How Do I Stop My Antidepressant? The Zaps & More

At bedtime last night, it had been 36 hours since you abruptly stopped taking your Pristiq. You felt great.  But when you woke-up this morning you panicked over a strange sort of zapping in your head. You were horrified!

I’ve written at length about antidepressants here on chipur. And I continue to receive plenty of emails from readers wanting to learn more about stopping their antidepressant(s).

So I’ve written more, beginning a series yesterday providing additional information about quitting an antidepressant with as much comfort as possible. Click here to read yesterday’s piece. It also contains links to other articles I’ve written about antidepressants.

The Zaps

I vividly remember the first time I experienced what I affectionately refer to as the zaps. Some 10 years ago, I ran out of paroxetine (Paxil) going into a weekend. By Monday morning I began experiencing these deep body throbs, which were especially powerful in my head. I even felt them in my lips, along with a feeling of numbness.

I thought I was so clever naming them the zaps, until my research revealed others called them the same thing. They’re also referred to as brain zaps, brain shivers, and head shocks. Perhaps you have your own special pet name.

Experts report they’re more common with paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), velafaxine (Effexor), sertraline (Zoloft), duloxetine (Cymbalta), fluvoxamine (Luvox), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro).

Though pharmaceutical companies have traditionally been hesitant to acknowledge the zaps, they now include them as a potential side-effect – referring to them as sensory disturbances.

The medical field calls them electric-shock-sensations and, incorrectly, paresthesia (a numbness or tingly on the skin).

The zaps appear to be caused primarily by drugs that impact serotonin – and have a very short elimination half-life (read yesterday’s piece). Supposedly, the sudden elimination of the drug leaves the brain precious little time to adapt to a major neurochemical change. The zaps, then, are symptoms of the brain doing its best to adjust.

Looking for more explanations? Forget it. The bottom-line is, no one knows why the zaps occur.

Getting More Comfortable

Whether it’s the zaps, or other antidepressant discontinuation symptoms, what can we do to tone them down a bit? Here are some suggestions for assorted issues. But please understand that results will vary on a per case basis. So do your research on each as they may apply to your symptoms. And make sure you work in concert with your physician!

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (click here for an article I wrote about them)
  • Exercise and a healthy diet
  • Massage (especially the face)
  • Avoid excessive sensory stimulation (noise, fluorescent lights,etc.)
  • Avoid sudden and jerky body movements
  • Benedryl
  • Antihistamines
  • Rest/naps
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Herbal preparations and supplements
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Counseling
  • Lecithin and/or choline supplements (also found in egg yolks, spinach, peanuts, wheat germ, and steak)

Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome in Infants

I promised this information at the end of yesterday’s piece. Most women know that taking an antidepressant during pregnancy is a major no-no. And that’s because they cross the placenta and can potentially affect the baby.

One such situation is, yes, a discontinuation syndrome. It’s really not at all hard to understand, but it’s very hard to absorb.


Well, we sure learned that discontinuing an antidepressant isn’t a bowl of cherries. And we’ve learned some strategies and techniques to make it a bit more tolerable.

And I think we also learned that beginning antidepressant therapy needs to involve a lot of research and thought – and consultation with a physician. Go in prepared and be assertive in asking questions – and demanding answers.

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