If you were prescribed Paxil or a similar drug, there is a strong possibility that your doctor didn’t do any research or fact-checking when they told you about the side effects of the drug — and that’s probably why you’re here. Most likely your doctor simply read to you from the Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialities, which is the information source most widely used by physicians in Canada. (The U.S. equivalent of the CPS is the PDR or the Physicians’ Desk Reference.) Here’s a quote from a critical analysis of the CPS:
The Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialities (CPS) is the most widely used source of drug information in Canada, and is heavily financed by the pharmaceutical industry. A close examination of its contents comparing a computer-drawn, randomized sample of monographs from its “White Pages” to standard pharmacological reference works demonstrates certain of its characteristics: it uncritically includes many inadequate preparations; it overstates the benefits and understates the adverse qualities of many preparations; and it contains little or no information on relative indications, efficacy, or price. These characteristics serve to promote the marketing goals of the drug manufacturers and severely limit the volume’s usefulness as an objective source of drug information.
And this is where most doctors get their information about the drugs they prescribe. So please be careful when listening to your doctor’s advice. With all due respect to their training, they may not know what they’re talking about, especially in regards to a drug like Paxil whose manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, has never been too forthcoming about the real side effects of the drug.
September 5th, 2006.
Some of you might actually know who I am from the original version of this blog back when blogs didn’t really exist the way they do today. I first uploaded Paxil Free sometime in 2001; I don’t remember the exact date. I kept the website up for a couple years, then took it down after it became too much to deal with.
I never wanted to become an authority on Paxil withdrawal. My withdrawal experience was thrown in my face, and although I survived it, it made me feel like a different person — except I didn’t ask to feel like a different person.
So it made me angry. I was glad so many people were able to find comfort through reading about my experiences, but I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. I answered all the emails to the best of my ability, but I didn’t feel like a willing participant in any of it — because I was still angry. I was alive and grateful, but I had nothing good to say about the experience. I was not the person to turn to for inspiration and hope. Emailing me to ask how I got through it all, I didn’t have any secrets or words of wisdom to pass on. I was uncomfortable having people turn to me for anything.
I was also embarrassed by much of what I’d written on the site. I subsequently decided to take some time to revise it and get myself out of the loop for a while. So I took the site down, and immediately it felt like a burden had been lifted. I could just leave the whole withdrawal experience in the past and be done with it. I did make some revisions, but I didn’t stick with it. I felt like moving on instead.
So I did.
February 28th, 2001.
I began taking Paxil, paroxetine hydrochloride, for depression and post-traumatic stress shortly after a traumatic event in November of 1999. By July 2000, ten months later, my doctor and I agreed that I was doing well enough to stop taking the medication. So I followed his medical advice and discontinued the Paxil. Within 24 hours, I experienced such severe paroxetine withdrawal that I eventually became suicidal — and it scared the hell of me. The neurological trauma of paroxetine withdrawal was more physically and mentally debilitating than any kind of depression I had ever experienced.
Most of the records I kept during my withdrawal experience were in the form of messages I posted to Paxil withdrawal support groups similar to paxilprogress.org. Saved on this blog are the most informative of those messages. The postings appear in the order in which they were written, along with all the relevant responses I may have received.
It is a record of my withdrawal experience, not because I’m vain and I like listening to myself talk, but because it’s the only record I kept, and having reviewed all of it recently, I can see that it presents the reality of the experience more accurately than anything else I’d have the energy to put together right now. Along with a support group such as paxilprogress.org, I can’t think of anything more valuable for someone living through paroxetine withdrawal than to read exactly how someone else survived it.
While it’s true that there isn’t a whole lot of fun to be had for someone living through the effects of Paxil withdrawal, the important thing to remember is that you can survive it. That may not sound like much right now, but I have done it and so have many others who had it worse than me. If there’s one thing to learn from the record and testimony on this site, perhaps it’s how to smooth out some of the bumps in the road ahead so that when the worst of it comes at you, it doesn’t knock you so far down that you can never get up again. It can be overcome. As unbearable as it may seem at times, it will eventually go away, and you’ll be all right.
