By: Zinnia Healing Editorial Staff | Edited By: Rebecca Hill
Zoloft Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline & Detox Treatment Options
If you currently take Zoloft, you’re not alone. This brand-name drug, otherwise known as sertraline hydrochloride, is a highly common antidepressant. This class of medications includes the most commonly prescribed drugs worldwide.
Over the years, there has been an astounding increase in antidepressant use. According to the CDC, during 2015–2018, 13.2% of adults aged 18 and over were taking antidepressant medications, with Zoloft being the most frequently prescribed.
Zoloft is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) used to treat several conditions, including major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, and panic disorder. Although this drug benefits many patients, it is also known to cause adverse effects following treatment discontinuation. These effects have been known since the early 1960s. However, awareness surrounding this topic remains relatively low despite its high relevance.
It is estimated that approximately one-third of patients stop taking antidepressant medication within one month and 50% of patients by the end of the third month, often without consulting their doctor. Research shows this may lead to patients calling national medical advice hotlines to discuss antidepressant withdrawal symptoms. However, since patients treated with antidepressants suffer from pre-existing symptoms, it can be tough to differentiate between withdrawal symptoms, rebound phenomena, and re-emergence of the initial disorder.
If you have recently stopped taking antidepressants or plan on discontinuing use, here is what you need to know about Zoloft withdrawal so that you can plan accordingly, ensuring a safe detoxification process. It is also important to seek ongoing support to help cope with any underlying mental health conditions.
What Are the Symptoms of Zoloft Withdrawal?
The discontinuation or dose reduction of Zoloft can create a range of symptoms. Sometimes, it’s tough to tell whether those symptoms are because of a rebound effect or a new episode of the primary disorder.
When experiencing Zoloft withdrawal syndrome, you’ll experience a rapid onset of symptoms following discontinuation. These symptoms will be transient, and if you resume Zoloft use, you’ll experience rapid improvement of symptoms. Like many drugs, that is why people continue taking them. Zoloft withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable and overwhelming, so it’s easier to continue taking the drug than to try and discontinue use — especially if you are trying to withdraw without first discussing this plan with your physician.
The most common symptoms of Zoloft withdrawal include:
- Muscle spasms
However, there are many possible symptoms, ranging from cognitive to sensory, psychotic to systemic. The withdrawal process will differ from one individual to the next. Some individuals may also experience episodes of mania and hypomania, emotional blunting, an inability to cry, and sexual dysfunction.
During the antidepressant withdrawal period, symptoms often include depression and anxiety. These symptoms can be particularly problematic since they are most often why Zoloft was prescribed in the first place. If these symptoms continue, it’s an indication that you require ongoing treatment. At this point, it’s essential to seek professional support.
Do not let withdrawal symptoms discourage you if you want to stop using Zoloft. There are plenty of options instead of Zoloft, which are discussed in detail below. You can get help to overcome the initial withdrawal period to focus on your ongoing mental health. The goal is to achieve long-term wellness.
It’s important to note that having Zoloft withdrawal symptoms does not mean you are addicted to antidepressants. Being physically dependent and addicted are two different things. In most cases, patients will not crave antidepressants. Instead, they continue using drugs like Zoloft to address pre-existing symptoms and to avoid Zoloft withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal is a highly individualized process. Some individuals experience mild, manageable symptoms, whereas others experience withdrawal reactions that are severe, long-lasting, and make functioning nearly impossible.
What Causes Zoloft Withdrawal?
Not all individuals who take antidepressants will experience withdrawal symptoms. However, those who take medications like Zoloft often describe the experience as severe. Research shows that approximately 56% of people who attempt to come off antidepressants experience withdrawal effects, with 46% saying the effects are severe.
To understand the cause of Zoloft withdrawal, you must first understand this drug’s mechanism of action. Being an antidepressant, Zoloft has primarily inhibitory effects on serotonin reuptake, resulting in an accumulation of serotonin. This brain chemical plays a key role in regulating personality, mood, and wakefulness. By blocking the reuptake of this chemical, Zoloft is effective when aiming to treat disorders such as major depression because it elevates serotonin levels.
Since Zoloft alters levels of brain chemicals, your nerve cells eventually adapt. They become used to these elevated levels and. However, when brain chemical levels change too quickly, such as during the withdrawal period, withdrawal symptoms develop. No longer taking Zoloft means you throw your brain into a state of imbalance. This imbalance is what causes physical and mental Zoloft withdrawal symptoms. In most cases, withdrawing from Zoloft is not dangerous, but it can be uncomfortable and distressing. Often, patients are dealing with a combination of Zoloft withdrawal symptoms as well as symptoms of their primary condition.
As discussed above, just because you develop Zoloft withdrawal symptoms does not mean you’re addicted to it. If you’re addicted to a drug, you will experience cravings, which is not often the case with Zoloft. However, since you will likely develop a tolerance over time, you may have to increase your dosage or add another drug. Once a dependence develops, you will experience Zoloft withdrawal symptoms following the cessation period. Becoming dependent is often unintentional yet typically requires support to overcome.
