Have benzos ruined your life? You are not alone…
By Don Killian
There is a world that most people do not know about. It is a hidden world known only to those who are currently trapped in it or who were once its temporary occupants who somehow managed to escape with their lives and health.
It is populated by individuals one might meet on any day and in any place – at work, at home, on the street, in the supermarket, at a party, in church, on an airplane anywhere. Usually, these people appear to be living and functioning in the same manner and with the same ease as any other person. There is nothing outwardly remarkable about them that would give anyone the slightest hint of the absolute horror residing inside each of them.
Benzodiazepines: Demons in disguise
This is a world of suffering so horrifyingly bizarre that it defies a description sufficient for anyone else to grasp. In fact, if one has not experienced this suffering, he or she will usually find it impossible to believe and will question the sanity of the sufferer. It is a world of torture in which the sufferer resides moment-by-moment but which also resides inside the sufferer. It is inescapable. It is infinitely pervasive. It yields to nothing – no thought, no force, no trick, no drug, no tactic or strategy.
It is immovable. It just “is,” and it rarely relents or gives a breath of air to its victim. The fear that it wields and bludgeons its victim with is pure and wholly irrational. It is a snail’s-pace, seemingly eternal walk through hell on earth.
It is benzodiazepine withdrawal.
Are you trapped in a personal hell brought on by doctor prescribed benzos? Well, you’re not alone. Learn more about the epidemic here and educate yourself on what doctors don’t tell you about benzos, and then share your questions or your personal story at the end. We’ll try to respond to all legitimate comments with a personal and prompt reply.
What are the most common benzos?
Benzodiazepines are more typically known as tranquillizers to the general population. Some of the more common benzodiazepines are:
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Valium (diazepam) and
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
There are dozens more. Benzodiazepines have been prescribed for many different symptoms including anxiety, panic, stress, post-traumatic stress, insomnia, pain, seizures, post-partum depression, as an add-on to other psychotropic drugs, and many others.
Why are benzos so bad for you?
Often, benzodiazepines initially seem to have a beneficial effect with respect to the symptom or symptoms for which they are prescribed. In fact, they may seem like a miracle drug providing sleep, calming anxiety and stopping fear and panic in their tracks. These astonishing effects may last for quite some time, but usually they are short-lived.
Quite often, benzodiazepines lose their effectiveness within a few weeks and leave one no better off than he or she was initially. This is called tolerance – when the drug no longer “works.” Typically, one is actually worse off at this point.
Increased tolerance to benzodiazepines
As tolerance is reached, the prescriber will often increase the initial dose of the benzodiazepine in hopes that a higher dose will re-establish the relief that was provided by the original dose. This usually does not work or may work for a short time until tolerance is once again reached, but this time at a higher dose.
At first blush, it may seem that one could simply discontinue the benzodiazepine and be no worse off than he or she was at the outset before taking the drug. For some individuals, this is sometimes true. They can discontinue the drug either all at once (called a “cold turkey”) or taper it gradually until it has been completely discontinued without suffering any adverse consequences.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case for literally millions of people who have taken benzodiazepines. It is widely known that benzodiazepines are extremely addictive and can cause physical dependence within a matter of weeks. Because of this rapid onset of dependency, it has been suggested that benzodiazepines not be prescribed for more than two weeks. This recommendation is often ignored by prescribers, and millions of people are now addicted to or dependent on benzodiazepines.
People are using benzos as prescribed!
There is a misconception, even within much of the medical community, that those who are dependent on benzodiazepines are hard core drug addicts who crave and seek benzodiazepines in an effort to somehow “get high.” Nothing could be more untrue. The people who are dependent on benzodiazepines are almost exclusively dependent because they were prescribed those drugs by medical professionals. They were neither seeking to get high initially nor are they when they need to discontinue them.
In fact, most who try to get off the drugs are suffering because they have developed a tolerance to higher doses which were also prescribed by medical professionals. The suffering is often extreme. The last thing the patient wants or needs is more drugs. Sadly, the anguish that is endured during tolerance withdrawal is often diagnosed as some sort of disorder resulting in the prescribing of even more drugs.
How do you quit using a benzo?
Q: How do you stop using benzos?
A: Get the facts about benzodiazepine withdrawal. Then, you’ll need to create and individualized plan.
It can be virtually impossible for someone on benzodiazepines to discontinue them. Multiple methods, ranging from micro-tapers which may last many months to relatively fast tapers lasting a few weeks, have been employed. The method used is often dependent on the individual. There is no “one size fits all” scheme. Under no circumstances should benzodiazepines be cold turkeyed.
No matter what discontinuation method is used, it is a near certainty that during the tapering process and during the ensuing withdrawal (after the individual has successfully discontinued the benzodiazepines), the individual will experience several of a myriad of withdrawal symptoms. These include both mental and physical symptoms which can be extremely intense and which may last for several months without the slightest bit of relief. In many cases, these symptoms render the victim completely incapable of living a life that would be considered even remotely normal. In the throes of withdrawal, many sufferers have referred to themselves as “zombies” – the walking dead. It is a very fitting description.
A truly hellish experience
Detoxing from benzos can be hell. While the victims of benzodiazepine withdrawal suffer beyond description, friends and loved ones who witness the anguish and who also care for the victim suffer in multiple ways as well. The victim often appears to be quite capable of functioning normally like anyone else, at least from the outside. When the victim insists that he or she is unable to accomplish or even attempt to accomplish the smallest task, it can be extremely frustrating to caregivers.
This is especially true when the victim complains incessantly and continually describes his or her often unbelievable symptoms of withdrawal. The sufferer is nearly always in a state of extreme irrational fear and enshrouded by a fog of bleak, grey hopelessness. This is beyond perplexing to caregivers when they see nothing to be frightened of and everything to be hopeful for. There is also the matter of “benzo rage” that caregivers must deal with. It is demoralizing and can wear down even the strongest and most compassionate of caregivers.
You are not alone!
Whether one labels this problem with benzodiazepines as dependency or addiction, the profound suffering and ruined lives remain unchanged. Currently, millions of people worldwide have been prescribed benzodiazepines, and probably hundreds of thousands of these are in a life-and-death struggle with either tolerance withdrawal or post-benzodiazepine withdrawal. It is a deadly epidemic that has been virtually hidden from most of society.
Let us know you’re out there
Please know that you are not alone and that there is hope. We invite you to share your story in our comments section now.
About the Author: Don Killian is a survivor of forty years of addiction to alcohol and thirteen years of benzodiazepine addiction/dependence and the withdrawal from both. He is a former environmental scientist and author of From Fear to Freedom: A Story of Addiction, Misdiagnosis, Survival, Hope and Healing.He spends much of his time providing help and hope to others navigating the dangerous waters of benzodiazepine withdrawal at Merry, Joyous, and Free – a website “designed to help anyone who has been adversely affected primarily by benzodiazepines, other psychotropic drugs and alcohol abuse get to a place of happiness, joy and freedom…”
Photo credit: Allan Ajifo