What Happens To Your Body When You Skip Your Anti-Anxiety Medication

The decision to start anti-anxiety medication is a deeply personal one often fraught with tension, uncertainty, and confusion. Those that make the decision often expect to be on the medication for an extended period of time, particularly if their anxiety is chronic rather than situational. Unless those people are very organized — or very lucky — it's inevitable that they're going to miss a dose.

Much like going on anti-anxiety medication, missing a dose leaves people with questions and concerns. After all, they were likely warned by their medical providers to never stop their medication cold turkey, a warning echoed by the Canadian Women's Health Network. The Network explains that quitting cold turkey can lead to intensely uncomfortable and even dangerous side effects. Instead of quitting, they suggest working with a doctor to create a tapering schedule where the medication level is reduced until the patient is able to stop taking it entirely.

Abruptly going off your medication is, clearly, ill-advised. But will missing one dose do the same thing? Will you still experience symptoms? Or does it take a few missed doses before your body reacts? That, it turns out, depends on the medication.

Each situation is unique

Black Bear Lodge, a rehabilitation center in Georgia, lists several medications and the side effects of cutting them off abruptly. People on lithium, for example, may experience severe mood swings and a sense of mania if the medication was meant as a mood stabilizer. Benzodiazepines, a common form of anti-anxiety medication, can cause withdrawal symptoms like heart palpitations, seizures, tremors, insomnia, and hallucinations. Even drug companies themselves, such as Effexor, advise against a sudden end to medication use because the risk of side effects is too great.

Missing just one dose, however, is a slightly murkier topic. On a Mayo Clinic community board, a Mayo Clinic Connect director explained to one patient that Effexor has "a short half-life," meaning the body processes it fairly quickly. Because of this, missing even one dose can lead to side effects within hours. Other medications may take longer to produce symptoms and in some cases you may take your next dose before the symptoms start. Though, as the Effexor website outlines, never take a double dose to make up for a missed dose, as this can be dangerous.

Skipping one dose of anti-anxiety medication may have no effect. Or it may cause symptoms that range from nausea to anxiety spikes. It all depends on the specific medication and its prescribed dose. For this reason, patients can only be sure of the potential side effects by asking their doctor.