How2Quit : Sleeping Pills and Benzodiazepines

Use the following guidelines alongside our How to Quit Action Plan in Part 4 of the How To Quit book.

Please note all page and chapter references in this article are from How to Quit.

You need to have proper medically supervised slow drug withdrawal, but your symptoms will be greatly reduced by following our How to Quit Action Plan. Usually this gradual tapering of the more addictive and potentially dangerous benzos such as Zanex or Clonopine involves gradually replacing them with a less addictive and longer acting benzodiazepine such as Valium and then slowly reducing the Valium over a period of two to six months. If you are originally addicted to Valium, this is usually tapered off, again over a period of months. It is very important that you do this with the supervision of a doctor well experienced in taking people off benzodiazepines.

WARNING Never under any circumstances quit taking them abruptly (‘cold turkey’) because this can be life threatening. Many doctors are experienced in prescribing benzos, but not taking people off them. Tapering off these drugs is so important that it is perfectly acceptable to ask your physician to take you off gradually over a period of months. If he or she is not experienced in doing this, ask if they would refer you to someone who is, or contact CITA who specialise in helping people to come off these drugs.

  1. One week before beginning to reduce your dosage, take the Basic Supplements
  2. Take the Chill-out Prescription (see pg420). This provides vital nutrients for you, including GABA, which is what is depleted in the brain by benzodiazepines. GABA is available over the counter in the US, but in the UK you will need a prescription. Start with 500mg twice a day and build up to no more than 1,000mg twice a day, as much as you can take without feeling nauseous. Tingling in the fingers or face has been reported when exceeding this dose. An alternative to GABA is taurine, which encourages the brain to make GABA. Start with 1g, which will probably mean 2 x 500mg of taurine, increasing to 1g three times daily if needed for anxiety, tension or sleep. Some people respond well to glutamine, the precursor of GABA. All these nutrients are part of, and clearly explained in, the Chill-out Prescription , which includes niacin, thought to have a similar relaxing effect, and magnesium. Niacinamide (a form of niacin that does not make you flush or blush), has a benzodiazepine-like effect in large doses, but is not addictive.  Our Chill-out Prescription (see pg420).  provides 1,000mg niacinamide or inositol hexanicotinate a day. In truth, you can triple this amount if you need to. More than 4,500mg of niacinamide daily is associated with stomach upset and offers no extra benefit above this dose anyway.
  3. You need sleep, and during withdrawal from benzos, sleeping becomes even harder. Be kind to yourself. Don’t do anything or take on anything that is stressful for you because, as you detox, your ability to deal with stress and anxiety is vastly compromised. Create a low-key and stress-free life, pampering yourself as much as you can through the detox phase.
  4. Glycine is another calming amino acid and neurotransmitter. If you feel a panic attack coming on, take glycine under the tongue. Break two to four capsules of glycine 500mg and swill it under your tongue for at least one minute before swallowing with water. You can do this three to five times with five-minute intervals if you continue to panic. Don’t exceed 10g of glycine a day.
  5. If you have trouble falling asleep, consider taking the well-known anxiety-relieving sleep aid, standardised valerian, but only under medical supervision. As we’ve said, valerian is a great help in the process of withdrawal. A GABA enhancer, it will have similar actions to benzos, but is much gentler and doesn’t have the same addictive potential. The same is true for kava, although this has now been voluntarily withdrawn from the UK market pending investigation into its safety. The idea is that you gradually reduce the benzo dose while increasing valerian, but it’s best to seek professional health from a qualified nutritional therapist while doing this.

CAUTION Since benzodiazepines, alcohol and valerian all enhance GABA, the combination of the herb with benzo drugs or alcohol can make the drug’s effects more potent. For this reason, valerian should be viewed in the same way as any medicine and taken in carefully scheduled doses as part of the medically supervised withdrawal programme. In other words, you should not just add them in yourself. It is also helpful to add supplements that support the liver’s ability to detoxify these drugs, such as standardised milk thistle (Silybum marianum) 120mg three times a day. This liver-enhancing herb helps to speed up the metabolism of benzos while protecting the liver. Generally, as we gradually decrease the benzo dose, we gradually increase the amount of valerian, replacing the drug with the herb. Since valerian is not addictive and does not build tolerance, the person doesn’t have to be weaned off it later. The effective dose range for standardised valerian is 280mg two to three times daily. You must take it for at least eight weeks to get maximum benefits.

You need to support your liver. Since the liver is responsible for breaking down these drugs, improving your liver function helps you detoxify the drug (see Chapter 15).

The most important keys for you to follow are:

  • Rebalance Your Brain with Amino Acids (Chapter 7) – fundamentally, sleeping- pill or tranquilliser addiction creates GABA deficiency or inefficiency, hence the most vital step is restoring your ability to make GABA and have it work effectively for you.
  • Rebuild Your Brain with Essential Fats (Chapter 10) – to help your brain recover more quickly.
  • How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep (Chapter 13) – the best cure for anxiety is a good night’s sleep, and this chapter contains gems to help you achieve this.
  • Rejuvenate Your Liver (Chapter 15) – by improving your liver’s ability to detoxify and regenerate you can get over dependency to these drugs faster.

What to expect 30 days later

If you do all this and feel fine 30 days later, or have a two-thirds drop in your key abstinence symptoms (see Chart Your Progress on page 26) well done! You can stop the Chill-out Prescription (see pg420).  However, with benzo withdrawal, this is unfortunately rare. It is more likely that you’ll need these supplemental nutrients for a good three months, if not six. As far as benzos are concerned get ready for the long haul.

For more information read How to Quit Without Feeling S**T.

The advice given here is not a substitute for the advice of your doctor or other suitably qualified person. For any serious addiction it is vital that you do have professional support. The recommendations given here help to ensure you are optimally nourished after stopping an addictive substance which may have had a negative influence on your nutritional status.