Are Benzos Overprescribed?
We are an anxious nation. A whopping 40 million American adults are affected by anxiety disorders; that’s 18 percent of the adult population! With such astronomical numbers, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in the U.S.
With these anxiety-related stats in mind, it is much less surprising to discover that 1 in 20 adults received a prescription for benzodiazepines in 2008.
What are Benzos?
Benzodiazepines are depressants. They slow the central nervous system by altering brain receptors, ultimately producing a sedated or relaxed state. As a result, benzos are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, panic attacks, insomnia, seizures, restless legs syndrome, migraines and Tourette syndrome.
Commonly used/abused benzos include:
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Valium (diazepam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
Spotlight on Benzo-Related Dangers
Benzos are very potent and highly addictive. While they can relieve symptoms temporarily, they also come with some drastic side effects.
Users quickly build up tolerance, as these drugs tend to lose effectiveness within a few weeks. But in that short amount of time, it’s easy to develop a physical dependence. The end result is a patient who is worse off than they were before they started taking benzos. Now they are dealing with side effects of benzo addiction and withdrawal, some of which include:
- Panic attacks
- Dry retching
- Increased risk of suicide
Because of its highly addictive nature, it is recommended that doctors not prescribe a benzodiazepine for more than two weeks. Unfortunately, this standard is not always followed. Doctors may even increase the dosage after a couple of weeks as tolerance levels are reached.
Thanks to an ever-increasing tolerance, results often manifest in the form of a powerful addiction to benzodiazepines.
Those who have reached this level of dependence face a long road of recovery. Going cold-turkey is often nearly impossible. This results in extreme withdrawal symptoms. These include fear, debilitating panic, psychosis, sleep disturbance, memory problems, severe depression, weakness, fatigue and dizziness.
Gradual reduction is typically recommended when working to break a benzo dependency.
Keep in mind:
- No medically-assisted treatments currently exist.
- The recovery process can take months – or even years – to “click” – be patient with yourself.
- It is recommended you seek medical help at a detox center to begin the recovery process.
Can We Recover?
Breaking free from a benzo dependence is not easy, but it’s absolutely possible. As a nation, our first step in the right direction should be education. Unfortunately, many doctors today (even those prescribing benzos) are not familiar with the lesser-known dangers these drugs present. As more people share their stories, however, the truth seems like it’s finally coming to light.
The next step is doing what you can to make the recovery process as painless as possible. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe, while the tapering process can be lengthy. The following tips may help reduce side effects and help to strengthen your own benzo recovery.
Here’s a few “insider” recovery tips from people who have been there, done that:
- Avoid Kindling: This is the process that occurs in the brain when you lower your benzo dosage, then increase it again. The result: it’s even harder to go back down the second time, as the brain has been “kindled.” Because of this effect, it is crucial to keep reducing dosage even if tapering is a struggle, rather than re-up, as well as remain free of the drug once you are off benzos.
- Avoid Supplement Overload: Based on the reactions of benzo-dependent patients, experts generally recommend you avoid the following supplements and substances:
- Herbs and supplements that work in GABA receptors
- Artificial sugars
- Vitamins D & B
- Medical marijuana
- Kava Kava
Remember: You’re not in this fight alone; recovery is possible and you deserve to live a healthy, sober life.