Making the decision to come off psychiatric drugs is, for many, incredibly scary, confusing, and difficult– I know it was for me. I believe that self-education about psychiatric drugs and psychiatric drug withdrawal is the most important first step. If you’re looking to get more informed about the process of coming off psychiatric drugs and to immerse yourself in psychiatric drug withdrawal resources, you’ve come to the right place!
Step One: Get informed about the drugs you take
Most of us have been told that psychiatric drugs are “medications” that “treat” “mental illness”. We’ve been told, “Just like a person with diabetes needs insulin, you need an antidepressant if you’re depressed, or an antipsychotic if you’re psychotic”, and because of this powerful message, millions upon millions of us consume these drugs every day, convinced that if we don’t, our suffering, struggle, “mania”, and “psychosis” will get progressively worse and our lives will fall further apart. When I discovered back in 2010 that this medical model story that I’d believed for thirteen years was actually an invented ideology as opposed to something based in evidence and fact, it blew my mind. I couldn’t believe it. I was in a state of shock. But I began to educate myself about the story I’d been taught by all those years of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, day programs, and hospitals, and slowly but surely, I began to feel more empowered. Getting informed about the psychiatric drugs you take is crucial if you are to make a truly informed choice about whether or not you want to come off of them, and if the latter, when and how you want to do so. I highly suggest reading the following to get yourself on your way:
- A Model Consent Form for Psychiatric Drug Treatment, written by David A. Jacobs, PhD and David Cohen, PhD
- Stuart Shipko, MD’s Informed Consent for SSRI Antidepressants
- Joanna Moncrieff, MD’s A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Drugs
- Joanna Moncrieff, MD’s The Myth of the Chemical Cure
- Lucy Johnstone, PhD’s A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Diagnosis
- Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic
And check out the Council for Evidence-Based Psychiatry, whose mission is to communicate evidence of the potentially harmful effects of psychiatric drugs to the people and institutions in the UK that can make a difference.
Even if you’re already on meds, these are very helpful resources that clarify a great deal about the prescriptions you’re putting into your body each and every day, as well as the psychiatric diagnoses you might be self-identifying with (or that have been imposed upon you by others.) And in my experience, having a solid understanding of your meds’ mechanism of action– in other words, how they “work”– and of the true nature of psychiatric diagnosis is an empowering first step in the withdrawal process, before tapering has even begun.
Step Two: Educate yourself about how to safely and responsibly withdraw from psychiatric drugs (before doing it)
Once a person has connected with a desire to come off psychiatric drugs, the next most important step is to get informed about how to safely do so. It’s incredibly difficult to stay patient and to accept the realities that come with educating oneself about these largely unrecognized facts about the lack of efficacy of psychiatric drugs, their harmful effects (especially in the long-term), and the lack of validity and reliability of psychiatric diagnoses… But in my experience and in the experience of the hundreds upon hundreds of people I know on the journey of psychiatric liberation, the fastest way to successfully get off and stay off psychiatric drugs is to taper slowly. The impact these drugs have on the central nervous system (CNS), the gut, adrenal system, metabolic system, reproductive system, and in essence every other system of the human body is significant, and it takes time for healing to happen (which, I should emphasize, it will!) And yes, while it’s true that some people have minimal (or even no) difficulties getting off rapidly, many– most, according to what I’ve personally witnessed over the past four years that I’ve been doing this work– do not, and after watching the devastating effects of cold turkey withdrawal (i.e. stopping drugs immediately or over a matter of days and weeks) or rapid tapering (over a matter of weeks or a few months) in my friends’ lives, I’ve concluded that a fast taper is nothing short of playing a game of Russian roulette.
