Venlafaxine (brand name Effexor) is a member of the class of antidepressants called Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs). It is used in the treatment of clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and panic disorder. It is most often not prescribed as a ‘first line’ treatment, but instead to patients whose depression does not respond to SSRIs. It is generally avoided as the initial treatment for depression because it can have significant side effects and has been suspected to increase the risk of suicide. In 2006, Venlafaxine was the sixth most widely-prescribed antidepressant in the United States, with 17.1 million prescriptions (Drug Topics, Mar 5, 2007).
The side effects of Effexor are quite different from those of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), most likely due to its unique mechanism of action. Effexor is believed to increase levels of available serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. It is more likely than any other antidepressant to trigger mania. For this reason it is not approved for the treatment of depression associated with Bi-Polar Disorder, or for anyone who is susceptible to mania.
Side Effects of Effexor Include:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Increased anxiety
- Changes in blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Electric shock sensations in the head
While studies have shown that Effexor has practically no potential for abuse, users can become highly physically and psychologically dependant. If Effexor is abruptly discontinued, severe withdrawal symptoms may appear. It is even possible for withdrawal symptoms to appear while tapering off of the drug under medical supervision. Effexor’s tendency to cause dependency and severe withdrawal is one reason why it is generally avoided as a first line treatment. People who take Effexor often report feeling addicted.
Withdrawal Symptoms Include:
- Electrical shock sensations
- Dysphonic mood
It is very important to talk to your doctor if you want to stop taking Effexor. Withdrawal symptoms can be minimized by tapering off of the drug gradually as directed by a doctor. Even with gradual tapering, some patients find the decreases in dose to be very uncomfortable. Some patients who have difficulty with Effexor withdrawal are switched to fluoxetine (brand name Prozac), which eases the withdrawal symptoms, and are then tapered off fluoxetine.