As is the case for most antidepressants, Elavil can cause withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation.
Amitriptyline (brand name Elavil) is a tricyclic antidepressant that can also help with chronic and neuropathic pain. Despite being one of the earliest antidepressants to be used, it is nowadays mostly prescribed for pain, mainly since other antidepressants with fewer side effects are now available.
As is the case for most antidepressants, Elavil can cause withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation. While the withdrawal effects from amitriptyline are not as bad as those for some other antidepressants, they can still be quite severe and incapacitating. It is crucial to discuss discontinuation with a doctor before beginning and to agree on a gradual dosage reduction instead of outright stopping treatment.
The most common Elavil withdrawal symptoms are:
- Headaches – This can be a particularly frustrating symptom for people who started taking Elavil to treat their migraines; however, it is a common withdrawal effect.
- Dizziness – People often feel lightheaded, disorientated and uncoordinated, sometimes to the extent that they cannot get out of bed or go to work. If you experience this, try to sit down or lie down until you feel better, and do not operate any heavy machinery (this includes driving) until the effects have passed. If you suspect it could be low blood sugar, eat something.
- Fatigue – You may constantly feel tired or drowsy and lack the energy to do basic tasks. As a rule, try to push through, but don’t feel guilty if there are times when you feel you need to rest. Having the occasional coffee or energy drink to get through a task is OK, but try not to over-rely on caffeine as this has negative health effects.
These symptoms are particularly bad for people who quit cold turkey, so if you have done this, you should go to the doctor and explain your situation: they will probably tell you to take some more medication to feel better before gradually decreasing your dose in a controlled manner.
Other withdrawal symptoms reported by some patients include:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Body, joint and muscle pains
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hypersensitivity to light and/or sound
- Memory problems
- Depersonalization or the feeling that you are not the same person anymore
Amitriptyline can stay in your system for anywhere between four to 21 days following full discontinuation: in other words, some people take much longer to eliminate the drug from their system than others. This means that the withdrawal timeline for Elavil varies widely, with some symptoms appearing much later than others and with some persisting for longer. As a rule, the drug should be out of your system three weeks after you finished taking it: if your symptoms persist beyond that, you should consult with your doctor.
The main criteria for determining how long you will experience withdrawal symptoms for is how long you were taking Elavil for and in what dosage. If your body has been used to the drug for a long time (over a year), or if it was receiving very high doses (the highest commonly prescribed dose is 150 mg, although up to 300 mg is possible), it will take longer to feel normal.
If you were only on Elavil for a few weeks or months and were taking the average dose of 75 mg or less, chances are you will feel like yourself again in two to three weeks.
The best way to manage withdrawal symptoms of Elavil is by sticking to a gradual reduction of the medication as prescribed by your doctor. This will greatly reduce the discomfort of withdrawal, allowing your body to slowly adapt to increasingly small doses. Some people find that they are still experiencing symptoms, even using this system: the best thing to do in this case is to check again with the doctor to agree on an even slower reduction.
Another good way to manage withdrawal is to do your best to remain healthy while you are coming off the drug: exercise regularly, eat well, get plenty of fresh air and socialize. These things may seem impossible when you are struggling with a headache and fatigue, but they will help you get through withdrawal both physically and mentally.
As a rule, coming off amitriptyline does not require any additional medications. However, you may want to mitigate some of the withdrawal effects with other drugs. For the most part, it is OK to take painkillers such as ibuprofen, paracetamol (Tylenol) or aspirin for your headache or Imodium for diarrhea, if these medications usually sit right with you.
When dealing with withdrawal from Elavil, it is essential for you to follow a weaning schedule set and supervised by your doctor. However, if you would like additional support, many drug rehabilitation centers offer services that can help you. Do some research online to find out which centers near you offer specialized services for antidepressant withdrawal.
If you are feeling lonely or discouraged, you could try therapy or join a discussion group online. Several people have gone through the same thing, and many communities exist for people to share their withdrawal and recovery stories. Whatever happens, remember that you will feel better eventually and that there is a way out.
If you or a loved one is struggling from withdrawal, contact us. We can help you overcome your addiction.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.