Venlafaxine (Effexor): What Is It? Is Effexor Addictive?

Last Updated: December 19, 2019

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

What is venlafaxine? Venlafaxine is a medication that is used to treat depression and anxiety. Venlafaxine HCl is sold under the brand name Effexor. It may be available as oral capsules or tablets under a generic name. Venlafaxine ER and venlafaxine IR are the Effexor generic names with different pharmacological actions. Children younger than 18 years of age should not take this medication. It is required to consult a healthcare provider to define the suitable product form of the Effexor drug and effective Effexor dosage according to the patient’s medical condition. Effexor medication can cause several side effects; however, using this drug without medical supervision may cause significant health damage and lead to venlafaxine addiction development.

What Is Venlafaxine?

Venlafaxine is a prescription medication. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993. It was first developed by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., which was eventually bought by Pfizer. Except for the common use of Effexor for anxiety and major depressive disorder, it can also be used for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

Venlafaxine ER vs. Venlafaxine IR

Oral tablets of the venlafaxine trade name may be available in immediate-release (IR), and extended-release (ER) formulations in the tablets form only.

What are venlafaxine ER tablets? Venlafaxine HCl ER is an extended-release formulation of the drug. Venlafaxine HCL ER has fewer side effects than venlafaxine brand name; however, it has no advantage over immediate-release formulation in reducing Effexor withdrawal effects. Effexor half-life of the immediate-release formulation is five hours. While the extended-release formulation half-life is about 12 hours. Effexor cost is usually cheaper in immediate-release than extended-release formulation.

Effexor XR

What is Effexor XR drug? Effexor XR is the sustained-released form of venlafaxine hydrochloride. Effexor XR capsules are only available as extended-release formulation. Effexor XR is characterized by extending the plasma-concentration time of the drug (while venlafaxine IR formulation usually takes about 4 to 6 weeks to appear its effects).

Why has Effexor been discontinued in the US? The original formula of Effexor was discontinued from the U.S. market because it was required for the patient to take 2 to 3 doses daily, while Effexor XR can be taken once daily. Moreover, Effexor XR causes less nausea than the original formula.

Effexor Lawsuit

The plaintiffs continued to used Effexor during pregnancy. As a result, the plaintiff’s daughter Adelaide was born with severe cardiac defects due to Effexor use during pregnancy. The fatal malformations led to death after a girl was born by a few hours. Plaintiffs in venlafaxine lawsuits have claimed that Pfizer didn’t warn patients about the risks of birth defects. Since then, two more Effexor lawsuits against Pfizer for birth defects have been filed.

Venlafaxine also increases suicidal thinking among people under the age of 24. For this reason, it is not recommended to use it for younger patients. Several Effexor XR class-action lawsuits against the company were done. Effexor class-action lawsuits are being filed by those who were harmed either due to congenital disabilities or suicidal thoughts. These patients may be eligible to receive an Effexor lawsuit settlement from Pfizer.

Effexor Lawsuit and Prescription Regulation

Effexor Prescription And Regulation

Psychiatrists, regular health care providers, and psychologists are doctors who authorized to prescribe venlafaxine. Getting this medication without a prescription is punishable by federal law. Under the United States Code Controlled Substances Act, the penalties are as follows:

  • A first offense is punishable with up to one year in prison and a fine up to $1,000.
  • A second offense can be punished with between 15 days and two years in prison, along with a maximum fine of $2,500.

Doctors should also follow the guidelines for prescribing venlafaxine. The following are some guidelines for prescribing venlafaxine:

  • A doctor may start treating with venlafaxine with a low dose and gradually increasing it.
  • A doctor shouldn’t prescribe venlafaxine at high doses (300 mg/day or more) to avoid the risk of overdosing effects unless a hard health condition requires so.
  • The healthcare provider should ask a patient about all medications that are taken before prescribing venlafaxine to avoid the risk of clinically significant venlafaxine interactions with these medications.
  • It is not recommended to prescribe it in patients with an uncontrolled increase in blood pressure or who have a cardiac impairment.
  • The healthcare provider may adjust the antidepressant venlafaxine dose for patients with hepatic or renal problems. When comparing the use of Pristiq vs. Effexor for patients with hepatic problems, Pristiq can be safely used for those patients.

Effexor Warnings

Effexor may be a dangerous medication if it used without following the medication warnings. It is recommended for a patient to adhere to the following warning instructions of using venlafaxine to avoid adverse health complications:

