a variety of drug classes, including monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Paxil moves through the body quickly, and so the potential for withdrawal happens much sooner than many other medications.
Paxil withdrawal syndrome can begin 24-48 hours after stopping the medication.
This is because of Paxil’s short half-life of only 21 hours.
This means that your body metabolizes half the amount of the drug in your body in less than a day.
Side effects can increase for up to five days, the point where most people report maximum signs of withdrawal.
Withdrawal symptoms can last from 2 to 3 weeks, after which the effects should resolve.
The recommended way of stopping or coming off Paxil is to use a tapered approach, as outlined on the drug label.
Never stop taking Paxil suddenly, and don’t try to taper alone.
Talk with your doctor about coming off Paxil before reducing your dosage.
This is the best way to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
How to Manage Symptoms
Depending on your symptoms, you may choose a variety of tools to help you feel better.
These include over-the-counter medications, changes in exercise and diet, or reaching out to a support network.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications
For dizziness and nausea, you might take Pepto-Bismol or Emetrol.
For any pains or headaches, you can try using pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).
If you are feeling restless or have insomnia, you can use melatonin-based OTC medications or night-time medications like Tylenol PM or Benadryl.
Talk to your doctor before taking any OTC medications to make sure they will not interact with Paxil or any other medications you are taking.
Exercise & diet
Exercise is known to boost mood and elevate your energy levels, which can be helpful if you’re feeling irritable or tired.
Calming activities like yoga can also be restorative for irritable moods.
If you’re having withdrawal symptoms, make sure you’re nourishing your body well.
Include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your meals.
Having a healthy support network is a protective factor in the severity of emotional withdrawal symptoms.
Even though your body is reacting, your mind can help reduce the symptoms of withdrawal through positive support.
It’s easier to make it through when you know you’re not alone.
Talking with the people you regularly interact with about your tapering process—and potential withdrawal symptoms—can also prevent conflict later if you feel irritable or agitated.
Paxil and pregnancies don’t mix.
Paxil labels warn that previous studies associated the medication with birth defects and fetal issues.
Exposure to Paxil in the first trimester can increase the risk of cardiovascular deformations, and exposure throughout pregnancy and into second- and third-trimesters can lead to preterm labor, or birth before the baby is fully developed.
Studies also warn that later exposure to Paxil can lead to persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPH) in the baby.
If you become pregnant while on Paxil, contact your doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor will determine if stopping the medication is right for you.
Women who stop taking antidepressants while pregnant are more likely to suffer from a relapse in depression, so don’t make this decision alone.
When to See a Doctor
Withdrawal from Paxil can have a variety of negative side effects.
One of the major risks of stopping any antidepressant medication is an increase in depression or suicidal thoughts.
The biggest signs of increased suicidal thoughts include:
- Making a plan or acquiring the means for suicide
- Getting affairs in order or giving away personal effects
- Talking about death or expressing a desire to be dead
- Feelings of hopelessness or feeling trapped
- Engaging in life-threatening behaviors such as drunk driving
- Saying emotional goodbyes to people
Feelings of or desire for suicide should be seen as a medical emergency. You should contact help immediately.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline serves the United States by connecting callers to a local crisis center and offering emotional support.
They can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
If you’re considering discontinuing Paxil, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Antidepressant Use Among Persons Aged 12 and Over: United States, 2011–2014. (2017).
Paroxetine—The Antidepressant from Hell? Probably Not, But Caution Required. (2016).
Paroxetine Withdrawal Syndrome. (2000).
Withdrawal from paroxetine can be severe, warns FDA. (2002).