I will speak for myself in saying that if I was currently in a position of beginning to withdraw, I would conclude for myself that cold turkey or rapid tapering is not a game not worth playing, for one’s physical health, mental and emotional wellbeing, and ability to participate in work, school, family and social life, exercise, etc., can be compromised or completely impaired as the result of a cold turkey or rapid withdrawal. I have watched countless people become bedridden; debilitated by nerve pain, joint pain, and muscle pain; incapacitated by utter panic, terror, anxiety, and despair far greater than anything they’d ever experienced before taking drugs (or even while on them); completely unable to work, care for children, manage day-to-day responsibilities; unable to move, to walk, to run, to exercise; fantasizing about death. Unfortunately, much of the time when people stop abruptly and these kinds of horrendous experiences happen, doctors say, “See, this is your underlying condition. This is you off your meds. Now do you see why you need to be on them indefinitely?” It’s tragic– I would go so far as to call it malpractice, really– that doctors are giving this message to their patients. The serious issues that can arise out of withdrawal from psychiatric drugs– whether it be cold turkey, rapid, or even a slow taper– are not an “underlying condition” reemerging. They are not the person’s fundamental nature. They are not someone’s “baseline state.” They are symptoms of serious withdrawal from powerful psychoactive chemicals that have completely altered the fundamental biochemistry of a person’s entire body. And they need time, rest, the removal of stress (however much possible), proper nutrition, lots of water, unconditional support and acknowledgement of the reality of iatrogenic harm and, perhaps more importantly than anything else, patience and hope. It’s always more complicated that “just” withdrawal, of course… After all, we ended up in a psychiatrist’s office somehow! But I’ve found in my experience that the “work” I needed to do internally to resolve the underlying struggles I had that led me into the mental health system arose organically only after I’d given my central nervous system and the rest of my body enough time to heal.
Now, it might be true that some of us have gotten off faster than slow (I came off five drugs over five months, which is in essence cold turkey, and I’d say I’m about 80% healed as of this writing, if I were to estimate), but in my opinion, it is just not worth the risk. I wouldn’t wish the experiences I had of the first 2.5 years of my withdrawal on my worst enemy, and I was lucky in that my rapid taper didn’t involve a lot of the more debilitating physical effects that many of my friends have experienced (like unbearable burning sensations, shooting pain, unrelenting internal pressure, etc.) that leave them bedridden, requiring use of a wheelchair, or unable to exert their bodies in almost any way. I share all of this here not to terrify you but because it is a crucial part of the process of getting informed: a cold turkey or rapid withdrawal from psychiatric drugs is incredibly risky, incredibly unpredictable, and incredibly dangerous. You have a right to know this. Without knowing this, you simply cannot make an informed choice about your relationship to these powerful drugs.
Below you’ll find some of the withdrawal resources I recommend to people as a starting place. It’s important to take time to carefully read, digest, reflect and meditate on what this all means for you before you choose to begin a taper, and ask your partner, your family, your friends, or anyone else you confide in if they’d be willing to do the same. (Having a support network around you who understands withdrawal as well as you do has been a really important piece of the puzzle for me and many others.) And it’s also important to recognize that each of these resources is simply one possible way to taper. Our bodies, brains, physical abilities, mental abilities, life experiences, traumas, relationships, work, and overall wellbeing are each entirely unique, so methodologies that work for some people will not work for others. Crucial to keep in mind is that you are the only expert on yourself, and listening to your body along the way is the most important thing you can do.
The Harm Reduction Guide to Coming off Psychiatric Drugs
This guide, written by Will Hall, is a helpful primer. Many find the suggested taper rate of 10% every 2-3 weeks too fast, but this invaluable document has a plethora of helpful resources. Available for free here or purchase via Amazon and support Recovering from Psychiatry
Benzodiazepines: How They Work and How to Withdraw (also called the Ashton Manual)
Dr. Heather Ashton’s manual to coming off benzodiazepines has been helpful to many people. It’s important to clarify that this is not the be-all and end-all methodology for benzo tapering, and some find that it doesn’t work for them. Again, it is a reminder that listening to one’s body is crucial in this process, and not imposing a methodology upon yourself as you taper simply because a guide told you to. Access the Ashton Manual for free here. (If you’re looking for more information on the Klonopin-Valium cross over that Ashton suggests, read this by Dr. Reg Peart and this written back in 2009 by Monica Cassani of Beyond Meds.)