  • It is important to stick to the antidepressant Effexor dose as prescribed by the medical provider with misusing or taking an overdose of the drug. Misusing a dose may trigger dysphoria.
  • The medication can be taken with food. However, some foods such as grapefruit could interact with venlafaxine and may cause dangerous side effects such as nervousness and tachycardia. It is recommended to consult a medical provider about the types of foods that may interact with venlafaxine to avoid severe interaction effects.
  • It is preferred to swallow tablets without crushing or chewing with a glass of water. The is a powder form of a drug available for making a liquid substance for those patients who cannot swallow tablets.
  • It is recommended to notify the medical provider immediately if any sign of an allergic reaction to venlafaxine appears. Rash, itchy hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing are some signs of venlafaxine allergic reactions.
  • A patient who uses venlafaxine may experience weight change. Effexor weight gain and loss are not mandatory symptoms of taking the drug, but they are quite common. It is advised to consult a doctor if any of these symptoms are very pronounced and disturb the patient.
  • It is not advised for a patient to lower the medication dose or changing the drug by another antidepressant medication without a doctor’s consultation. Changing venlafaxine medication with another one or lowering its dose may increase the risk of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Stopping the medication suddenly without a doctor’s advice may also develop venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms such as agitation, anxiety, and confusion. A healthcare provider only can define the schedule for dose gradual decreasing without severe consequences.
  • It is not recommended to take the medication if a patient has taken a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) drug such as phenelzine and selegiline within the last 14 days. The use of monoamine oxidase inhibitor medications concomitantly with venlafaxine or within 7 days of discontinuing treatment with Effexor is contraindicated. Using both medications at the same time increase the risk of serotonin syndrome.
  • Taking this medication during pregnancy, especially in the last few months of pregnancy or during breastfeeding without a doctor consultation may cause severe Effexor side effects on the baby.
  • Do not drink alcohol while taking venlafaxine. When Effexor of alcohol are taken together, Effexor can increase the side effects of alcohol on the body, such as dizziness and difficulty concentrating. Also, alcohol can augment the sleepiness effect of venlafaxine.
  • Do not self-medicate and do not start using Effexor without a doctor’s prescription as there is a high change or addition to Effexor that may develop.
  • Seeking Effexor alternatives without a doctor’s advice may increase the risk of dangerous interaction effects.
  • It is advised to get the drug from registered drugstores and should ensure the legitimacy of online pharmacies before buying it.
  • Avoid buying the medication from illegitimate pharmacies or on the streets.
  • Keep the medication pills or capsules away from the children.
  • Venlafaxine tablets and capsules should be stored at room temperature (20°C to 25°C) away from moisture and heat in a tightly sealed container. Avoid storing this medication in areas where it could get damp or moist, such as bathrooms.
  • Call 911 for an emergency or call another local medical emergency service in case if there is suspected Effexor overdose.

abuse of effexor

Effexor Abuse Statistics

Only very little data on venlafaxine abuse in the U.S. are available. A study published in the US National Library of Medicine reported a case of a 38-year-old male with a history of depression and amphetamine dependence misused venlafaxine by crushing tablets and misused venlafaxine by inhalation to manage severe depression, taking up to 1,500 mg per day. The same study also described a case of a 53-year-old male who used up to 3,750 mg at a time to feel “more empathic and sociable” and “elated” mood.

Analysis of European data with 47,516 people who were prescribed venlafaxine, found that just over 200 people (0.45%) met criteria for abuse. The largest problem from venlafaxine use is withdrawal symptoms associated with antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (ADS).

Venlafaxine Abuse And Addiction Signs

Is Effexor addictive? Effexor is not physiologically addictive, but the psychological addiction to venlafaxine is possible. Effexor addiction occurs when a person misuses it or combine with other medications to get high. Persons with anxiety or depression may abuse venlafaxine to try to elevate mood by increasing the dose. Some teenagers may also try to get the drug illegally to get venlafaxine high effects.

Effexor abuse may also appear after taking the drug in larger or more frequent doses without doctor consultation. If someone is addicted to a drug, the following signs, and symptoms of Effexor addiction may appear:

  • A person may take higher doses of the drug than the healthcare provider prescribed.
  • A person may consume Venlafaxine more frequently.
  • A patient may try to get many prescriptions of the drug from different doctors.
  • A person fakes depression symptoms to get venlafaxine from a medical provider.
  • A person may have financial problems caused by spending a lot of money on buying the medication for keeping the addiction.
  • A patient has cravings for venlafaxine.
  • A person may try to buy the medication illegally on the street.
  • Stealing the medication of another person.
  • Addicted persons may try to hide medication bottles as well as hide or deny too frequent use of a drug.

Effexor Addiction Prevention And Treatment

Even though Effexor addiction mostly bears a physiological character, it may cause a lot of discomforts, harm to health, and even lead to overdose and death.

To avoid the risk of Effexor addiction development, the following recommendations should be considered:

  • One should take the medication after getting a prescription from a health care provider, do not exceed the dose, and do not break the reception schedule.
  • It is recommended not to mix any drugs and other substances with Effexor without a doctor’s advice to avoid the risk of interaction effects and addiction development.
  • A person should get the medication legally from legitimate pharmacies and avoiding getting it on the street or from the drug dealers.
  • Do not stop taking the medication suddenly without doctor consultation. The best way to weaning off Effexor is to develop a tapering program with the medical provider.

Treating Effexor addiction under medical direction would prevent the risk of dangerous complications of addiction to this drug. There are many effective treatment options for treating venlafaxine addiction in the U.S. Some people with severe forms of addiction may enter a detox program before transitioning into rehab. If the addiction to Effexor occurred, it’s recommended to find a suitable rehab facility. Also, counseling for Effexor addiction aims to help people change attitudes and behaviors around using the medication.

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Published on: November 29th, 2019

Updated on: December 19th, 2019

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.


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