Zoloft Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, and Treatment
Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D.
Zoloft is a brand-name prescription antidepressant that belongs to a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and is also sold under the generic name sertraline.
Although SSRIs are the current frontline treatment for depression, MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) were the first antidepressants developed. However, they're used less frequently than selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressant medication because of necessary dietary precautions and risks of adverse reactions when mixed with certain drugs.
Often confused with the drug Prozac, Zoloft is a popular medication in psychiatry that is FDA-approved for the treatment of a number of different common mental health disorders, including major depressive disorder, some types of anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, panic disorders and other mental health conditions.
SSRIs like Zoloft have long been associated with withdrawal symptoms when the use of the drugs is stopped or diminished abruptly, but it is only recently that scientists have understood the severity of the symptoms. If you want to change or discontinue your use of Zoloft, here’s what you need to know about Zoloft withdrawal.
Who is likely to experience symptoms of Zoloft withdrawal?
SSRIs affect the body's serotonin levels, influencing the way that serotonin is absorbed in the brain, effectively changing its chemistry over a period of several weeks in order to treat mental illness. As a result, the brain needs time to adjust to lower doses of the drug. Otherwise, withdrawal symptoms can occur.
The rate at which withdrawal symptoms appear varies from medication to medication and person to person, but Zoloft withdrawal symptoms often appear relatively quickly due to the medication’s short half life. The half-life of Zoloft is approximately one day, which means that the amount of Zoloft left in your body is cut in half in about one day. Despite the short half-life of the drug, the medication takes four to six weeks to take full effect.
Therefore, people are most likely to experience Zoloft withdrawal symptoms when they have been taking the medication for four weeks or more. Your Zoloft withdrawal experience will also vary depending on your dose of the drug and how long you have been taking the medication.
What are the symptoms of Zoloft withdrawal?
Like all prescription drugs, Zoloft has side effects as well as withdrawal symptoms that may occur. Zoloft withdrawal symptoms typically start to appear after three to four days as your body begins to adjust to lower levels of the drug.
The most common withdrawal symptoms while taking zoloft include:
- Sensory disturbances
- Flu-like symptoms
- Anxiety or agitation
SSRIs like Zoloft all cause similar withdrawal symptoms, but each patient will experience these symptoms differently.
Common symptoms of SSRI withdrawal include:
- Feelings of “electric shock" or “brain zaps” in your brain
- Digestive problems, including nausea, cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite
- Sleep problems, including nightmares, insomnia, vivid dreams, and unusual dreams
- Changes to motor control, including tremors, difficulty controlling movement of the mouth, and unsteady gait
- Mood swings, including anxiety, panic, depression, anger, suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- Flu-like symptoms, including headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and chills
- Instability, including feeling dizzy or lightheaded
Please seek medical advice if symptoms worsen over time or become severe or life-threatening.
What is the timeline for Zoloft withdrawal?
The short half-life of Zoloft means that the amount of Zoloft in your system drops by half in about one day. Most people start to experience withdrawal symptoms when about 90 percent of the drug has left their body, which means Zoloft withdrawal symptoms are typically experienced three to four days after the last dose of the medication.
Although you can expect to experience withdrawal symptoms within just a few days of discontinuing the drug, Zoloft withdrawal symptoms typically last for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
However, some studies have found that withdrawal symptoms can last even longer for some people depending on their dose of the medication, medical history, and how they reduce their dose of the drug.
What treatment is available for Zoloft withdrawal?
If you are hoping to avoid Zoloft or any type of antidepressant withdrawal symptoms, the best thing to do so is to speak to your healthcare provider about the best way to discontinue your use of the drug.
Your doctor will likely recommend gradually tapering down your dose at set intervals over a number of days or weeks so that your body has time to become accustomed to the lower dose rather than just stopping cold turkey.
Over-the-counter remedies for aches, pains, and insomnia; getting regular exercise to boost your mood; engaging in psychotherapy; speaking to a family member, loved one or finding social support groups can also help to relieve symptoms and improve wellness, but inpatient treatment or the use of prescription drugs is usually not necessary.
Zoloft begins to cause antidepressant discontinuation symptoms just three to four days after the last dose of the medication due to its short half-life.
Patients should expect to experience withdrawal symptoms like nausea, sensory disturbances, flu-like symptoms, insomnia, headache, anxiety, or agitation for up to several weeks after discontinuing the drug.