This e-book by Stuart Shipko, MD is for people who are considering stopping Xanax, and it includes information on when, how and what to expect when tapering and stopping Xanax. Purchase here and support Recovering from Psychiatry.
Recovery and Renewal: Your essential guide to overcoming dependency and withdrawal from sleeping pills, other ‘benzo’ tranquillisers and antidepressants
Written by Baylissa Frederick of Recovery Road, this book is full of inspiration and support, and offers helpful ideas and resources for people struggling with psychiatric drug withdrawal. Purchase here and support Recovering from Psychiatry.
Written by Di Porritt and Di Russell, this book is broken down into personal stories written by people who’ve experienced benzo withdrawal, and a list of benzo withdrawal symptoms, a detailed description of each symptom, and helpful tips about navigating the struggles of withdrawal. You can purchase this book here.
Coming off Psychiatric Drugs: Successful Withdrawal from Neuroleptics, Antidepressants, Lithium, Carbamazepine and Tranquilizers
Edited by Peter Lehmann, this book contains personal stories of withdrawal and offers help for the journey. Purchase here and support Recovering from Psychiatry.
The Antidepressant Solution: A Step-by-Step Guide to Safely Overcoming Antidepressant Withdrawal, Dependence, and “Addiction”
Written by Joseph Glenmullen, MD, this book is geared towards all those concerned with going through the process of psychiatric drug withdrawal— from friends and family members to doctors and patients themselves. Purchase here and support Recovering from Psychiatry.
I cannot recommend highly enough the website, Beyond Meds, run by Monica Cassani, who came off 20+ years of polypharmacy (i.e. multiple psychiatric drugs) and has been building this site into a place full of information, tips, resources, and hope for folks on the withdrawal journey. You’ll find specific information on tapering methodology like Water Titration for Slow and Controlled Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal, information on why slow tapers are safest, like The Slowness of Slow Tapers, and pages stockpiled with resources on withdrawal, like Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal 101. You can access the website here.
Another fantastic website run by Baylissa Frederick, who survived a debilitating withdrawal from benzodiazepines and now helps others on their withdrawal journeys. You’ll find helpful tips for getting through withdrawal, as well as resources for caregivers of people in withdrawal. A very inspirational and hopeful place! You can access the website here.
Step Three: Reading up on personal stories of withdrawal
I’ve found that the power of identification– of reading one another’s stories of survival– has been a crucial part of my journey of psychiatric liberation. Personal narratives inspire hope, offer helpful ideas and tips, and help us feel less alone with our experiences. Here are some personal narratives of psychiatric drug withdrawal, some of which I haven’t yet had the chance to read. Remember… you are not alone!
Death Grip: A Climber’s Escape from Benzo Madness, by Matt Samet
Matt Samet documents his journey onto and off of benzodiazpines (also called “anti-anxiety medications”).
With Hope in My Heart: A Memoir, by Baylissa Frederick
Baylissa Frederick reflects on her survival of an intense withdrawal experience and the lessons she learned along the way.
Joan Gadsby writes about her personal experiences being put on a cocktail of psychiatric drugs following the loss of her son, what happened to her, and how she’s fighting to spread awareness about the dangers of psychiatric drugs.
Benzo Junkie, by Beatrice Faust
Beatrice Faust shares her personal experiences with benzodiazepines and benzo withdrawal and critiques the psycho-pharmaceutical industry in this book.
Klonopin Withdrawal & Howling Dogs: Maybe it was God, by Audrey Wagner
A memoir of Klonopin withdrawal written by Audrey Wagner.
Step Four: Preparing yourself for the withdrawal journey
[Under construction! Coming soon.]