Okay, maybe not all right, but I’m pretty sure you’ll feel at least a thousand times better.
March 10th, 2001.
One more thing before we move on to the journal aspect of this blog…
Having nearly lost my life to Paxil withdrawal and then survived to tell the tale, and having been in communication with others who went through the same thing, I may be qualified to pass along some things I’ve learned from the experience.
The following are some basic facts of paroxetine withdrawal, things you might expect to come face-to-face with while withdrawing from Paxil — keeping in mind, though, that everyone is different and that there are infinite variations to this experience.
#1: Electric Shock Sensations (aka “the zaps”): The pattern of these sensations are remarkably similar to certain kinds of epileptic seizures except that one doesn’t lose consciousness when they occur. (Personally, I would have preferred to have been unconscious.) They are experienced as a strong electric shock sensation behind the eyes which can easily spread to one’s head, face, spine and limbs. The initial surge — which is overwhelming and impossible to ignore — is often followed by a series of lesser surges which gradually dissipate in waves. These seizures are the most physically debilitating and emotionally disturbing of all the paroxetine withdrawal effects — especially if your doctor never warned you about it.
March 11th, 2001. (Basic Facts – continued)
The Paxil Flu is also known as a complete shut-down of the immune system. It’s most likely to occur at its worst by withdrawing from Paxil cold turkey (which should NEVER be done; if your doctor told you otherwise, you need to find yourself a new doctor NOW). The Paxil Flu also occurs for some people even while they’re weaning slowly. Paroxetine withdrawal is a neurological trauma, and like any traumatic or stressful event, it can have a drain on your vitality, your health and your overall strength. Therefore, you might want to take supplements of certain vitamins which will become depleted by the stress of the withdrawal (B-complex, Vitamins C and E for starters).
Often included with the Paxil Flu are unusual ailments which doctors have no explanation for — and which, in their ignorance, they don’t connect to paroxetine withdrawal. Your doctor may perform every kind of test on you and then say, “I don’t know what’s causing it,” or the classic, “There’s nothing wrong with you” — while in the meantime you feel like you’re dying.
During my cold turkey withdrawal, besides extreme dizziness, headaches and body aches that could register on the Richter Scale, I developed growths under my tongue which were painful and would bleed at the slightest touch. Eventually I had a biopsy performed and my doctor said,”It’s normal tissue.” Great.
It seems to me that most of these medical anomalies are related to the effects of paroxetine; we just don’t how — and neither does the medical community.
The good news about the Paxil Flu is that it can be prevented through a proper use of vitamin supplements, a healthy diet (which does not include caffeine, cigarettes or alcohol) and regular exercise. It’s a simple straight-forward solution, and you’d be surprised at how well it works.
P.S., If you smoke cigarettes and you know you’re hooked, don’t try getting off them now. Caffeine you can probably wean yourself off without too much harm, but nicotine is another story.
March 13th, 2001. (Basic Facts – continued)
Most doctors are completely ignorant as to the withdrawal effects of paroxetine (not that that ever stops them from prescribing these pills as if they were as harmless as Tic-Tacs). My doctor told me, “The great thing about Paxil is that you can stop taking it cold turkey.” It doesn’t get any more ignorant than that.
Chances are you wouldn’t be reading this right now if it wasn’t for your doctor’s ignorance and/or arrogance.
When my doctor told me that I didn’t have to wean myself off the Paxil — this was his trusted medical advice — he was relaying to me information from
“the year 2000 edition of the Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties [the CPS] which is the information source most widely used by physicians in Canada.”
That’s a quote from an email my doctor sent me, and the italics are mine. (The U.S. equivalent of the CPS is the PDR or the Physicians’ Desk Reference.)
Unfortunately, the information on paroxetine withdrawal which appears in the CPS is based on what is most likely fraudulent data provided by GlaxoSmithKline, the company that manufactures Paxil.
