Chlordiazepoxide - a benzodiazepine

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Chlordiazepoxide is likely to affect your reactions and ability to drive. These effects can last into the following day. It is an offence to drive while your reactions are impaired.

Do not drink alcohol while you are on chlordiazepoxide.

Your course of treatment will be as short as possible. This can range from one or two days, to up to a maximum of four weeks of treatment.
Type of medicineA benzodiazepine
Used forAnxiety; alcohol withdrawal
Available asCapsules and tablets

Chlordiazepoxide works by affecting the way certain substances in your brain (called neurotransmitters) pass messages to your brain cells. It has a calming effect on various functions of your brain.The calming effect is helpful in people with anxiety, so chlordiazepoxide is sometimes prescribed to ease anxiety. If you have been prescribed it for this reason, you will be prescribed it for a very short period of time.

Chlordiazepoxide also has a muscle-relaxing effect. It is used to help relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. When you are alcohol-dependent, your body becomes used to lots of alcohol. This means that your body starts to develop withdrawal symptoms 3-8 hours after your last drink, as the effect of the alcohol wears off. So, even if you want to stop drinking, it is often difficult because of the withdrawal symptoms. Detoxification, or 'detox', involves taking a short course of a medicine which helps to prevent withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking alcohol. The most commonly used medicine for this is chlordiazepoxide.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine can only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking chlordiazepoxide it is important that your doctor knows:

  • If you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • If you have any breathing problems - for example, if you have a problem where you stop breathing for short periods at night (a condition called sleep apnoea).
  • If you have any problems with the way your liver works, or if you have any problems with the way your kidneys work.
  • If you have a mental health problem. This includes conditions such as psychosis, depression, obsessive conditions, phobias and personality disorders.
  • If you have ever had a drug or alcohol addiction and you are not being prescribed chlordiazepoxide for this reason.
  • If you have a condition causing muscle weakness, such as myasthenia gravis.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
  • If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines which are available to buy without a prescription, as well as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • Before you start the treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack. It will give you more information about chlordiazepoxide, and it will also provide you with a full list of the side-effects which you could experience from taking it.
  • Your doctor will tell you what dose of chlordiazepoxide to take, and how often to take it. The directions will also be printed on the label of the pack to remind you about what was said to you. Take your doses exactly as your doctor tells you to. As a guide:
    • If you are taking chlordiazepoxide for anxiety, you will probably be prescribed one tablet/capsule to take three times a day.
    • If you are taking it to prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it is usual to take four doses a day. You will be prescribed a high dose on the first day you stop drinking, then your dose will gradually reduce over the next 5-10 days.
  • You can take chlordiazepoxide either with or without food.
  • If you forget to take a dose, take it when you remember. If when you remember, it is almost time to take your next dose, leave out the missed dose and take your next dose when it is due. Do not take two doses together to make up for a forgotten dose.
  • Remember to keep any regular appointments with your doctor or clinic. This is so your doctor can check on your progress.
  • Chlordiazepoxide is likely to affect your reactions and ability to drive. It is an offence to drive while your reactions are impaired. Do not drive until you know how you react, especially when you first start treatment. Please also be aware that the effects of chlordiazepoxide can last into the following day. Even if your driving ability is not impaired, should you drive, you are advised to carry with you some evidence that the medicine has been prescribed for you - a repeat prescription form or a patient information leaflet from the pack is generally considered suitable.
  • Chlordiazepoxide is taken for short periods of time only, often for just a few days. This is because taking it for longer can lead to you feeling dependent on it. Also, your body gets used to it quickly, and after this time it is unlikely to have the same effect.
  • If you are going through detox, you will have agreed not to drink any alcohol. Even if you are not taking chlordiazepoxide for this reason, you should still not drink alcohol. It will increase the risk of you experiencing unwanted effects.
  • Your doctor could recommend that you reduce your dose of chlordiazepoxide gradually when it is time to stop taking it. This is to reduce the risk of you experiencing withdrawal effects. Follow carefully any instructions your doctor gives to you.
  • If you are due to have an operation or any dental treatment, please tell the person carrying out the treatment that you are taking chlordiazepoxide. This is because chlordiazepoxide increases the effects of some anaesthetics.
  • After detox, it is thought that you are less likely to go back to drinking heavily if you have counselling to help you to stay off alcohol. Your doctor, practice nurse, or local drug and alcohol unit can provide ongoing support when you are trying to stay off alcohol. Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous have also helped many people.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. The table below contains the most common ones associated with chlordiazepoxide. You will find a full list in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with your medicine. The unwanted effects often improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following continue or become troublesome.

Common chlordiazepoxide side-effects
What can I do if I experience this?
Feeling sleepy, weak, or light-headed (these may continue into the following day)Do not drive or use tools or machines. Do not drink alcohol
Forgetfulness, feeling confused or unsteadyIf these become troublesome, speak with your doctor
Feeling (or being) aggressiveThis can happen in some people - let your doctor know about it as soon as possible
DependenceTo help reduce the risk of this, your doctor will prescribe chlordiazepoxide for the shortest possible time

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to the medicine, please speak with your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital at once. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.

This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.

If you buy any medicines check with a pharmacist that they are safe to take with your other medicines.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Prof Cathy Jackson
Document ID:
3495 (v24)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
The Information Standard - certified member

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