Lexapro Withdrawal: Symptoms and Treatment

Last updated: 12/6/2021
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Lexapro is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medication prescribed to treat anxiety and depression. Lexapro withdrawal, also referred to as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (ADS), occurs when someone abruptly stops taking this medication. However, if you taper off of Lexapro, your risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms is much lower, as your body slowly adjusts to the gradual reduction in dose.1,2,3

What Causes Lexapro Withdrawal?

Lexapro, the brand name for escitalopram, comes from a specific class of medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).1 These medications help to increase serotonin levels in your brain. Medical professionals believe that certain chemical imbalances in your brain can lead to mood disorders like anxiety or depression. Doctors may prescribe Lexapro to address these problems.1

If you use this medication and then suddenly stop using it, you may develop antidepressant discontinuation syndrome and other withdrawal symptoms.1 Doctors recommend against quitting SSRIs like Lexapro without medical support. Research has shown that ADS can lead to potentially severe consequences for your health, especially if you have used Lexapro for four to six weeks before quitting.3

While manufacturers do not list withdrawal as a symptom of Lexapro use, research has shown that SSRIs have addictive and habit-forming properties similar to other medications.2,4 A systematic review of SSRI withdrawal symptoms noted that manufacturers did not want people to think they could become addicted to SSRIs like Lexapro.4 Another study demonstrated that SSRI withdrawal symptoms had similarities to withdrawal from benzodiazepines, an addictive medication used to treat anxiety.5

Experts don’t fully understand what causes Lexapro withdrawal symptoms you may experience with this medication or other antidepressants.6 A few of the factors that may influence withdrawal symptoms include:4,6

  • The dose of Lexapro taken before quitting
  • How Lexapro affects the chemicals in your brain
  • The length of time Lexapro remains active in your system
  • Genetic or hereditary factors which impact how your body processes this medication

If you are currently taking Lexapro and are thinking of quitting, talk to your doctor. They can create a tapering schedule to try to prevent the emergence of Lexapro withdrawal symptoms.

Lexapro Withdrawal Symptoms

The withdrawal symptoms that can develop when quitting Lexapro can vary from person to person.6 Signs of Lexapro withdrawal can also resemble the mental health symptoms you were taking Lexapro to treat.4
Lexapro withdrawal symptoms may include:1,2,3

  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Low mood
  • Vivid, weird dreams
  • Feeling off-balance
  • Tension
  • Sweating
  • Irritable mood
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Low energy
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Chills
  • Sensations similar to electric shock
  • Symptoms of a hypomanic episode

Sometimes, Lexapro withdrawal symptoms can become serious. Withdrawal symptoms can also cause symptoms of other mood disorders like hypomania to develop.2 A hypomanic episode consists of several symptoms including:6

  • Abnormally euphoric mood
  • Excessive energy
  • A reduced need for sleep
  • Pressure to talk more than usual
  • Excessive increase in self-esteem
  • Grandiose thinking
  • Racing thoughts
  • Becoming easily distracted
  • Risk-taking behavior
  • Attempting to achieve more goals or start more tasks than usual

These symptoms must occur at least four days in a row and persist for most of the day.6 If these symptoms become severe, it could mean that a manic episode has developed.

Withdrawal Timeline

Symptoms of Lexapro withdrawal can start between one and 10 days after you stop using this SSRI. While withdrawal symptoms may subside after two to three weeks, some individuals who used this medication experienced symptoms that lasted for a year.3

Quitting Lexapro during treatment for mood disorders can complicate the withdrawal symptom timeline, because returning symptoms of depression or anxiety can look like symptoms of withdrawal.3

Is Withdrawal Dangerous?

Lexapro withdrawal syndrome is not typically life-threatening, although symptoms of depression or anxiety may return during this period. The biggest risk of Lexapro withdrawal is that of severe depression that includes suicidal ideation or attempts. If you are experiencing depression after quitting Lexapro, consult your treatment provider immediately.

Detox: Managing Lexapro Withdrawal Symptoms

When you decide to quit taking Lexparo, talk to your doctor about developing a personalized tapering schedule. When you taper off of a medication, you gradually lower the amount you take over time. Your doctor can monitor any symptoms of withdrawal that develop and adjust the dosage to meet your needs.2

Depending on your reasons for quitting Lexapro, your doctor will adjust the approach to the tapering process.3 Sometimes, people want to change the type of SSRI or antidepressant they use to manage mood disorders. Other times, people want to quit taking medications altogether. Talk to your doctor about your goals and willingness to continue medication.

If your experience during the Lexapro withdrawal process becomes complicated or severe, several treatment options exist.7 Withdrawal management services can take place in outpatient, residential, or hospital settings. If you have concerns about withdrawing safely from this medication, seek an assessment from a qualified treatment provider. They can help you get connected with detox services that best match your health needs.

Transition to Post-Detox Addiction Treatment

Manufacturers of Lexapro note that the addictive potential for this medication remains low.2 Even so, you may benefit from substance use treatment if you misuse this medication by taking it without a prescription, using it in a way other than prescribed (e.g. snorting or injecting it), or taking higher doses than directed.

From outpatient programs to inpatient facilities, an array of qualified providers can guide you through the process of addiction recovery.7 Some services you can receive in treatment include:7

  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Case management
  • Mutual support groups
  • Skills training
  • Relapse prevention
  • Aftercare support
  • Medication management

Each program has unique offerings, just as you have your own unique needs. If you need help finding the right treatment program, then reach out for support. Call (800) 662-HELP (4357) today to speak with a treatment support specialist about your choices in recovery.

Resources

  1. Basile, M. E. (2019). Escitalopram. In B. Narins (Ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Health (4th ed., Vol. 2, pp. 619-623). Gale.
  2. Food and Drug Administration. (January 2017). Lexapro [medication guide]. 
  3. Jha, M. K., Rush, A. J., & Trivedi, M. H. (2018). When discontinuing SSRI antidepressants is a challenge: management tips. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(12), 1176–1184.
  4. Fava, G. A., Gatti, A., Belaise, C., Guidi, J., & Offidani, E. (2015). Withdrawal symptoms after selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor discontinuation: a systematic review. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 84(2), 72–81.
  5. Nielsen, M., Hansen, E. H., & Gøtzsche, P. C. (2012). What is the difference between dependence and withdrawal reactions? A comparison of benzodiazepines and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Addiction, 107(5), 900–908.
  6. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
  7. Miller, W. R., Forcehimes, A. A., & Zweben, A. (2019). Treating addiction: A guide for professionals. The Guilford Press.

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