Benzodiazepines (aka benzos), the modern child of barbiturates, are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. The drugs are fast acting, highly effective, and extremely addictive. Common benzodiazepines include:
- Valium ®
- Xanax ®
- Ativan ®
- Klonopin ®
While doctors are aware of the habit forming, addictive nature of benzos, Xanax continues to be the world’s most popular pill, The Huffington Post reports. U.S. prescriptions for Xanax ® and other benzos grow by 12 percent annually. In the short term, benzos are miracle drugs, in the long term tolerance continues to grow and kicking them can be lethal.
Benzos Over the Long Run
When most people think of drugs that can ruin people’s lives, benzodiazepines usually do not come to mind. While your average benzo user does not pawn family heirlooms to get their next fix, in reality, benzos can have a lasting effect on how the mind forms memories and processes anxiety.
“Benzodiazepines impair the formation of new memories,” says Dr. Jason Eric Schiffman, Director of UCLA’s Dual Diagnosis Program, “so they interfere with psychotherapy, which actually heals the cause of anxiety rather than just attenuating symptoms.”
Schiffman points out that, “because benzodiazepines work right after taking them, they create a paradigm of ‘feel anxious, take a pill, feel better,’ which reinforces a sense of powerlessness over anxiety. This is one of the reasons benzodiazepines are no longer considered to be a first-line treatment of anxiety, whereas SSRIs are.”
Withdrawing and recovering from any drug is extremely difficult. Removing a drug from one’s system that has been consumed over a continued period of time is going to be painful – physically, mentally and emotionally. Without medical assistance, benzo withdrawal can be fatal, according to the article. Post-acute withdrawal can continue for months after one stops taking the medication.
“Following a sudden withdrawal or even too-rapid taper, the brain thinks it’s being injured, so it marshals all these other mechanisms to try and mitigate these reactions,” says Dr. Peter Madill, an integrative medicine physician with a subspecialty in addiction medicine based in Sebastopol, CA. “Fatigue, disorientation, malaise, severe panic and startle reactions, nerve pain, muscle aches, short-term memory loss. Xanax withdrawal especially can be dangerous, even fatal, which is why you need a slow, individualized taper. We desperately need more research into agents that can augment the withdrawal process.”