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Amitriptyline Withdrawal Symptoms

Tricyclic antidepressants were first introduced in the 1950s and 1960s as one of the earlier forms of antidepressant medications.1 Nowadays, however, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft and atypical depressants like Cymbalta have become alternatives for earlier generations of tricyclics like Amitriptyline and antidepressant medications because they produce fewer side effects. Today, we’re looking into amitriptyline withdrawal symptoms and why the use of this early-generation tricyclic antidepressant has changed.


What Is Amitriptyline and How Does It Work?

Also known by its brand name Elavil, amitriptyline is a prescription tricyclic antidepressant medication. In addition to treating depression, Elavil is sometimes used to treat pain from arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, damaged nerve endings, and in some cases as a treatment for nighttime bedwetting in children.

Amitriptyline works by affecting the balance of certain neurotransmitters in the brain and nervous system, particularly serotonin and norepinephrine. Not only does it activate the release of these chemicals in the brain, but it also prevents the brain from reabsorbing them to produce pain relief and improved mood.

When amitriptyline blocks the brain from reabsorbing serotonin and norepinephrine, more of those chemicals will be available in the brain and spinal cord, almost flooding it. Depression is believed to be mainly caused by a lack of these chemicals in the brain, so it’s believed that drugs like amitriptyline relieve depression symptoms by allowing the brain to have more serotonin and norepinephrine.

However, due to their long list of side effects, tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline have been mostly replaced by other types of antidepressants like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs). Even so, amitriptyline is still prescribed in the United States because of its efficacy in treating pain and any depression or anxiety caused by that pain. If misused, amitriptyline can become addictive and lead to a condition referred to as dependence.


Symptoms of Withdrawal From Amitriptyline

Amitriptyline’s potential for abuse and addiction, although possible, is pretty low. Some people mistakenly believe that because antidepressants are used to treat depression, they may produce the opposite effects to create a euphoric high.

This is not the case. Rather than work like drugs such as heroin and cocaine, antidepressants are designed to restore chemical balance in the brain that’s associated with depression rather than produce large spikes in these chemical levels.

With that said, while taking large doses of amitriptyline is more likely to produce toxicity and overdose rather than a high, taking this medication for prolonged periods can lead to physical dependence. Physical dependence occurs when a person’s brain can no longer function normally without a particular drug.

Although it’s often a sign of developing a drug addiction, physical dependence can occur in people who take their prescription drugs correctly, so it’s pretty normal. It’s difficult for the body to not become accustomed to functioning on a particular drug after weeks, months, or years of use.

Elavil withdrawal, also referred to as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (ADS), can be an unpleasant experience. Because this medication is designed to boost certain chemicals to alleviate depression, when the use of amitriptyline is suddenly reduced or stopped, the body may struggle to readjust to this sudden change in neurochemical levels.

Amitriptyline withdrawal side effects are more likely to occur in people who have used amitriptyline for six weeks or longer, are prescribed relatively high doses of the drug, or suddenly stop using amitriptyline without the help of a medically monitored detox or tapering schedule. Other factors like metabolism, age, and liver and kidney function can also determine the severity and duration of amitriptyline withdrawal symptoms.

Common symptoms of amitriptyline withdrawal include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Increased anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness
  • Memory problems
  • Hypersensitivity to lights or sound
  • Crying spells and mood swings
  • Flu-like symptoms (headaches, fatigue, nausea, etc.)

Those who have serious mental health disorders like bipolar depression are more likely to experience rare amitriptyline withdrawal effects like hallucinations. If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, speak to your doctor right away about whether they can adjust the dose of your medication or change it altogether.


Amitriptyline Withdrawal: How Long Does It Last?

Amitriptyline withdrawal symptoms are usually more severe in people who are abruptly taken off the drug after using it for more than 6 to 8 weeks. Symptoms of amitriptyline withdrawal usually kick in within three days after the person’s last use and can last up to a week.

Symptoms usually peak after three days and slowly begin to decline, although this varies from person to person. The majority of people who experience withdrawal from Elavil compare their symptoms to those of a cold or flu.

If a person begins to develop psychological symptoms during amitriptyline withdrawal, such as increased anxiety and depression, it may indicate that the person’s depression diagnosis is returning and they require further treatment.

Although amitriptyline withdrawal symptoms can last up to a week, the worst of the symptoms usually only last up to 24 hours. This timeline may change, however, if the person has been misusing their antidepressants by taking higher doses than prescribed or mixing them with alcohol or other drugs.


What Helps With Amitriptyline Withdrawal?

Withdrawal from amitriptyline isn’t considered to be life-threatening or significantly dangerous unless the person begins to feel suicidal or experiences hallucinations as a result of an underlying mental health disorder. Anyone who experiences withdrawal from Elavil is likely to have issues with concentration, judgment, and memory, which could potentially place them in a dangerous situation.

Additionally, those who experience nausea and vomiting from amitriptyline withdrawal are at risk for dehydration, which can become dangerous if left untreated. The standard way to treat amitriptyline withdrawal is to place patients on a tapering schedule where their doses are slowly reduced.

However, in the cases where the person has been purposely misusing their antidepressants or mixing them with other substances, they may require the help of an addiction treatment center. Our Christian drug rehab in Florida not only offers medical detox, but we also offer faith-based recovery programs to help people who are addicted to various substances, from prescribed medications to illicit drugs.

If you or a loved one has become addicted to their prescription medication, illicit drugs like heroin, or alcohol, our Faith in Recovery program can help. Call us today at 888-280-4763 for more information about our faith-based drug treatment programs in Florida.

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