Zoloft, also known as Sertraline (generic), is an antidepressant medication of the SSRI (selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor) classification prescribed for the treatment of psychiatric conditions, including: major depressive disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many Zoloft users find that the medication is effective for reducing or reversing symptoms of their mental illness, however, not all individuals respond well to Zoloft – it’s sometimes ineffective and/or causes intolerable side effects. Individuals who don’t benefit from Zoloft may be instructed to discontinue treatment – only to experience Zoloft withdrawal symptoms.
What causes Zoloft withdrawal symptoms to emerge?
Zoloft withdrawal symptoms are thought to happen as a result of neurochemical changes within the brain. When someone first starts using a medication like Zoloft, the drug alters neurochemistry and connectivity within the brain – usually by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. With ongoing usage of Zoloft, the brain will have adapted to accommodate the effects of Zoloft to maintain normal neurochemical functions.
However, when a person stops taking Zoloft, the brain will still be expecting the drug because it has adapted to its presence over time. Because the brain is still expecting the drug for various neurochemical processes, yet does not receive it, there’s sometimes a significant neurochemical imbalance that occurs after Zoloft discontinuation. Until the brain manages to readjust itself to functioning without Zoloft and correct certain neurochemical imbalances, Zoloft withdrawal symptoms may occur.
The neurotransmitters most significantly affected by Zoloft:
It is the above-mentioned neurotransmitters that likely play a major role in causing symptoms of Zoloft withdrawal. Because the drug primarily acts on serotonin, serotonin imbalances likely play a more significant role in withdrawal than dopamine imbalances.
Zoloft Withdrawal Symptoms (List of Possibilities)
When anyone stops taking Zoloft, there are many withdrawal symptoms that may emerge. It is necessary to understand that not all symptoms of Zoloft withdrawal have been documented in scientific studies. Additionally, you should understand that symptoms of Zoloft withdrawal might differ significantly from person-to-person. In other words, you might not have the same withdrawal symptoms as another user. Moreover, know that not everyone who withdraws from Zoloft will experience all of the symptoms documented below – this is just a general list of potential symptoms.
- Anger: A very common symptom of Zoloft withdrawal is anger. Zoloft is a drug that is known to promote calmness through increases of serotonin signaling. When people stop taking Zoloft, there’s sometimes temporary dysfunction of serotonin signaling. This serotonin signaling dysfunction may lead to unexpected or uncontrollable anger.
- Appetite change: Zoloft is thought to affect appetites of certain users possibly leading to overeating or increased food intake. For others, it may actually help control appetite. In any regard, when individuals stop taking Zoloft, appetite changes may occur during withdrawal. If your appetite is affected, make sure that you’re eating a proper number of calories and getting adequate nutrients.
- Anxiety: Even if you didn’t have anxiety before taking Zoloft, you may experience anxiety as a withdrawal symptom after stopping. The anxiety that occurs during withdrawal may be caused by abnormal serotonin signaling. If the anxiety is severe, be sure to inform your medical doctor or psychiatrist – there may be medication to help reduce it.
- Bizarre dreams: A subset of individuals will report strange, odd, or weird dreams during Zoloft withdrawal. Dreams are generally fairly odd even without Zoloft withdrawal, however, the withdrawal can exacerbate the weirdness. In addition to being weird, dreams may also be exceptionally vivid.
- Brain zaps: A fairly common withdrawal symptom from Zoloft is that of brain zaps. Brain zaps are best described as unpredictable sensations of electrical zaps throughout the head. In some cases, these “brain zaps” are actually quite painful and/or distracting. Most believe that these are related to imbalances in serotonin signaling within specific parts of the brain.
- Concentration problems: It’s common to find yourself unable to concentrate when you first stop taking Zoloft. It may be tough to perform cognitively-taxing tasks such as writing, reading, or solving puzzles. Usually a person’s concentration will gradually improve after a few weeks of the withdrawal date.
- Cramping: You may notice cramps throughout your body when you initially stop taking Zoloft. In some cases, the cramping is likely related to electrolyte imbalances and/or dehydration. Be sure to stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, and ensure that your diet is nutrient-dense during withdrawal.
- Depressed mood: A fairly common symptom of Zoloft withdrawal is depression. Because many people take Zoloft to treat depression, when the drug is stopped, the original depressive symptoms can return. In addition to a return of the original symptoms, the neurochemical imbalance resulting from withdrawal may make someone’s mood more depressed than ever before.
- Fatigue: Withdrawing from Zoloft may seem as though it’s drained you of all energy. You may experience fatigue or low energy for weeks after your last dose. Most people will notice that their energy level increases within a few weeks of their final dose. Keeping stress low, getting plenty of sleep, and some light exercise may help offset withdrawal-related fatigue.
- Flu-like: Though fairly rare, some individuals will experience flu-like symptoms during Zoloft withdrawal. In other words, a person may actually think he/she is getting the flu, when in fact symptoms are a byproduct of medication withdrawal. Examples of such symptoms include: chills, cough, runny nose, nausea, body aches, vomiting, and/or sweating.
