- Zoloft Withdrawal Symptoms
- Withdrawal Timeline
- Is Withdrawal Dangerous?
- Zoloft Treatment Programs
- Therapeutic Modalities
- Medications & Supplements
- Alternative or Holistic Therapies
- Lifestyle Adjustments
- Key Sources
- Medical Disclaimer
Zoloft is an anti-depressant medication that is primarily used to treat mood disorders and anxiety. Classed as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, this type of anti-depressant works by increasing the amount of available serotonin in the brain, resulting in an improved mood, increased energy, better sleep patterns, and a decrease in feelings of anxiety.
While anti-depressants like Zoloft often provide relief for patients with anxiety or depression, they are still considered addictive. This is especially the case if an individual takes Zoloft in high doses and for long periods. The combination of the body’s tolerance, the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, and the psychological challenges that arise if the drug is discontinued, make it a difficult medication to stop taking.
Luckily, however, there are numerous options when it comes to recovering from Zoloft addiction. In this article, we cover the typical symptoms encountered during Zoloft withdrawal and the timelines for recovery. We also address the range of treatment options available.
Eliminating an addiction to Zoloft involves multiple stages of rehab that target the physical, psychological, and emotional causes. However, the first stage is to detox from the drug itself. This requires an individual to stop taking Zoloft, and this is best done through medically supervised detox.
During detox, an individual will experience withdrawal symptoms, which can vary between each person. This is also dependent on several factors such as:
- Levels of tolerance
- Individual physiology
- Duration of use
- Dose and frequency of use
- “Poly-drug use” (using multiple drugs at once)
- Co-occurring conditions or mental health issues
Zoloft Withdrawal Symptoms
- Depressed mood
- Flu-like symptoms
- Loss of control of body movements
- Sensations of “electric shock”
- Lack of concentration
- Nausea and vomiting
- Recurring nightmares and vivid dreams
- Suicidal thoughts
- Tingling sensations in the skin
Individuals who have abused Zoloft or other antidepressants tend to consume the drug for a long time or for longer than intended. While effects can vary, some studies note that as many as 46% of people report that their withdrawal symptoms are severe.
An approximate withdrawal timeline for anti-depressants can look like the following:
First Phase (Days 1-3)
Depending on the severity of the addiction, the first phase of Zoloft withdrawal can occur within the first few days after the last dose (or reduced dose). At this stage, mild symptoms can appear.
Second Phase (Days -5)
Like most drugs, the second phase is the most intense, as symptoms tend to peak and then gradually fade. During this time, individuals can experience dizziness, nausea, shakiness, and fever. If a person has taken Zoloft in high doses for long periods, the symptoms will be more intense.
Third Phase (Weeks 1-3)
While the withdrawal symptoms start to lessen during this period, they typically persist for up to 3 weeks. This can include the same symptoms as the second phase, plus others such as insomnia, fatigue, and irritability.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
If withdrawal symptoms last longer than a month, this is referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). The PAWS period differs depending on the drug, but for anti-depressants, the effects can even last for up to a year.
Is Withdrawal Dangerous?
Zoloft withdrawal is less dangerous than other drugs and rarely requires hospitalization. The primary concerns when it comes to detoxing are relapses and mood alteration. However, some of the risks that can occur during withdrawal include:
Injuries or Accidents
Withdrawal from Zoloft can result in increased fatigue and insomnia. Therefore, driving or activities that require concentration can be a struggle.
One of the main withdrawal symptoms from Zoloft is worsened depression, and this can become quite severe.
In some cases, Zoloft can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. As the withdrawal period is often characterized by rebound depression and anxiety, it’s best to be monitored in a safe environment.
There are other long-term health complications associated with Zoloft, and these will depend on several factors, such as the duration and intensity of use.
Zoloft Treatment Programs
The good news is that treatment for Zoloft addiction is available. While every individual is unique and will have different needs, many centers provide tailored recovery plans. Below is a list of the most common forms of drug abuse treatment programs and what they entail.
Detox programs are available at certain clinics and medical facilities where they supervise a person’s drug withdrawal and provide supportive medications where necessary. These clinics are usually staffed with a team of doctors and nurses who have experience with addiction and drug withdrawal.
