When people who suffer from manic-depression take Lithium, their mood stabilizes. However, taking Lithium produces side effects. The most common are weight gain, thirst and excessive urination. Other people report having tiredness, dry mouth, diarrhea, loss of appetite and kidney problems. A smaller percentage of people experience skin problems and hair loss. Therefore, many people wish to stop taking Lithium at some point. Before doing so, there are some considerations based mainly on case studies.
The most pressing concern regarding ceasing this medication is relapse. A study by Stuppes and colleagues (1991) found that more than 50% of manic episodes occurred 3 months after stopping Lithium. People also report having increased anxiety, irritability and emotional changes after withdrawing from this drug.
Gradual withdrawal of Lithium, however, lowers the risk of relapse. The slower you withdraw from this medication, the better your outcome will be.
If you do decide to stop taking Lithium, it is best to have a plan. You can introduce other types of therapy into your life to make up for the loss of Lithium. You have to consider the timing for stopping this medication, too. You should not stop taking Lithium during times of stress.
A 58-year old woman with manic-depression began taking 800 to 1,600 mgs per day of Lithium. Six years later she asked to stop. She gradually stopped after a two-month period. At that point, her husband reported that she was unwell. She was confused and anxious, but not depressed. A small dose of Lithium was re-administered for 10 days, and she improved. After stopping again, she required hospitalization. She was unkempt and had an impaired consciousness. The patient again took Lithium and recovered.
The longer you have been taking Lithium, the more your brain and body have adapted to the drug. If you have been on Lithium for over 2 years, you should probably not reduce any quicker than 10% a month. If you do decide you want to stop taking Lithium, you should always consult your doctor. A regular review of each case is recommended.