“Devastating Aspects of Benzodiasephine, and Other Drug, Withdrawal,” CYS, 2016.
The U.S. and much of the world are aware of a prescription and illegal drug crisis. Heroin and opioid addictions and deadly overdoses are at “epidemic” levels in some areas. And most would admit that in spite of the best of intentions, the “War on Drugs” has been a dismal failure (see Branson, “War on drugs a trillion-dollar failure,” CNN.com).
A significant part of the crisis is our inability to keep up with the challenges of mental health and pain management. A shortage of psychiatric workers and facilities has reduced treatment to easily prescribed drugs—which often replace verbal, group and other forms of holistic therapies. Bottom line profit competition induces PHARMA to provide costly medications, which also enriches eager researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and busy doctors.
While there are some who illegally abuse drugs, there are others who find themselves in a dangerous addiction while merely attempting to follow the prescribed treatment plan of their doctors. This article tells their story.
This article is not to condemn all prescriptions of pain relieving and anxiety reducing drugs, to criticize caring doctors, or to defame important pharmaceutical companies It does attempt to raise critical attention to careless overuse and prescription shortcuts in the alleviation of pain and emotional distress. It begs continued consideration of alternative methods for pain reduction and emotional healing.
Withdrawal Experiences of Victims and Survivors
Fox News Health (“Popping Xanax is more harmful than you think,” accessed online 19 Jan. 16) describes Jenna, a 33-year-old school teacher whose mother found her curled up in a fetal position, cell phone in hand, but unable to call for help. Eight years earlier as a student, insomnia led her to a doctor who quickly prescribed Xanax for what he diagnosed as debilitating anxiety. Jenna, who describes herself as pretty confident and outgoing, remembers:
He decided I was anxious… I had a busier life than some, but I didn’t think I was especially anxious. He told me there was a great drug I could take. He prescribed a milligram per day of the generic form of Xanax… At first I loved it … It was amazing. I could sleep anywhere on the spot.
A few months later, however, nervousness and sleeplessness returned. Over time, the doctor increased the dosage until, in a couple of years, Jenna was taking 6 mg a day, an unusual and dangerous level. Once, after her costly prescription had run out, Jenna tried to make it on her own.
Jenna woke up on her kitchen floor. Dimly the California teacher remembered bending over the sink, trying to swallow water. According to the clock, that had been an hour ago. She fumbled with her phone but couldn’t think clearly enough to text for help.
“I felt these horrible jolts running through my head and body; I couldn’t stop jerking… Then I began seeing stuff that wasn’t there, creepy-crawly things. I didn’t know what was happening, but I worried I might be dying.”
Jenna’s story is not at all unusual. Harris Stratyner, cochairman of the medical subcommittee of the nonprofit group National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence says:
Dependence on benzodiasephines like Xanax is a serious problem, especially among young women. Frequently, it’s not because they’ve been abusing the drugs; it can be caused by following the prescription their doctor gave them.
From the U.K. and U.S. come more painful and longer-term stories than Jenna’s. A long-time young friend of ours (we’ll call her Maryanne) began to feel some emotional distress as a high school student.
Like Jenna and many others, Maryanne was put on another “benzo”: Klonopin. (Many top physicians and clinics today will not allow anyone to be on Klonopin, or other benzos at a low dose, for more than a few months.) But Maryanne was progressively prescribed increasing dosages of Klonopin, along with other SSRI’s (medications used for depressive and anxiety disorders). Incredibly, over some twenty years, Maryanne’s anxieties were treated by a veritable banquet of prescription drugs, while being in and out of highly regarded treatment centers! Her addiction to these prescribed drugs had devastating side effects. Desperation drove Maryanne and her family to the few who are fighting prescription drug abuse.
It is impossible to describe in print the torments, the impossibly long nights, the terrifying voices and phantoms, and the violent urges that imprison and oppress those struggling through months and years of withdrawal from such over-prescriptions.
Laura Delano is one who has made it through this long, seemingly impossible struggle from prescription drug addiction through withdrawal. She spends literal hours talking individually to those struggling through their tortuous paths to freedom and health. Laura works alongside experts in this field with “Mad in America.” Director Robert Whittaker’s 2002 book, Mad in America describes “Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill in America.”(Learn more at http://www.madinamerica.com/.)
Crucial further reading includes:
Tait Adam’s (2015) Beyond Benzos – Benzo Addiction, Benzo Withdrawal, and Long-term Recovery from Benzodiazepines. He says, “Now termed by some as the world’s deadliest pill, the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines are on the cusp of racing past opiates to earn the label as this nation’s most widely abused class of drugs. With over 150 million prescriptions written annually in the U.S. alone for such popular drugs as Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, and Valium, benzo addiction has reached epidemic proportions in this country and many are still not willing to give it the press it deserves. Let’s change that.”
A personal testimony of withdrawal and recovery, both painful and humorous, with hope through faith in God, is Audrey Anne Wagner’s (2014) Klonopin Withdrawal and Howling Dogs: Maybe it was God. One reader’s recommendation: “I can vouch personally that this book will hit anyone struggling with drug addiction, depression, or despair square in the heart. Audrey puts into voice something that not everyone can—the true heart wrenching despair of having your life falling apart and trying to get it back together, along with all the pain, yet ridiculousness, that utter depression can bring.” (See also Further Bibliography in CYS under Resources for topics of Drugs and Addiction)
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Are you a heroic victim and survivor of this prescription trap? With all that you’ve been through, or are struggling with just now, what in this article would you commend… or, what would you criticize or suggest?
- If you are family or a friend to such suffering, what do you most want others to know?
- If you are being introduced to this problem for the first time, what more do you need to know?
- What actions can concerned family, neighbors, and concerned citizens take most effectively to bring about further caution and change? What holistic therapies can replace careless reliance on the immediate relief of highly addictive chemicals?
- Overtaxed physicians, dysfunctional medical systems, researchers depending on large grants and revenue from expensive drugs, and PHARMA , the drug industry, all contribute knowingly or reluctantly to this problem.
- Our American culture and advertisers have, for a long time, promoted chemicals for increased pleasure and a pill for every pain. We must discipline our pleasures and treat pain more realistically.
- This crisis calls for justice in the system and compassion for sufferers of pain, anxiety or sleeplessness—and especially those in the long painful struggles of withdrawal.
- In terms of personal engagement and action, look at Mad in America’s website: http://www.madinamerica.com/.
Dean Borgman© 2017 CYS