- Headaches: Headaches commonly occur among individuals who are withdrawing from Zoloft. The headaches may be a result of changes in neurochemical signaling, or possibly a downstream effect of other withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, muscle tension, and/or sleep problems. Keeping stress under control, staying hydrated, and getting proper sleep might help reduce headaches during withdrawal.
- Hot flashes: Another symptom of Zoloft withdrawal that can occur is a hot flash or sudden, unexpected surge of bodily warmth. The hot flashes may be caused by a combination of hormonal, blood flow, and/or neurotransmitter adjustments throughout the body during withdrawal. In many cases, the hot flashes are accompanied by sweats and general discomfort.
- Insomnia: While withdrawing from Zoloft, another fairly common symptom that might emerge is insomnia. Many people have reported difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep after they’ve discontinued Zoloft. The insomnia may be caused by fluctuations in levels of serotonin associated with Zoloft cessation which may increase arousal and anxiety at night.
- Irritability: You may find yourself especially irritable when you first come off of Zoloft. The irritability that occurs during withdrawal is, in many cases, likely due to abnormal serotonin signaling. Getting plenty of sleep, staying physically active, and keeping stress as low as possible often helps people manage withdrawal-induced irritability.
- Muscle pain: Some people actually report muscle aches and/or joint pains during withdrawal. In some cases, these pains are probably related to a combination of dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Restoration of hydration and electrolyte levels should help reduce the muscle pain. That said, muscle pain could also be a symptom resulting from abnormal levels of hormones or neurotransmitters in withdrawal.
- Night sweats: After quitting Zoloft, many people will experience sweating at nighttime while asleep. The sweating may be related to changes in hormone levels and serotonin signaling – each of which may affect body temperature and cause sweating. Generally speaking, the night sweats from Zoloft withdrawal should improve after a few weeks.
- Panic attacks: It is known that Zoloft helps many people cope with anxiety and panic attacks. However, when the drug is stopped, anxiety and panic can return in full-force – sometimes worse than ever before. Moreover, it’s possible that panic attacks could occur during withdrawal from Zoloft even among persons without a history of anxiety.
- Poor memory: After your last dose of Zoloft, it may seem as though your memory is foggy and impaired. You may find it difficult to remember names, dates, or even things you’ve recently learned. Many believe that poor memory that occurs during withdrawal is related to a combination of high stress and serotonin irregularities throughout the brain.
- Relapse: Most people who take Zoloft are doing so to manage symptoms of a psychiatric condition. However, when a person stops taking Zoloft and enters withdrawal, it’s common for symptoms of psychiatric conditions to return. In other words, if you quit Zoloft, you’ll run the risk of symptomatic relapse. If symptoms of your psychiatric condition return during withdrawal, be sure to inform your psychiatrist.
- Restlessness: It’s common to feel restless, fidgety and/or unable to sit still during Zoloft withdrawal. The restlessness is probably due to a combination of neurotransmitter and hormone changes within the central nervous system. Until these neurotransmitters and hormones return to pre-Zoloft levels, the restlessness might remain.
- Sensitivity: Another symptom of Zoloft withdrawal is sensory sensitivity, best described as a sensitivity to any sensory inputs. Most people who experience this symptom will report that it’s difficult to tolerate certain sounds (due to loudness) or lights (due to the brightness). It’s possible that individuals might be sensitive to taste, touch, and/or smells as well.
- Sleep problems: One of the most challenging Zoloft withdrawal symptoms for many people is sleep problems. During withdrawal it is common to feel anxious and/or stressed – each of which can provoke insomnia, making it difficult to fall asleep. Add in other symptoms like night sweats, muscle aches, and fatigue – and sleep patterns can become chaotic. Some people may have trouble sleeping at night and may feel fatigued during the day. Others may sleep excessively during withdrawal such as over 10 hours per night.
- Suicidal thinking: A very serious withdrawal symptom that may occur after quitting Zoloft is suicidal thinking. If you or anyone you know experiences suicidal thoughts during withdrawal, it is necessary to seek immediate medical attention – do not hesitate. Suicidal thinking can impair judgment and decision making – and needs to be treated immediately.
- Unexpected crying: You may end up crying a lot more than usual as a result of Zoloft withdrawal. Many people report that they experience crying spells such it seems impossible to stop crying. Any crying that occurs may be a sign of returning depression, but could also be the only way your body knows how to cope with the chaos of withdrawal.
Note: The above list of Zoloft withdrawal symptoms may be partial of incomplete. If you know of any additional symptoms that are attributable to Zoloft withdrawal, mention them in a comment.
What determines the severity of Zoloft withdrawal symptoms?
There are several variables that may influence the severity of your Zoloft withdrawal symptoms. Understand that no single variable is necessarily more important than the other in determining symptom severity. That said, most suspect that a combination of treatment length and Zoloft dosing play the most significant roles in determining withdrawal severity.
