Tranquilliser Withdrawal

At No Panic, we can’t give advice on medication because we are not qualified to do so, but we can help people who are coming off tranquillisers.

Why come off tranquillisers?

Tranquilisers come under a very wide range of brand names, too many to list here. It is not unknown for people to be taking tablets unaware that they are in fact Tranquillisers. If you are unsure as to whether you are taking Tranquillisers or not check them out with your doctor or chemist. Some people have just stopped taking their tablets and suffered horrendous withdrawal problems. Instead of finding out what medication they were on, they have reverted to taking the tablets again. This could have been avoided if in fact they had known they were taking Tranquillisers and a slow reduction, under supervision could have commenced. There is no doubt that the more you take the more you need to achieve the same effect and it becomes a very slippery slope down which to slide. The sooner you can start to reduce the better as the longer you have been taking them the harder it is to give them up. After a time, usually a couple of months, Tranquillisers have little or no effect and people keep taking them because the body cries out for them in the same way as cigarettes affect people.

It is important to remember that Tranquillisers do have a role to play, in the short term, to help people through a crisis or an unexpected trauma but, long term; they do not provide a cure for anxiety disorders. This can only come from learning to deal with the anxiety which the Tranquillisers have masked. There are many ways to deal with anxiety, without the use of medication.

Coming off Tranquillisers can be hard, but it is worth it.

Our first piece of advice is to check things out with your G.P. before you do anything and discuss with him/her what you want to do.

You have now discussed your decision with your doctor and he/she has agreed that you should try and reduce your intake of Tranquillisers with a view to coming off them completely. Your doctor will have advised you on the rate at which you should reduce your intake. The professional opinion would suggest that to give them up completely takes approximately one month for every year that you have been taking them. However, this figure is only a rough guide and will vary from one person to another depending on things like dosage levels, weight, physical size, etc. Don’t judge your reduction rate by anyone else because we are all different.

Tranquillisers work by suppressing the central nervous system. This means that when you start to reduce your intake of Tranquillisers your nervous system will become more active until such time as your body gets back to normal. So, your suppressed emotions are going to come to the fore and will have to be dealt with. This is why if you try to give them all up straight away your nerves are going to be really “raw” and it may become too much to handle. However, if you are only on a very small amount or have only been on them for a very short time (less than 2 months) giving them up all at once may not create too much of a problem. Some people tell us that they have given up Tranquillisers with no problems at all irrespective of how long they were on them. As we said before, everyone is different.

Because each person is different, it is not possible to describe the withdrawal symptoms that each individual may experience. It is important to remember that when you plan your reduction program you should not try to reduce the dosage by big “chunks”. Small steps are best and will help to minimize withdrawal symptoms. Once you start a reduction do not go back up during “rough” times as it will make things harder in the long run.

Our second piece of advice is don’t go “Cold Turkey”.

Don’t stop taking Tranquillisers all at once. You are ready now to start reducing your intake of Tranquillizers. There are no hard and fast rules as to what the rate should be. We are all different. It really is a matter of trial and error and will depend on your own intake level, the length of time you have been taking them and what type and strength of tranquillisers they are. Don’t rush it; you haven’t got a deadline to meet.

Once you have found the reduction level that you can cope with, stick to it. If you are going through a period of higher stress than normal, during your reduction program, take longer before making the next reduction.

Obviously, this will slow down the overall program but it is better to do this than “pop” extra tablets. One very important thing to do is to practice proper deep muscular relaxation. This can be done using one of our audio exercises or by using our written program.

If you obtain a CD elsewhere, please make sure it is deep muscle relaxation and not relaxing music or about lying on a beach in some foreign hotspot. Don’t just do your relaxation when the going gets tough. The more frequently you do it the sooner it will become an automatic reflex. Prevention is better than cure. Make it part of your life even when you are better as it will help you to stop being anxious and tense in the future.

Another important point to remember is to stick to regular eating habits. It is a well-established fact that if a person’s blood sugar levels fluctuate he/she will be much more prone to anxiety and panic. You should try and eat the same amount at the same times every day. Cut out things like sugary snacks and caffeine. You do not need any extra stimulants like these, as the chances are you are already stimulated enough, by the anxiety of reducing your tranquillisers intake.

Ladies should also bear in mind that they will experience blood sugar level fluctuations during their monthly cycle and so are much more prone to anxiety at this time of the month.

Our third piece of advice is to keep a written record of your progress.

As you reduce your intake, your body will become more able to deal with the normal day-to-day stresses of life. Through a “diary of events” you will be able to monitor your progress and feed on your success. I think you will agree that it is difficult to remember how you got through each day and what tips you used. This is where a diary will help and it shows you all that you have achieved. Success breeds success.

Our fourth piece of advice is that you should talk to others who have given up Tranquillisers.

One of the biggest problems with coming off Tranquillisers is the loneliness you may feel. Try and find out if there is a support group in your area – your doctor or local health centre may be able to help you. Perhaps consider putting your name in our “Contact Book” (Members only). Also, don’t forget that the No Panic help-line is there for you to talk to, 10 am to 10 pm every day of the week 365 days of the year.  