How Long Does Zoloft Withdrawal Take?
How quickly withdrawal symptoms surface and how long they last will depend on a drug’s half-life, which is the time required for a drug to decrease in your body by half. Antidepressants that have a short half-life tend to cause more troublesome withdrawal symptoms. This effect happens because a drug with a shorter half-life leaves the body fairly rapidly, causing changes in serotonin levels.
Zoloft has a half-life of approximately 22 to 36 hours, with an average of 26 hours. Compared to other antidepressants, Zoloft has a relatively short half-life, causing fairly problematic withdrawal symptoms. Within approximately 5.4 days, you can expect 99% of Zoloft to be out of the body.
Withdrawal symptoms will typically develop a few days after tapering your dose and can last for approximately 1–3 weeks. However, this is a rough timeline only. There are several variables to consider, especially if you have been taking Zoloft for a long time and mixing this drug with other substances. In some cases, Zoloft withdrawal can take months. Data shows that in the United States, one-half of antidepressant users have been taking them for at least five years — even though a significant portion may no longer clinically need them.
How you detox from Zoloft may also matter. For example, a Harvard Medical School study followed nearly 400 patients for more than a year after they stopped taking antidepressants for anxiety and mood disorders. The researchers found that those who discontinued use rapidly (over one to seven days) were more likely to relapse within the following months than those who reduced the dose over two weeks or more.
If you have begun to take Zoloft in combination with other drugs or with alcohol, this can complicate the withdrawal process. These combinations can also be dangerous. For example, if you begin to combine Zoloft with other serotonergic medication without consulting your physician, you may experience symptoms of serotonin syndrome. These symptoms include delirium, tremors, muscle rigidity, and more due to too much serotonin building up in the brain. The combination of Zoloft and alcohol is also particularly dangerous, especially if alcohol use disorder is of concern.
How to Safely Manage Zoloft Detox
Many common Zoloft withdrawal symptoms can be minimized through a tapering plan, allowing you to lower your dose over weeks to months gradually. If you began taking Zoloft to combat symptoms of anxiety or depression, you must speak with your doctor before you stop taking your prescribed dose. Although it can be tempting to stop using Zoloft as soon as your symptoms ease, depression can return if you stop taking Zoloft too quickly. It’s essential to work with your physician or healthcare team to develop a plan that reduces the risk of depression relapse.
When gradually tapering off Zoloft, you may be able to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Once again, this is why it’s so important to work with a professional care team. The tapering timeline will depend on the length of time you take Zoloft. Your tapering plan may last 4–8 weeks to reduce the risk or severity of Zoloft withdrawal symptoms. During this time, depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may be prescribed another antidepressant.
Since the discontinuation of Zoloft can lead to depression relapse, it can be tough to understand what you’re experiencing. Research shows that discontinuing an antidepressant can increase your risk of relapse for depression and anxiety. For some, rebound depression causes symptoms to return worse than before. An expert detox and treatment facility will be able to provide you with evidence-based guidance while targeting the most critical areas of your lifestyle. Some individuals benefit from exercise and specialized diets, whereas others thrive in talk therapy.
The most important consideration when addressing Zoloft withdrawal is that treatment must be individualized. For example, why someone wants to stop taking antidepressants is the first starting point. Whether you want to become pregnant, would like to reduce your reliance on Zoloft, or do not think you need to take the drug anymore, your individualized goals matter. The goal is to provide treatment options that support your goals while easing Zoloft withdrawal symptoms.
Working with an expert team will help you navigate the Zoloft withdrawal process safely and comfortably. If symptoms of depression or anxiety resurface as you slowly reduce your dose, it’s important to consider the benefits of psychotherapy. Data shows that less than 20% of people on antidepressants leverage this evidence-based treatment option, even though it can be incredibly helpful to improve symptoms of depression and reduce the risk of Zoloft relapse.
The goal of therapy is to help you treat your symptoms of depression or anxiety long-term. Although antidepressants offer immense value to many patients, medications like Zoloft only provide symptom relief; they do not help you dive deeper into the root cause of your mental health disorder. Research shows that cognitive-behavioral therapy is just as effective as antidepressants to reduce acute distress, and its effects may be more enduring. In some cases, patients require a combination of both, particularly among those living with severe depression.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
An expert substance abuse and mental health facility that focuses on holistic treatment will often have an array of treatment options available — all of which support ongoing wellness. For example, nutrition education may be life-changing for those living with depression and anxiety. Studies continue to report a link between food and mood. It’s essential to understand this connection so that you can develop healthier eating habits that support both your physical and mental health. The same is true concerning exercise and meditation. The idea is to find what works for you while participating in therapy.
Change can be scary, but it’s important to follow through when that change is something you want. Do not allow Zoloft withdrawal symptoms to stop you from eliminating your reliance on antidepressants.
Contacting a professional treatment center like Zinnia Healing can help you overcome this initial withdrawal period so that you can focus on a long-term recovery plan. You will receive an individualized assessment to understand better your current needs, history of use, and ongoing goals. You will then receive a customized treatment plan that increases your chances of success.