Medication & Supplements


    Withdrawing and recovering from this illness results in an astonishing range of symptoms, some of which may have occurred while taking the drug. Many of these symptoms are painful as well as debilitating, so not surprisingly, people ask about medication to help cope with them.

    There are no licensed medicines currently available in the UK to counteract the withdrawal symptoms. One particular drug, Flumazenil, showed promise in the 1990s, and in a recent monograph from Professor Malcolm Lader, he asserts that further development of this drug is needed. Very few studies have been done but two done in Italy and Australia, on the slow infusion of sufferers withdrawing from benzodiazepines, have demonstrated the drug’s effectiveness in reducing the severity of withdrawal symptoms. The authors of the Italian study commented “one can only wonder why an innovative method which is rapid and effective has been so little used or studied over such a long period, despite the high prevalence and importance of benzodiazepine dependence”. They started a detoxification unit in 2003, and have been offering a treatment based on Flumazenil ever since, accounting for more than 50% of admission requests. To quote them again  “pharmaceutical companies have no interest in highlighting these phenomena: all the old molecules are still the best-sellers. Even at conferences on addiction or psychiatry little is said about benzodiazepines, and even less about Flumazenil”.

    Many people, including my wife, are given anti-depressants, most commonly one of the SSRI group (Citalopram, Sertraline etc). These can help to alleviate the depression associated with withdrawal and recovery. Ultimately people may want to stop taking them, which will involve another individual taper with associated unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, lasting for a further period of time. 

    Some medication is positively dangerous, notably quinolone antibiotics, and some is just ineffective, such as Gabapentin. It is structurally similar to GABA but its mechanism of action is not clear. Moreover, a sufferer could become dependent and then need to taper off.


    Not surprisingly people try all sorts of food supplements, herbal remedies and similar things which they find helpful, to ease the pain of withdrawal. My wife took paracetamol, which is useful for the aches and pains which sometimes accompany the main symptoms. Magnesium is said to help as are Epsom Salts in a bath, but whatever such treatments do medically, they certainly help to overcome the frustration of being unable to do anything to help yourself. They distract and that is very important, as we shall see later. But be warned. A supplement which you find helpful may have the opposite effect on someone else and vice versa. 

    One thing is clear. Supplements cannot affect the up-regulation of the GABA receptors, and any supplement that stimulates the nervous system may do more harm than good. The system is stimulated enough already.