Our final piece of advice is to stick with it.

The benefits are worth the effort. “No Pain – No Gain”. You may well go through some challenging times. Sometimes you may be short-tempered and irritable so warn your family and friends. We feel sure that if you explain, to them, what you are trying to do, they will give you some much-needed and appreciated support.

The rate at which a person can reduce their intake of Tranquillisers usually increases as the daily intake decreases. So, the road you are about to travel on may not be as long as you first thought. Don’t sit around thinking how bad you feel, it will only make it harder. Keep yourself occupied with something that isn’t too stressful.

The feelings you will experience cannot harm you and eventually, they will reduce and subside. You may also experience some physical pain but this is only due to the tension in your muscles. It is not a sign of some major physical illness.

Colin Hammond’s Story of Coming Off Tranquillisers


Colin was the founder of No Panic and won the MBE for his hard work for running the charity and how this contributed to mental health awareness. Here is his own story on how he reduced and stopped taking tranquillisers.

I have written down my experience, with regard to giving up Tranquillisers, in the hope that it will be of help and encouragement to others who are, or want to do, the same.

I was on minor Tranquillisers (Valium and Ativan) for approximately 15 years and my intake peaked at about 15 milligrams of Ativan per day although, I “popped” extra ones whenever I felt a little bit tense or was under any pressure, no matter how small. I also suffered from agoraphobia and was about to start therapy with a cognitive/behaviour therapist and before beginning my agoraphobia recovery program he insisted, quite rightly, that I reduce my intake of Tranquillisers.

My initial target was to reduce my intake, agreed at 14 milligrams per day, by ½ milligram per month thus coming down to 13½ milligrams by the end of month one. However, towards the end, I was able to reduce by ½ a milligram per fortnight. Overall the program took about 18 months to complete. I know some people have done it more quickly and others more slowly but I did as I was instructed and it worked for me.

The side-effects were somewhat frightening and one of these developed into a fear of going to sleep whilst it was dark. Our curtains would be closed and the lights switched on before it got dark so that I could not see it getting dark. My wife would sit with me until I fell asleep. This put enormous pressure on her and I shall be forever grateful for her support and dedication.

I saw strange things crawling up the walls, sitting in a corner shaking, crying and thinking I was going insane or dying. I also became terrified of being in a room on my own and even when I went to the bathroom I had to have the door slightly open. I hasten to add that this period did not last many weeks and somehow I got through it with the help of my family, keeping occupied with jigsaws and with my relaxation audiocassette playing, in the background, all day long. I got through some audiocassettes I can tell, you as I kept on wearing them out.

It was absolute hell for the first three months but gradually my mind began to get its act together and things slowly but surely improved until, by the end of the 18 months, I was off Tranquillisers completely. Life really was worth living again. I began to experience the nicer things in life without the blurred effects of the Tranquillisers. The nerves around my eyes became properly sensitive and I had to have the strength of my glasses reduced. I was aware that Tranquillisers could put on weight and as I came off them my weight reduced back to what it had been before I was put on them. My taste buds returned to normal and I was once again able to enjoy my food.

All in all, it was a very frightening ordeal and experience but well worth it because the alternative was to take more and more Tranquillisers as my body became immune to the set dosage and needed extra to have any effect or just to cope with day-to-day living.

To anyone thinking of trying to give up Tranquillisers my message is “Go for it” because the rewards are so great but, if you are going to go for it please make it a planned program. Don’t try and do it alone.

How can No Panic help?
No Panic specialises in self-help recovery and our services include:
Providing people with the skills they need to manage their condition and work towards recovery.
Our aim is to give you all of the necessary advice, tools and support that you will need to recover and carry out this journey. No Panic Recovery Programs

Find out more……….

Further reading from the NHS Overview-Antidepressants  
Treatment – Generalised anxiety disorder in adults

Stopping antidepressants-Royal College of Psychiatrists


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1 thought on “Tranquilliser Withdrawal”

  1. I had been on anti-depressants for almost twenty years and at the age of 62 finally had the courage to come off them. I spoke to a doctor who told me it would be “like coming off heroin” and it was. It took me 18 months and I received no support from my medical centre. I honestly don’t know how I did it. There are plusses and minuses now for me. (I am now 67). I started with a hacking cough, breathlessness and palpitations and one of the doctors actually said that she didn’t know what to do with me. I asked to pay privately to see some-one because I didn’t know what was happening to me and she said she didn’t know of anyone. I didn’t bother going back for a good twelve months and just put up with things. Then I got an appointment last June with another doctor who was more helpful and he referred me for talking therapies. This didn’t transpire and last Oct I was so distressed I was suicidal. He said he wanted to see me every two weeks but since January I have not been able to get an appointment and each time I try, and fail I feel more defeated. I finally got placed on a seven week Anxiety Management program which confuses me some weeks so I don’t know now, how beneficial it will be. I would say to anyone who is thinking of coming off their medication to be extremely careful unless you have a good supportive relationship with a particular doctor. I also think it is worth adding, that I come from a generation who is not used to “negotiating” with a doctor and can feel uncomfortable doing so.

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