The Benzo Bad Guys
Feeling anxious? Having a few bad nights of sleep? Wondering if those benzodiazepine medications you hear all about will solve your problems?
Well there’s some things you should know about benzodiazepines before you make that decision. Most people are unaware of these concerns and many doctors don’t address them, but they should as these concerns can have life altering long term effects.
Did you know that benzodiazepines are only recommended for short-term use? The recommendations for each of these medications varies, but the FDA labeling on Ativan clearly states, “In general, benzodiazepines should be prescribed for short periods only (e.g., 2-4 weeks). Continuous long-term use of lorazepam is not recommended.” If used longer benzos cause dependence, cognitive impairment, and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease!¹
Benzodiazepines are one of the most common psychiatric medications that are prescribed in the U.S. They are prescribed to help treat a variety of different conditions including anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, restless leg syndrome, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants and have sedative, muscle relaxant, and anticonvulsant properties. These drugs work by enhancing the activity of GABA in the brain. GABA is our brain’s major inhibitory neurotransmitter, so increasing it’s activity results in increases in our feelings of relaxation. The most common benzodiazepines that are prescribed are: Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, and Valium.
There is no dispute within the medical community, both conventional and alternative, that benzodiazepines are highly addictive. If not used especially carefully and exceedingly sparingly addiction will occur. To make use more complicated, tolerance to the effect of these drugs happens at a lightning quick rate. This means you need higher and higher amounts of the drug to get the intended effect. Your body also becomes dependent on this outside source of relaxation, and without it, you start to feel more irritable, anxious, and restless. Which is ridiculous when you think about it- your medication for anxiety actually makes you anxious!
To make things worse, the withdrawal effects from benzodiazepines are crippling! This leads many doctors to extend the use of these drugs longer than what is recommended to spare their patients withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms can even start after only 1 month of regular daily use! Common withdrawal symptoms include: extreme anxiety, insomnia, depression, racing heart, muscle pains and twitching, nausea, and problems with memory and concentration. These are often the same symptoms that led to benzodiazepine use in the first place! See how this can create a life defining and a life limiting circle? To make the use of benzodiazepines more dangerous, high doses for a prolonged period can have the serious withdrawal symptoms of psychosis and seizures.
Just consider these all too common scenarios:
You are anxious→ Dr. Feelgood puts you on benzos for anxiety→ get on benzos→ effects of the drugs wane quickly→ try to get off benzos→ withdrawal induced anxiety→ back on benzos
Increased stress from work → trouble sleeping → start taking benzos → have a few good nights of sleep → medication has stopped working → trouble sleeping even on meds → try to then get off of benzos → rebound insomnia that is even worse than when it started
Is this debilitating cycle really how you want to live? There’s got to be a better way right?
Yes! Fortunately there is.
There are many safe and natural treatments for anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia (the main indications for benzodiazepine use). In my practice I use mainly homeopathic medicine as I have found it to be the most safe and effective treatment modalities for treating these conditions. This is because homeopathic medicine is holistic, individualized, and stimulates true healing in the body. And better yet, there’s no side effects!