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Lexapro (Escitalopram) is an antidepressant medication indicated to treat mental health conditions like major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The drug is also sometimes used off-label to treat various other conditions, including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to name a few. Lexapro is in a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which increase serotonin levels in the brain. 

Research shows us that Lexapro can be highly effective, but caution is essential when you stop taking it. Stopping Lexapro too quickly can result in severe withdrawal symptoms. Any time you stop taking a drug, it can be a significant shift for your body. Knowing what to expect can help. 

Keep reading to learn more about Lexapro withdrawal side effects so you can stop taking this drug safely. 

Can Lexapro Be Stopped Cold Turkey?

To put it bluntly, you shouldn’t stop taking Lexapro cold turkey. Stopping antidepressants or any primary drug “cold turkey” (all at once) or without the guidance of a doctor is always strongly discouraged. 

Any time you stop taking medication suddenly, it can be dangerous. Not properly weaning off a drug can result in severe withdrawal symptoms and other health complications. Additionally, some people who quit cold turkey experience symptoms for much longer. 

You should always talk with your healthcare provider before attempting to change your medication routine.

“You should never stop taking Lexapro cold turkey. The most efficient method for minimizing withdrawal symptoms is to gradually taper off your medication. Tapering is the process of gradually lowering your dosage until your body adjusts to lower levels of a medication. To avoid severe symptoms, your doctor can establish a dose schedule and closely monitor the process.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC

Withdrawal Symptoms of Lexapro

When coming off any SSRI medication like Lexapro, it’s not uncommon to have SSRI withdrawal symptoms. In fact, some research suggests that up to 20% of people who are on antidepressants experience what’s known as Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome when they discontinue the use of their medication.  

Abrupt discontinuation symptoms include headaches or nausea, emotional symptoms such as mood swings or irritability, cognitive issues including difficulty concentrating or memory problems, and sleep disturbances like insomnia or vivid dreams.

Emotional symptoms

Emotional changes during antidepressant withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and depend on factors such as the dosage taken before stopping and how long you were on the drug. 

Emotional Lexapro withdrawal symptoms can include:

Anxiety

Difficulty concentrating

Depression

Mood swings

Depersonalization

Suicidal thoughts

Physical symptoms

Physical symptoms associated with Lexapro withdrawal can also vary in severity. They depend on factors like body chemistry, dosage, and length of time taking the drug. 

Physical Lexapro withdrawal symptoms can include: 

Change in appetite

Dizziness or confusion

Fatigue

Insomnia

Headache

Dry mouth

Frequent urination

Nausea or indigestion

Sweating

Weight changes — weight loss or weight gain

Altered perception of certain senses, such as smell or taste

How Long Does Lexapro Withdrawal Last?

The duration of Lexapro withdrawal side effects can vary from person to person. Generally, symptoms might last between 1 week and several months after discontinuing use, but it’s really crucial to note that everyone’s experience with Lexapro withdrawal differs. Some will take longer than others to recover fully after they stop taking Lexapro.

If you’re considering coming off Lexapro, the key is doing so gradually and only under medical supervision. Stopping any type of drug too quickly can result in more intense side effects. In rare cases, withdrawal symptoms might include seizures due to extreme chemical imbalances within the brain caused by sudden cessation of SSRIs (like Lexapro).

Lexapro withdrawal timeline

As mentioned, Lexapro withdrawal can vary. 

“The first signs of Lexapro withdrawal typically appear 1 to 3 days after your last dose. They can begin sooner (within a few hours) or later (over a week). The majority of the time, symptoms go away within a few weeks, but they can last longer.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC

For most people, withdrawal symptoms will eventually disappear entirely (sometimes within 2 weeks), but they may last for up to 6 – 8 weeks (or longer in extreme cases).

When does Lexapro withdrawal peak?

While the intensity ranges, Lexapro withdrawal symptoms tend to peak around day 5.  

How to Cope with a Lexapro Withdrawal

Lexapro withdrawal can be difficult, which is why it’s so critical to understand the potential side effects of coming off the drug so you can learn how to cope. The best way to minimize Lexapro withdrawal is to gradually reduce your dosage over time. This helps limit potential side effects and allows your body to adjust slowly. 

Seek help from a mental health professional immediately if you experience any intense withdrawal symptoms as you taper off from taking the drug. A doctor or therapist can provide advice on how best to manage your symptoms and ensure you’re supported throughout the process.

How Do I Safely Come Off Lexapro?

“If you make a decision to come off Lexapro, make sure you communicate this with your doctor first. Together, you can come up with a safe plan to wean you off the medication.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC

They’ll be able to help you devise an appropriate plan so you can slowly reduce your use and minimize any withdrawal symptoms. 

Your doctor will also be able to give you tips on managing side effects of Lexapro so you’re less uncomfortable and have minimal disruption to your daily activities. This is the only way to ensure maximum safety throughout the entire process.

Talk with a Licensed Psychiatrist

Coming off Lexapro — or any psychiatrist prescribed medication — can feel scary, but understanding the potential risks and symptoms associated with withdrawal will help. Simply put, talking to a psychiatrist or doctor is a must before you make any medication regimen changes. 

Are you ready to stop taking your antidepressant but scared you’ll struggle with difficult symptoms of Lexapro withdrawal? You don’t have to go through this alone. Online therapy with Talkspace can provide you with affordable, convenient, personalized support and guidance to help you manage your condition and get your medication under control. If you’re interested in trying a different medication, talk to your doctor about alternatives like Celexa or Zoloft. They can walk you through the differences in Celexa vs. Lexapro.

Get started today, and start feeling better tomorrow.

Sources:

DailyMed – LEXAPRO- escitalopram tablet, film coated LEXAPRO- escitalopram solution. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=13bb8267-1cab-43e5-acae-55a4d957630a. Accessed February 6, 2023.

Warner CH, Bobo W, Warner C, Reid S, Rachal J. Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. Am Fam Physician. 2006;74(3):449-456. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16913164/. Accessed February 6, 2023.

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