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The Ashton Protocol for Benzodiazepine Tapering
The ‘Ashton Manual’ process of tapering off benzos is a widely accepted method for ending dependency of the drug. Because of the extreme physical dependency which is evidenced in 20-40% of patients, the detoxification from benzodiazepines requires a slow and measured reduction of dosage. This process differs from any other drug, both legal and illegal.
Dr. Madhava has extensively studied the taper methods described by Professor Heather Ashton in her manual. As an experienced doctor who specializes in benzo withdrawal, she supports the methods described but finds that some patients will need a different protocol than those mentioned. For example, some patients may not need to switch to Valium (diazepam) or the taper process in the manual may be too rapid for a particular patient.
Ashton accepted that benzodiazepines were useful in the treatment of some patients issues but argued that the drug should be prescribed for no more than two to four weeks, before the risk of dependency developed.
Ashton devised an approach to withdrawal that supports the patient to control the rate at which the dose was tapered, often taking months or even longer. In 1999, Ashton distilled her experience into a manual, Benzodiazepines: How They Work and How to Withdraw. There was such demand that the book, known worldwide as ‘The Ashton Manual’ has since been published in 11 languages and several updated editions, all available to download for free.
Ashton’s views were initially challenged by some psychiatrists. However, by the late 90s, most accepted that long-term use of benzodiazepines was not safe. In 2013, the British National Formulary, following an appeal from the British Medical Association, revised its guidelines on withdrawal to align with the latest edition of the Ashton Manual. Millions of patients worldwide have benefited from these changes in practice.
After a long medical career, dedicated to ongoing research and teaching at the same time as practicing in the UK, Dr. Ashton passed away in 2019 at the age of 90.
Frequently Asked Questions About The Ashton Method
How long does the Ashton method take?
This depends on how long someone has been taking benzodiazepine. For some, it may be possible within two to three weeks, but for most, a program lasting several months is required to completely get rid of benzodiazepine dependency.
Does the Ashton method work?
The Ashton Method was developed as a safe, effective treatment so that users could gradually withdraw from benzodiazepines usage. Dr Heather Ashton, Professor of Clinical Psychopharmacology at Newcastle University, England, developed her safe and effective method of treating benzodiazepine withdrawal , involving dosage tapering. It is now used by benzo detox centers around the world.
Why do benzodiazepines need to be tapered off?
Abruptly terminating benzodiazepines usage can cause both physical and physiological symptoms in users, especially when it has been taken for some time. This lessens the chance of success and leads to relapse. Professor Ashton found that a gradual, carefully calculated reduction of usage was far more successful in staying of the drug in the long term.