The Side Effects of Lithium: Why Some People Decide to Quit

Lithium has been the go-to medication for people with mood disorders for years. Its effects can be felt immediately and have been used to treat various conditions over the years. Although it can be effective in treating some conditions, there are many reasons to consider quitting lithium.

In this article, I will discuss the various benefits of quitting lithium and the risks associated with staying on it for too long.

Lithium Brief Overview

Lithium is a metal that can be consumed in one’s nutritional diet, primarily in grains and vegetables. You can also find several forms people take as supplements. This element comes from the word “lithos,” the Greek term for rock, as it is included in nearly all kinds of rocks in modest amounts. It can aid mental problems by intensifying the action of neurotransmitters in the brain. 

Additionally, lithium may have potential in areas such as blood cell development. It is also taken as a supplement for conditions such as alcohol use disorder, Alzheimer’s, depression, and more, but there is little scientific evidence to support these uses.

overview lithium

Lithium Key Facts

Here are some key facts about lithium to help you bring essential information and help dispel myths.

  • The usual side effects of taking lithium are feeling sick or throwing up, having diarrhea, a dry mouth, and a yucky metal taste in your mouth.
  • Your doctor will take some blood from you every so often to check how much lithium is in your blood. They’ll write down the results in your lithium notebook.
  • Lithium carbonate comes in two forms: regular tablets and a kind called modified release (you might know it by brand names like Priadel, Camcolit, and Liskonum)
  • For some people, lithium can help calm the brain and reduce manic episodes and suicidal thoughts.
  • Lithium is one way to treat some mental health conditions, and a psychiatrist usually prescribes it. Your doctor will decide if it’s a good fit for you.

Lithium Toxicity Level

Lithium overdose can be hazardous and even fatal if not treated immediately. Signs of lithium overdose are pretty obvious, but ignoring them can lead to severe problems like a coma, brain damage, or even death. Also, lithium can cause a serious condition called serotonin syndrome, which can be fatal if left untreated.

  • A safe amount of lithium in the blood is between 0.6 and 1.2 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L). 
  • Lithium overdose can happen if the level reaches 1.5 mEq/L or higher. 
  • Severe lithium overdose occurs when the level is 2.0 mEq/L or higher. This can be life-threatening in some cases. 
  • It is considered a medical emergency if the level reaches 3.0 mEq/L or higher.

When taking lithium, it’s essential to be careful about how much and when you take it. It’s easy to accidentally take too much, like taking an extra pill, mixing it with other medicines, or not drinking enough water. In 2014, there were a lot of reports of people having lithium overdoses in the United States, with around 6,850 cases.

Medication Lithium

“Lithium is the lightest metal, but it has the heaviest responsibilities.” 

– Anonymous

How to Come Off From Lithium Safely

No matter the reason you want to stop taking lithium, it’s best to do so with the help of a doctor, but here’s how you can come off from lithium safely:

  • Risks: Before you quit taking your meds, it’s best to know if there could be any risks or side effects on your physical or mental health. A doctor can tell you more about the risks and help you make a decision that can make you more healthy.
  • Safety: It’s better to stop taking medicine slowly instead of all at once. A doctor can help you figure out the best way to stop taking lithium without any significant problems gradually.
  • Side effects: people can have withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking their medicine. If you keep your doctor in the loop, they can help you through it and make the process easier.

Coming off lithium requires patience and persistence.” 

– Anonymous

Stopping lithium might not make you physically sick, but there’s a chance that your bipolar disorder symptoms might come back. That’s why it’s essential to have a doctor involved and to have their support during the process.

What Are Some Reasons to Quit Lithium?

Here are a few reasons some people might choose to quit lithium:

  1. Side effects: Some people may experience uncomfortable side effects while taking lithium, such as tremors, weight gain, or dry mouth. These side effects may be severe enough to make people want to stop taking the medication.
  1. Lack of effectiveness: Lithium may not effectively control some individuals’ bipolar disorder symptoms. In these cases, people may stop taking the medication and try other treatment options.
  1. Pregnancy: Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant may choose to stop taking lithium due to concerns about potential risks to the developing fetus.
  1. Other medical conditions: Some people may have other medical conditions that make it difficult or dangerous to take lithium. For example, a doctor may advise people with kidney or thyroid problems to stop taking lithium.
  1. Alternative treatment options: People may stop taking lithium if they find alternative treatment options that work better for them, such as therapy or other medications.
  1. Prolonged use: Certain individuals may be worried about the dangers of prolonged lithium use, such as kidney or thyroid harm, and may opt to cease taking it as a precautionary measure.
  1. Inadequacy of monitoring: Regular checking of lithium levels is required for safety reasons; if an individual does not have access to regular checking or has no doctor to watch the lithium levels, it’s best to discontinue taking in.
  1. Personal decision: Some persons may prefer not to consume this medicine and may pick to discontinue using lithium in place of other types of treatment, e.g., lifestyle change, therapy, or other alternative treatments.
Medicine with Lithium

“Quitting lithium can be a difficult decision, but it’s important to listen to your body and your instincts.” 

– Anonymous

It’s important to note that discontinuing lithium should be done under the supervision of a doctor. They can help you evaluate the pros and cons of continuing lithium for your specific case and help you with tapering off slowly and safely.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


The decision to quit lithium, a medication commonly used to treat bipolar disorder, should be made in consultation with a healthcare professional. Reasons to consider discontinuing lithium may include concerns about side effects, the desire to explore alternative treatments, or the achievement of stable mood and mental health with the help of other therapies.

However, abrupt discontinuation without medical guidance can have serious consequences, so it’s crucial to discuss any decision to quit lithium with a qualified healthcare provider to ensure a safe and effective transition.

Author’s Note

In conclusion, there are many reasons someone may choose to quit taking lithium. These include potential side effects, the need to find an alternative treatment, or the desire to pursue a more natural approach to managing mental health. However, it is essential to discuss any decision to stop taking lithium with a doctor and ensure that an appropriate treatment plan is in place before discontinuing use. Thanks for reading!

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