- Treatment length: Anyone who took Zoloft for a long-term will probably have a tougher time during withdrawal than individuals who took Zoloft for a short-term.
- Dosage: High dose Zoloft users are thought to end up with more severe withdrawal symptoms than lower-dose users.
- Speed of withdrawal: The speed at which you discontinue Zoloft may affect how severe your withdrawal symptoms end up. If you quit suddenly from a high dose instead of tapering, withdrawal will probably be worse than if you tapered off.
- Using other substances: Various medications and supplements are thought to help reduce symptoms of Zoloft withdrawal. If you’re using other substances during withdrawal, your symptoms may be easier to manage than if you aren’t taking anything.
- Lifestyle factors: The choices you make related to diet, exercise, stress, sleep, and/or socializing may affect Zoloft withdrawal symptoms. Someone who eats a poor diet and doesn’t exercise much will probably have a tougher time in withdrawal than someone who eats healthy and exercises regularly.
- Genetics: It’s possible that your genetics and/or epigenetics may affect withdrawal from Zoloft. Having certain genes may result in a faster recovery from withdrawal symptoms than having other genes. That said, it isn’t known which genes might make withdrawal a little easier to bear.
Best supplements for Zoloft withdrawal symptoms
Many people report significant benefit from taking supplements to help manage symptoms of Zoloft withdrawal. Below is a list of supplements that could make it easier to cope with the withdrawal process.
Always talk to your doctor and/or psychiatrist before even considering usage of any of these supplements. You’ll need to confirm that these supplements are safe for you to take in accordance with your medical status and/or existing drug regimen. The last thing you’ll want during withdrawal from Zoloft is an interaction or adverse reaction to a supplement.
Affiliate disclosure: The links to supplements contain affiliate links which help this site earn money. That said, the links are to products that we think are high quality, reasonably-priced, and potentially-helpful in Zoloft withdrawal.
- L-tryptophan: This supplement is known to help the brain produce serotonin.
- Krill oil: This is a supplement that contains EPA and DHA, both of which have been shown to improve brain function.
- L-tyrosine: This supplement is known to help the brain manufacture dopamine.
- Curcumin: This supplement can help reduce inflammation throughout the brain and body during withdrawal.
- Melatonin: Some people find melatonin helpful for managing withdrawal-related insomnia when taken before bed.
- Magnesium: Supplementation with magnesium may help decrease feelings of anxiety and the stress response during withdrawal.
- Vitamin B-Complex: If nothing seems to help with anxiety and/or stress, B-vitamins may prove useful.
What’s the best way to withdraw from Zoloft?
How should you withdraw from Zoloft? There’s no ideal way to withdraw from Zoloft, however, some general recommendations should be given.
- Psychiatric guidance: It is recommended to withdraw only under the guidance of a licensed psychiatrist. Psychiatrists understand how Zoloft works and know how to help patients properly withdraw from the medication.
- Tapering slowly: Many withdrawal experts recommend starting the withdrawal by tapering at a rate of 10% per month. In other words, Zoloft dosage should be decreased by 10% each month until the user reaches 0 mg. Although slow, this can help minimize odds of severe withdrawal symptoms.
- Healthy lifestyle: Everyone quitting Zoloft should do their best to stay as healthy as possible. This means consuming a healthy diet, staying active, minimizing stress, socializing with friends, getting enough sleep and keeping busy.
- Medications & supplements: Nobody should be using medications and/or supplements without the consent of a medical doctor. That said, various substances may help ease withdrawal symptoms when quitting Zoloft.
How long does Zoloft withdrawal last?
It’s impossible to know exactly how long Zoloft withdrawal is going to last – the withdrawal process is subject to individual variation. In other words, for one person the withdrawal might take several weeks, whereas for another it may take several months. Some sources suggest that most individuals should notice significant improvement in withdrawal symptoms within 1 to 3 months of their last dose.
Realize that there is no universal timeline for withdrawal. Do your best to manage your own symptoms and don’t have any expectations for how long symptoms should last – this will just stress you out. Stay as healthy as possible, keep working with your doctor, and hopefully you’ll get over symptoms as quickly as possible.
Have you experienced withdrawal from Zoloft?
If you’ve ever taken Zoloft (Sertraline) and had to stop taking it, leave a comment documenting your withdrawal experience. By sharing your experience, you help others going through withdrawal to realize that they aren’t alone. If you’re unsure about what to write in your comment, we’ve compiled some questions that may help others to better understand your situation – you can answer these if you’d like.
- For what medical condition did you take Zoloft?
- Why did you stop taking Zoloft?
- What was your dosage before withdrawing?
- How long had you taken Zoloft before quitting?
- At what rate did you discontinue? (e.g. tapered slowly)
- What withdrawal symptoms have you experienced?
- Have you figured out any ways to reduce the withdrawal symptoms?