March 15th, 2001. (Basic Facts – continued)
If Paxil saved your life, that’s wonderful. But please spare me the hate mail telling me what a jerk I am for giving Paxil such a bad rap. I have no desire to extinguish anyone’s neurochemical happiness. But I do not and will not hide the fact that I am angry about the injustice that I and thousands of others have experienced because of the deliberately deceptive, unethical practices of GlaxoSmithKline — the practices that have left the medical community mis-informed and uninformed as to the full and potential effects of paroxetine withdrawal.
In order to make their billions of dollars in profits from this drug, GlaxoSmithKline, by not being upfront about the potential effects of paroxetine, essentially lied to the FDA to get approval for Paxil and then continued to perpetuate that lie by hiding the information they had about the full effects of Paxil withdrawal from the medical community.
(Oct. 2006: Here it is five years later, and the wonderful people at GlaxoSmithKline are still up to no good. They are making so much money off Paxil, they can afford to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and still make a profiit. An informative article in The Scoop reads: “A limited review of the company’s involvement in the legal system over just the last five years reveals a clear pattern of habitual corruption. However, although Glaxo has paid billions of dollars in accumulated fines, penalties and awards to plaintiffs in civil cases, not one company official has been arrested and charged with a crime.” The power of a corporation like GSK is incredible. Making billions of dollars every year off Paxil allows them to get away with murder. They can afford it.)
When I first took Paxil, it did help. But when the time came to stop taking it, I suffered through the worst hell of my life — and all of it could have been prevented had GlaxoSmithKline told the truth from the start.
March 17th, 2001. (Basic Facts – continued)
This list keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?
The sexual dysfunction and weight gain are almost-guaranteed side effects of taking Paxil. The weight gain may be particularly worse for women, but the sexual dysfunction seems to happen with everyone right across the board. The sexual dysfunction can gradually be dealt with (details are given in several postings throughout this site), but the weight gain, or I should say losing the weight, seems to be the most trouble even after getting off Paxil; it just takes time. As for the hair loss, or thinning of the hair, this may be a result of extreme stress or it may be because of the Paxil, but it’s something I experienced myself and have read other accounts of, from women as well as men.
The good news: 1) My hair seemed to return to its normal thickness a few months after I stopped taking the Paxil. 2) For many people, their sexual function and libido also return to normal soon after they stop taking the Paxil. (Again, more details are given on this in several postings throughout this site.)
P.S. (Sept. 2006): This may not be the most informative post. I suggest going to paxilprogress.org and doing a search for “sexual side effects.” For instance, I just found this discussion thread that began with a guy asking about sexual side effects while taking Paxil. Here’s an excerpt from one of the responses:
Delayed orgasm is ok for men, to begin with. On a low dose it’s not so bad. Unfortunately, after a while — and especially if you up the dose — it will degenerate into impotence. I mean, it might take a few years, but it will happen. And then when you come off the drug you may well find yourself having extremely bad premature ejaculation. Worst of both worlds.
I hear that.
March 19th, 2001. (Basic Facts – continued)
This is the scariest one of them all, and I probably should have put it #1 on my list ahead of the electric shock sensations, but it’s the most difficult one to talk about and I still don’t know what to say about it — except that it was real, very real. I’ve heard many people going through withdrawal talk about this. The reason it’s scary is because it’s not just a feeling; it’s an overwhelming urge, an almost primal drive, a suicidal compulsion that kicks in when the experiences of the withdrawal become too much. There is no way to describe how real this aspect of the withdrawal experience can be. It’s not the kind of thing that is casually discussed because of the fear that everyone is going to think you’re crazy and beyond help, and nobody going through this wants to feel that alienated; the experience is lonely enough without adding that to the list.
The reality of Paxil withdrawal, though, is that it can wear a person down, testing one’s ability to stay civilized on the outside while inwardly the experience is pushing them to the edge of their sanity, of their ability to cope. This I think is the greatest challenge of the withdrawal experience. All of these issues are addressed in the further postings on this blog, but the most I can say for now is to remember that it’s not you — it’s the Paxil withdrawal. It may feel like a living hell that, if you survive it, will have damaged you so badly that’ll never be the person you were before. But it’s not as bad as it feels. I know it because I’ve lived through it. I had the seizures so bad I was convinced that permanent neurological damage was being done to me, and I didn’t want to live to see what the hell was left of me when it was all over with. So on more than one occasion I felt a compulsion to want to get it over with now (and sometimes it wasn’t just an urge but seemed to be a perfectly logical course of action; that’s what’s scary about it).
