Effexor Review: The Best Depression Relief Medication?

Effexor Review: The Best Depression Relief Medication?


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​​Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to prescription medication.

Effexor is a prescription medication approved by the FDA to treat depression, and the generic name for the drug is venlafaxine. These two terms refer to the same active chemical compound, so they'll be referred to interchangeably throughout this article.

But is Effexor proven to be effective for both anxiety and depression? Does the drug cause any concerning side effects? What about withdrawal symptoms? And how do real users rate Effexor's ability to reduce their depression and anxiety symptoms?

In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more, as we review medical studies on Effexor to determine whether or not it's effective for the treatment of depression and anxiety.

We'll document the drug's side effects and withdrawal symptoms, compare Effexor to its generic alternative and feature unsponsored patient reviews.

Is Effexor Proven to Work?

Effexor was initially approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1998, so there are a large number of clinical trials testing its effectiveness.

A 2011 meta-study analyzed data from over 1,000 patients and compared the effectiveness of Effexor with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs for the treatment of depression.

After six months, 35.5% of patients on Effexor experienced remission of depression symptoms (meaning their symptoms were reduced or eliminated), compared to 32% of patients on SSRIs. 

A medical review published in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience journal compared Effexor to other leading antidepressants. The study authors noted that Effexor was more effective than SSRIs for major depression.

Effexor has also been proven to be effective for treating anxiety.

A meta-review analyzed 14 clinical studies on Effexor for anxiety, and found that the drug reduced anxiety scores significantly more than placebo pills.

A clinical trial published in the British Journal of Psychiatry tested Effexor in patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). After 24 weeks of treatment, patients using Effexor experienced a 47% average reduction in anxiety scores.

We will conclude from the available data that Effexor is effective for treating both depression and anxiety, which is unsurprising given that the medication is approved by the FDA for the treatment of both conditions.

Does Effexor Cause Side Effects?

Effexor black box warning

Like many other prescription drugs for anxiety and depression, Effexor may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or actions.

This risk appears to only affect children, adolescents and young adults, so individuals in those groups (or their guardian) may wish to speak with their doctor about alternative medications that don't confer this risk.

A 2016 medical review described Effexor as "more dangerous" than SSRI drugs due to increased risk of cardiovascular events and increased risk of blood pressure elevation. The review also noted more fatal overdoses from Effexor than from similar drugs.

A review published in the Expert Opinion on Investigational Drugs journal describes the most common side effects of Effexor which are relatively mild: nausea, sedation, dizziness, dry mouth and sweating.

Sexual side effects appear to primarily affect men, and may cause erection issues and delayed ejaculation.

Given the range of common and severe side effects described in this section, it may be worthwhile for patients to speak with their doctor about alternative depression or anxiety medications that have less risk of side effects.

Real People Try Effexor

A YouTube creator named Brei DelGiudice shared her experience after taking Effexor for two years:

A TikTok creator named "itsthekatshow" describes the pros and cons she experienced on Effexor after six months of use:

@itsthekatshow Replying to @mentalhealthwithkat #greenscreen ♬ original sound - KAT

Does Effexor Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?

Effexor does cause withdrawal symptoms in some patients if the drug is stopped abruptly. 

A medical review published in the Medscape General Medicine journal documents that Effexor withdrawal may affect motor skills and coordination so severely that patients should be urged not to drive a car if they are quitting the drug, to protect themselves and other individuals.

The study also reports the following withdrawal symptoms: confusion, impaired coordination, sensory disturbances, vertigo, delirium, strokelike symptoms, and depersonalization.

It's important that patients taking Effexor speak with their doctor prior to discontinuing use of the drug, because a doctor can set up a tapering schedule that allows the patient to slowly decrease use of the drug rather than stop abruptly. This reduces the risk of withdrawal symptoms.

A YouTube creator named Alexandra Stott published a video explaining the withdrawal symptoms she experienced coming off of Effexor:

Is the Generic as Effective?

Patients are often curious about whether venlafaxine (the generic form of Effexor) is as effective as the brand-name version, given that generic drugs are often cheaper.

medical review analyzing millions of data points compared the effectiveness and safety of brand-name and generic drugs, and found that there was no benefit, on average, to taking the brand-name medications.

