Giving Support

    The lack of  “official” support means that sufferers and their carers are thrown back on their own resources much of the time. Physical strategies such as diet and exercise are dealt with in Part 1. This section concentrates more on the psychology of coping.

    People withdrawing from benzodiazepines are very sensitive, to everything from sudden noises to unexpected facial expressions. They will need continual reassurance and considerable patience from the carer.  However bizarre their behaviour may seem, they are not making it up. The pain and distress are very real, and, as I said earlier, encouragement of the “snap out of it” variety will do no good and considerable harm.

    Most people who have not come across the illness before find it difficult to believe that a prescription pill can wreak such havoc. We have made no bones about my wife’s state with friends, neighbours and acquaintances. As far as we know no one has actively avoided us, and many of the people we know ask after her health regularly.

    As the dose of the drug decreases, however slowly, the slightest stimulus external or internal will set off the anxiety which can easily develop into full-grown panic in a moment. This in turn is likely to produce a pronounced reaction, which will result in some form of often unexpected and apparently unreasonable behaviour. All of this is because the GABA system is not working properly.

    Supporting someone through this behaviour needs some strategies and tactics, and we believe that kindness and reassurance are the backbone of any strategies. They will need to be reinforced by individual tactics to suit specific circumstances, but we have found that two main strategies are essential – talking and distraction. In addition people use various techniques of their own to help.


    Talking about the illness is important because the sufferer is living in his or her own head much of the time, and the thoughts arising from this can be overwhelming. It would obviously be disastrous if there was no outlet for these, and as is clear from the plethora of Facebook groups, people have a strong need to vent their feelings, seek reassurance, and look for guidance. Withdrawal and recovery are very isolating.

    A carer will have to be prepared to do this whenever required, but having a particular time of the day to discuss progress seems helpful. We keep a daily log (more later), which I fill in at the same time. Each day we also log on to the Face book groups we belong to, reading and replying to the posts which concern us, and adding posts of our own. Sufferers will also want to talk at any time, so be prepared to turn off the radio or television so that you can give them your full attention. Talking can easily become exhausting, partly because sufferers tend to have poor concentration, and partly because it is quite possible to overdo the encouragement. If the sufferer is convinced that they will not recover, and most are at some stage or other, banging on about is unlikely to help. Achieving a balance is important.


    Sitting in a chair and brooding for any length of time is not very helpful, so some form of distraction plays an important role in caring for someone. Whatever the activities designed to distract, recovering from benzodiazepines is very tiring, so avoid creating any further pressure. Sufferers can react badly to any unexpected event, so springing surprises is probably not a good tactic. We tend to try to plan a day so that similar things are done at similar times. So our basic routine consists of domestic chores in the morning, followed by shopping, lunch followed by a snooze (we are very old!), various activities in the afternoon, dinner and television watching in the evening. 

    One of my wife’s symptoms is poor balance so that precludes activities such as walking, because the risk of falling is too great. She has fallen several times and managed to break her left leg on one of them. It was a more dramatic distraction than we had planned.

    However there are lots of ways to distract a sufferer. Personal ways include reading, handicrafts, crosswords, puzzles and watching television. Social ways include visits (we have several friends who visit us), social networking, ringing friends and emailing. Going out for entertainment is more problematical. In my wife's case this created too much stress. The general rule about distraction seems to be do nothing which might precipitate panic, and don’t try anything new. Sufferers have difficulty learning new things. So don’t do anything dramatic such as moving house or organising mammoth family celebrations.


    Part of getting back to normal is doing as many things the process allows as recovery takes place. So if a sufferer has particular therapeutic techniques or hobbies they enjoyed, doing them again can help, but there is a proviso. Trying to do something and failing can be very counter productive. My wife is an experienced lace maker, but during dependence and withdrawal she was unable to do even the most basic stitches, which was very frustrating and depressing. 

    Some people find well-established techniques such as meditation and mindfulness help, particularly if they are familiar with them already. Any technique which eases the stress of withdrawal must be beneficial. Listening to soothing CDs sometimes helps which quite often just sends one to sleep. What a way to pass the time! Hobbies can also help, but they can be stressful if a skill possessed in the past has temporarily gone, because, for instance, the sufferer’s co-ordination or concentration is impaired. It would be better perhaps to stick to something less demanding for the time being.