But just remember it’s the Paxil withdrawal, not you, and that it will pass. I saw a quote from Winston Churchill the other day which I would love to have heard during the worst moments of my withdrawal: “If you find yourself going through hell, keep going.”
(See also Thoughts of Suicide.)
P.S. (Sept. 2006): I realize this could be read as one hell of a depressing blog. No doubt about it. But if you’re already going through withdrawal, reading a blog like this isn’t going to make it any worse. I’m only on the second day of re-posting all this stuff, and I’m already receiving emails from people saying they appreciate it. I don’t like revisiting all these bad memories; I want to get this stuff re-posted as fast as I can — because it’s a bit of a downer, to be honest. But it does seem to bring comfort and reassurance to people who are going through withdrawal or have had recent experience with it. So that’s it — that’s the reason I’m doing this. Beyond that specific demographic, though, I would say, “Move on. Nothing to see here, folks.” Really.
March 21st, 2001. (Basic Facts – continued)
There’s not much that can be done about this, and I’m not sure if anything should be done. A heightened emotional sensitivity is a sign that you’re beginning to have real feelings again, the kind of feelings that Paxil and other SSRIs have a tendency to numb out. What this means for someone withdrawing from paroxetine is that you’re going to feel like crying a lot. Unresolved feelings of any kind that happen to pop into your head will have you bawling and crying and feeling them deeper than you’ve ever felt them before. My advice is to go with it. Don’t hold it back. This may be difficult, especially for men, but falling into the depths of these feelings and coming out the other end is probably the healthiest thing you could do. More the better if you have someone you can turn to and not have to hide these feelings from while they’re happening.
And it doesn’t mean you’re depressed or having some kind of relapse. It’s just the way it goes. It all balances out in the end.
P.S. (June 9, 2010): I was emotionally messed up while I was on Paxil, during my withdrawal, and even more messed up for a couple years afterwards. I had unrealistic ideas of what it meant to be in an intimate relationship (to have a girlfriend), and let me tell you, I was looking for love in all the wrong places. I got tangled up with one particular individual I should have never said hello to, and I spent years of my life obsessing over her. You want to talk about regret? I know all about it. I was nuts. Then add to the mix the crazy emotional sensitivity that kicks in after Paxil withdrawal — and stays around for a long time — I’m surprised I didn’t jump off a bridge in despair over that silly girl. God, I was dumb. Painfully, miserably dumb. My advice: If you find your self-esteem totally wrapped up in the whims of another person who probably doesn’t think much of you unless you’re saying something nice about them, end it now. Politely say goodbye and learn how to run like Forrest Gump; that is, focus on something else. Obsess about something else if you have to, just as long as it’s a thing, not a person. Trust me on this, and do it now.
March 23rd, 2001. (Basic Facts – continued)
Paxil withdrawal can be a killer on all relationships, professional, casual, intimate and familial. So look out.
P.S. (Sept. 2006): Wow, that was a short entry… I’ve decided to remove most of the relationship stuff from Paxil Free, because at the time I wrote it, I was in a bad relationship with someone I thought was absolutely right for me when the truth of the matter is they were absolutely wrong for me. The worst person on the planet I could have ever said hello to. The second biggest mistake of my life next to believing my doctor when he told me going off Paxil cold turkey wouldn’t be a problem. Whatever theories I had about relationships back then we’re more than half-baked. So they’re gone… All I can say about relationships while going through Paxil withdrawal is that I hope you’re in a good one. I don’t know how anyone in the midst of this kind assault on their nervous system manages to work from 9 to 5, manages to take care of kids or meet even a fraction of normal adult responsibilities, including the basic responsibilities that come with being in a relationship.