The advantage of going to a detox center is that medical assistance is readily available. When it comes to anti-depressants, a tailored weaning off program is often necessary, as suddenly ceasing use can be dangerous. A detox center will place you in comfortable surroundings, where you can be assured of help in case of emergencies. These clinics also provide medications to ease some of the symptoms.
Short-Term Inpatient (Residential)
Short-term inpatient centers typically start with medical detox and are followed by a program of addiction treatment, such as therapy or counseling for 30 to 90 days. These programs range from basic inpatient to luxury options, all varying in terms of their amenities and types of therapy. These facilities usually provide 24-hour medical support and are often led by a team of counselors, clinicians, and doctors. Short-term inpatient rehab is ideal for individuals who need detoxing and therapy, but who don’t require long-term treatment.
Long-term inpatient treatment varies in length, but typically ranges between 3 to 18 months. This type of rehab is best suited to individuals with long-term chronic addictions, especially those who have co-occurring mental health issues.
Depending on the severity of the addiction, long-term treatment may be a good option, especially as many programs address the underlying emotional causes of one’s drug abuse. Long-term treatment also provides an opportunity for the individual to physically withdraw from Zoloft while they focus on their mental and emotional rehabilitation. These centers also vary in terms of their provision of amenities, which range from basic to luxury options.
Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP)
For individuals who are seeking intensive treatment but still prefer to live at home, partial hospitalization (PHP) or day treatment programs are also available. PHP typically consists of hospital treatment 5 to 7 days a week, for 4 to 8 hours per day. Like inpatient treatment, clinical staff are on hand to assist with detox, medication management, and withdrawal symptoms. PHP also involves counseling and group therapy, as well as specialized services that focus on skill-building, relapse prevention, and employment assistance.
Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)
Intensive outpatient programs are less involved than partial hospitalization programs and typically take place at a treatment center or outpatient clinic. Clients receiving intensive outpatient treatment will usually visit the center 2 to 5 days per week for 2 to 4 hours per day. IOP is well suited to clients who have just completed inpatient rehab and who wish to receive intense treatment while living off site.
IOP programs vary between centers, but they often involve a mixture of individual and group therapy, case management, 12-Step programs, experiential therapies, cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBT), and services that cover topics like skill-building, goal setting, and relapse prevention.
Standard Outpatient Programs
Standard outpatient programs are suited to individuals who have just completed an inpatient program and want to continue some form of therapy. Standard outpatient is also ideal for people who may be juggling other responsibilities, such as work or school. Individuals typically report to a treatment center or clinic 1 or 2 days per week. These programs can include counseling, group therapy, 12-Step groups, skills development, goal setting, and relapse prevention training.
Stopping Zoloft use on your own is not recommended. Not only it is dangerous because of the way the drug affects the central nervous system, but complications and uncomfortable side effects can also occur during withdrawal. Detoxing from Zoloft is best done safely under medical supervision where clinicians can keep you safe and comfortable.
During rehab, centers and clinics will provide a range of treatments such as medications, counseling, and behavioral therapies. Below are some of the more effective therapy options for Zoloft addiction.
Rehab facilities that offer dual diagnosis treatment are often staffed with psychiatrists or clinical therapists that can diagnose and/or treat co-occurring mental health conditions. This kind of treatment is especially useful for people who have underlying issues, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This allows clinicians to address these conditions alongside withdrawal from the Zoloft itself.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
One of the most effective therapies for substance abuse and depression is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps individuals change negative cycles of thought and behavior into more positive ones and this has shown to be especially effective for addiction and mental health conditions.
Clients receiving CBT often learn how to recognize “automatic thoughts” and dysfunctional thinking patterns, how to understand the behavior and motivation of others, and how to develop a greater sense of self-understanding and confidence. CBT also helps clients find solutions to triggers that might encourage drug use. CBT is known to be effective and long-lasting as clients can continue utilizing these strategies once their therapy sessions have ended.
