Coming off psychiatric drugs

Explains issues faced when coming off medication, how to approach it, techniques for gradual reduction, possible withdrawal symptoms and how to tell the difference between withdrawal and relapse.

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How can friends and family help?

This section is for friends and family of someone who is thinking about coming off medication.

As a concerned friend or family member, you may be quite anxious about your friend or relative becoming ill again if they tell you they want to come off their medication.

Your caution may be understandable if, for example, you have been involved in difficult decisions to have them assessed and sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983. You may have been very relieved to see them coming out of hospital more stable on medication, and do not want to see them distressed again.

You may need them to be very clear about how things have changed for them since then, why they want to stop the medication, and what other forms of support or treatment they are intending to use if they come off the drugs.

The following are some ways you can help them, and also gain a better understanding of how they are feeling and what they are trying to achieve:

  • talk to them about why they want to stop their medication – this will help them feel listened to, and also help you appreciate how important it is for them
  • ask them how they are planning to do it
  • be prepared to tell them if your shared past experience of withdrawal means that you think they are being unrealistic
  • ask them how you can help
  • help them to find support from other people who have done the same thing, or from their doctor or other health professional
  • offer to go to appointments with them, if they would like you there
  • join them in a new activity, if they ask you, or ask them to join you in one
  • help them to work out reduced doses
  • be supportive if they find the withdrawal process difficult, and make allowances if they are struggling with physical withdrawal symptoms or with feeling emotional
  • allow them to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes – be prepared to take some risks with them
  • be positive if they decide to change their plans

This information was published in July 2016. We will revise it in 2019.


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