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 tranquilizers.
Tranquillizers -Why come off?
Tranquillizers 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 Tranquillizers. If you are unsure as to whether you are taking Tranquillizers 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 Tranquillizers 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, Tranquillizers 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 Tranquillizers 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 Tranquillizers have masked. There are many ways to deal with anxiety, without the use of medication, and our other booklets give information on how this can be achieved.
Coming off Tranquillizers can be hard, but it is worth it
Our first piece of advice is 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 Tranquillizers with a view to coming off them completely. Your doctor will have advised you on the rate at which you should reduce your intake. 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.
Tranquillizers work by suppressing the central nervous system. This means that when you start to reduce your intake of Tranquillizers 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 Tranquillizers 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 Tranquillizers 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 tranquillizers 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 CD’s 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 tranquillizers 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 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. So a diary will help and it also show you what you have achieved. Success breeds success.
Our fourth piece of advice is that you should talk to others
who have given up Tranquillizers.
One of the biggest problems with coming off Tranquillizers is the loneliness you feel as we tend not to know others who are going through a similar problem. Try and find out if there is a support group in your area – your doctor or practice manger may be able to help you to track one down. Perhaps consider putting your name in our “Contact Book” (Members only) and don’t forget the No Panic help-line is there for you to talk to, 10-00am to 10-00pm every day. Talking to others will certainly help you to cope and also, reduce your loneliness.
Our final piece of advice is stick with it.
The benefits are worth the effort. “No Pain – No Gain”
You may well go through some “sticky” times. Sometimes you may be “ratty” 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 much needed and appreciated support.
The rate at which a person can reduce their intake of Tranquillizers usually increases as the daily intake decreases. So, the road you are about to travel 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, e.g. jigsaws and painting.
The feelings you will experience cannot harm you and eventually they do go away and life will return to normal. 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 or disaster.
Read Colin Hammond’s story below
Colin Hammond’s Story of Coming of Tranquillizers
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.
I have written down my experience, with regard to giving up Tranquillizers, 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 Tranquillizers (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 programme he insisted, quite rightly, that I reduce my intake of Tranquillizers.
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 programme 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 or father would sit with me until I fell asleep. This put enormous pressure on them and I shall be forever grateful for their support and dedication.
I saw strange things crawling up the walls, sat 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 Tranquillizers completely. Life really was worth living again. I began to experience the nicer things in life without the blurred effects of the Tranquillizers. The nerves around my eyes became properly sensitive and I had to have the strength of my glasses reduced. I was aware that Tranquillizers 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 Tranquillizers 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 Tranquillizers 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 programme. Finally, I, like everyone else, have periods of stress when I could easily “pop” a pill. However, it is now over 12 years since I did that and I now feel confident that I can cope without taking the dreaded pill.
P.S. Strangely enough I have still got some Tranquillizers left in the last bottle I ever had. My doctor says that as they are over 12 years old they aren’t any good but I still keep them perhaps, in a way, I am reminding myself of what I have achieved. Anyway there they are, in the cupboard and there they will stay. I feel I have the will-power never to take one but I still can’t bring myself to throw them away.