Both generic and branded versions of a drug were equivalently effective and safe. This suggests that generic venlafaxine should be just as effective as brand-name Effexor.

We typically recommend that patients speak with their doctor about the generic version of drugs, given the equivalent efficacy and potential cost savings.

The retail price of Effexor XR is currently over $600 according to GoodRx.

The retail price of venlafaxine XR is currently under $10 at Cost Plus Drugs.

Does Effexor Cause Weight Gain?

Patients are often curious if Effexor causes weight gain as an unintended side effect, because some mental health medications have this effect.

Effexor does appear to be associated with weight gain in clinical studies.

A 2015 meta-study analyzed data on the effects of various antidepressants on weight. The study authors noted that Effexor was associated with "significant weight gain." 12.5% of patients taking Effexor reported a weight gain of 20% or more.

The only antidepressant in the above-linked review not associated with weight gain was fluoxetine, although that drug has its own unique risk of side effects as we documented in our fluoxetine reviews article.

In light of this information, it may be beneficial for overweight or obese patients to speak with their doctor about fluoxetine as a potential alternative medication.

Patients Rate Effexor

Drugs.com is a website that allows prescription medication patients to rate and review the drugs they're taking.

We cannot verify the accuracy or authenticity of any reviews on this site.

Effexor has been reviewed over 400 times on Drugs.com, with an average review rating of 5.5 out of 10 for depression.

The top positive review comes from a user named "Alex" who gives the drug a 9/10 rating, and claims it helped improve their mental state and quality of life:

"I really do believe this drug helped calm my nervous system enough so that I was able to function normally again, and so far after the first month I don't experience side effects at all."

The top negative review is written by a user named "Kimeska" who gives the drug a 1/10 rating, and claims claims one single dose caused severe side effects:

"First came the spaced out phase where I couldn’t remember where I was or what I was doing. The tremors? So violent that I couldn’t walk or talk or hold things. My husband came home to find me in the fetal position on the floor shaking violently. Let’s not forget hearing and seeing things that weren’t there. Another thing I noticed was that one second I was laughing then the next crying. It was so scary and I couldn’t stop it from happening."

Our Mental Wellness Recommendation

Brightside Health is our top online therapy pick, as this platform connects patients with licensed therapists and doctors from the comfort of their home.

medical review published in the Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy journal found that online therapy was equally effective to in-person therapy for treating depression, anxiety and PTSD. 

Brightside also can connect patients with licensed psychiatrists that can prescribe medication. Some patients choose only therapy, some choose only medication, and some choose both.

The brand reports that 86% of members feel significantly better within 12 weeks of treatment.

Patients with and without health insurance can use Brightside. For many patients with health insurance, treatment is entirely covered by insurance.

The cost for medication without health insurance is capped at $95/month, and the cost for therapy without health insurance is capped at $299/month at the time of updating this article.

Interested patients can check out Brightside at this link to the brand's official website.

How Does Effexor Work?

Effexor inhibits reuptake of two important neurotransmitters: norepinephrine and serotonin.

This means that the medication slows the body’s ability to process these chemical compounds, which allows them to circulate in the brain at higher concentrations than they would otherwise.

This makes Effexor a member of a drug class called serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

Both norepinephrine and serotonin play a role in mood regulation, and by artificially elevating their circulating levels in the brain, it's proposed that Effexor normalizes brain function in anxious and depressed patients.

The most common class of antidepressants is called SSRI, as referenced earlier, and this type of drug increases brain levels of serotonin but not norepinephrine.

Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

Effexor is effective for treating both depression and anxiety, but it comes with the risk of serious side effects like cardiovascular events and suicidal thoughts in some patient populations. 

The medication is also associated with the risk of sexual side effects (particularly in men) and weight gain.

Effexor does cause withdrawal symptoms in some patients, and those symptoms can be so severe that patients are advised to avoid driving when quitting the drug. Tapering off Effexor can help reduce the severity of withdrawals.

For patients who want to try Effexor, we would recommend speaking with a doctor about the generic form venlafaxine instead, because it should be just as effective but may be significantly cheaper (especially for patients without health insurance).

Average patient ratings for Effexor on Drugs.com are relatively mediocre, but it's challenging to verify the validity of ratings on that site.