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Drugs that treat anxiety

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who want to stop smoking. It tells you about drugs that treat anxiety, a treatment used to help people stop smoking. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

No. Drugs for anxiety don't seem to help people stop smoking. And, if you take them for more than a few weeks, you can become addicted to them.

What are they?

Many drugs for anxiety have been tried as treatments for people trying to stop smoking. Here are some of them:

  • Diazepam. Drugs like diazepam are called benzodiazepines. You may have heard them called tranquillisers. They slow down some activity in the brain and spinal cord.

  • Buspirone. This drug reduces feelings of anxiety.

All these drugs come as tablets.

How can they help?

There's no evidence that any of these drugs can help people who are trying to stop smoking. [113]

How do they work?

When people stop smoking, they often feel anxious. Doctors thought that drugs that reduce anxiety might help smokers and make it easier for them to stop. [113] But the research shows that this isn't the case.

Can they be harmful?

Some of the drugs used to treat anxiety can cause side effects, and some of the side effects can be serious. For example, you can become dependent on benzodiazepines, even after just a few weeks. This means your body gets used to them, and you get unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. This is why doctors prescribe them only for a short time.

Another common problem with these drugs is that they make people sleepy.

To find out more about treatments for anxiety, and their side effects, see What treatments work for anxiety disorder?

How good is the research on drugs that treat anxiety?

The research seems to show that drugs for anxiety don't help smokers stop. We found one summary of the research (known as a systematic review) including six studies. [113]

Four of the studies looked at how many people gave up smoking after one year of taking either a drug for anxiety or a dummy treatment (known as a placebo). The research showed that an anxiety drug did not help people give up cigarettes. But scientists say that more research is needed before we can be certain.



A placebo is a 'pretend' or dummy treatment that contains no active substances. A placebo is often given to half the people taking part in medical research trials, for comparison with the 'real' treatment. It is made to look and taste identical to the drug treatment being tested, so that people in the studies do not know if they are getting the placebo or the 'real' treatment. Researchers often talk about the 'placebo effect'. This is where patients feel better after having a placebo treatment because they expect to feel better. Tests may indicate that they actually are better. In the same way, people can also get side effects after having a placebo treatment. Drug treatments can also have a 'placebo effect'. This is why, to get a true picture of how well a drug works, it is important to compare it against a placebo treatment.

systematic reviews

A systematic review is a thorough look through published research on a particular topic. Only studies that have been carried out to a high standard are included. A systematic review may or may not include a meta-analysis, which is when the results from individual studies are put together.

For more terms related to Smoking


For references related to Smoking click here.
Last Updated: June 21, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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