A drug holiday (sometimes also called a drug vacation, medication vacation, structured treatment interruption or strategic treatment interruption) is when a patient stops taking a medication(s) for a period of time; anywhere from a few days to many months or even years if they feel it is in their best interests.
Planned drug holidays are used in numerous fields of medicine. They are perhaps best known in HIV therapy, after a study showed that stopping medication may stimulate the immune system to attack the virus.
As a treatment for HIV
HIV selectively targets activated helper T-cells. Thus, over time, HIV will tend to selectively destroy those helper T-cells most capable of fighting the HIV infection off, effectively desensitizing the immune system to the infection. The purpose of a structured treatment interruption is to create a short interval in which the virus becomes common enough to stimulate reproduction of T-cells capable of fighting the virus.
A 2006 HIV literature review noted that "two studies suggested that so-called drug holidays were of no benefit and might actually harm patients, while a third study suggested that the idea might still have value and should be revisited."
In addition to drug holidays that are intended for therapeutic effect, they are sometimes used to reduce drug side effects so that patients may enjoy a more normal life for a period of time such as a weekend or holiday, or engage in a particular activity. For example, it is common for patients using SSRI anti-depressant therapies to take a drug holiday to reduce or avoid side effects associated with sexual dysfunction.
In the treatment of mental illness, a drug holiday may be part of a progression toward treatment cessation. The holiday is also a tool to assess a drug's benefits against unwanted side effects, assuming that both will dissipate after an extended vacation.
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- Rothschild, A.J. (October 1995). "Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor-induced sexual dysfunction: efficacy of a drug holiday". American Journal of Psychiatry. 152 (10): 1514–6. PMID 7573593. doi:10.1176/ajp.152.10.1514.