Dialectical-Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical-behavior therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on mindfulness, how to live in the moment, cope with stress, and improve relationships. DBT also helps clients identify negative influences in their lives and learn how to develop healthy coping skills. This kind of therapy is useful for people who have been addicted to Zoloft, especially those who have anxiety or mood disorders. DBT is also effective for PTSD and for people who exhibit self-destructive behaviors.
The Matrix Model
The Matrix Model is another form of therapy that has shown to be effective in treating substance abuse. This 16-week approach is comprehensive and consists of a mixture of behavioral therapy, individual counseling, 12-Step support, family education, drug testing, and encouraging non-drug-related activities. Through guided therapy, patients learn about issues connected to addiction and relapse. These sessions are designed to promote self-esteem and self-worth while the patient and therapist work together to reinforce positive behavioral changes.
Contingency management is another effective treatment for addiction and is based on a reward system. In most cases, the therapist provides incentives to the patient in exchange for ongoing abstinence and acceptance of treatment. One well-known contingency approach is Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR), which is effective for teaching individuals that it is possible to achieve abstinence using self-control. Participants who continue to abstain receive rewards, such as prize draws for money or in-demand objects.
Medications & Supplements
There are currently no specific medications for treating Zoloft addiction. However, there are some medications and supplements that have proven to be helpful during the rehabilitation process.
Depending on your situation, your doctor may prescribe other anti-depressants as part of the tapering process. For example, they may substitute a longer-acting anti-depressant for a shorter-acting one.
During the detox process, doctors may also provide supplements to assist with the withdrawal symptoms. Some of the top supplements that are recommended for Zoloft withdrawal are:
- Activated Charcoal: helps eliminate residual toxins in the body.
- Melatonin: helps with regulating sleep cycles.
- Glutathione: reduces inflammation.
- Fish Oil or Krill Oil: reduces symptoms like brain zaps, anxiety, and aggression.
- Magnesium: helps calm and de-stress the body.
- Vitamin B Complex: helps with energy and aids in the production of serotonin.
- 5-HTP or L-Tryptophan: helps the body produce serotonin.
- John’s Wort: naturally helps with rebound depression.
Alternative or Holistic Therapies
Many rehab centers also provide holistic therapies. The purpose of these therapies is to treat the whole person and not just the symptoms. These can be incredibly beneficial for providing calmness, spiritual support, and emotional expression while improving physical health and teaching valuable skills. Some of the most popular holistic therapies include:
- Nutritional therapy
- Animal-assisted therapy (e.g., emotional support dogs)
- Massage therapy
- Adventure therapy (e.g., hiking or rock climbing)
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Art therapy and music therapy
- Equine-assisted (horse) therapy
Recovering from Zoloft addiction can be challenging, but there are ways to make this process easier. Along with treatment, lifestyle adjustments and self-care can ease the symptoms while transitioning to a new life.
Exercise is great for improving cardiovascular health, which is especially important following substance abuse. Exercise also stimulates endorphins, which can help with depression and low mood. Good forms of exercise include a mix of low- and high-intensity exercises such as walking, running, swimming, cycling, or yoga.
Meditation is known to help calm anxious or racing thoughts. Meditation can also stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain and improve cognitive function, which is especially useful when recovering from addiction.
Getting adequate nutrition after detoxing from substances is vitally important. The right diet can help repair any damage incurred following sustained drug use and lead to improved immunity, cognitive function, and energy.
Learning to avoid triggers is vital during the recovery period. This can include people, situations, or circumstances that can prompt a desire to take drugs.
While cravings can be difficult to manage, hobbies such as sports, art, music, or crafts can be useful distractions. These activities can help someone redirect their cravings and focus on something positive and fun.
If you or a loved one are struggling with Zoloft abuse or addiction, you are not alone. Treatment and support are readily available. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment.
You can also find a list of treatment centers near you on our website to help get you on the path to recovery.
Davies, J. (2019). A systematic review into the incidence, severity and duration of antidepressant withdrawal effects: Are guidelines evidence-based? Addictive Behaviors. 97, 111-121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.08.027
Editorial Staff. (2021). Depression and Addiction. Dual Diagnosis.org. https://dualdiagnosis.org/depression-and-addiction.
Editorial Staff. (2021). What to know about Zoloft withdrawal symptoms. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/zoloft-withdrawal.
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