Withdrawal from Benzodiazepines

Important updates on this subject can be found at the posts listed at the bottom of the post.

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I’ve recently come across an article by Matt Samet called Social Vacuum.  It’s dated March 2013, and was published on Robert Whitaker’s website Mad in America.

Matt had been taking a benzodiazepine for some time, and while on a tapering withdrawal, he experienced some distressing symptoms, including some acute social discomfort.  (For a full account of benzo withdrawal – click here.)

He describes the withdrawal symptoms in detail, and also outlines some of the strategies he used to cope with these.  I think the article would be helpful for people who are going through these kinds of withdrawals, and also for counselors, etc., who are helping/supporting clients through this.

When benzodiazepines were initially launched in the early 1960’s, the psychiatrists and the manufacturers stated categorically that they were non-addictive.  Eventually it became impossible to maintain this fiction, and the addictive potential of these products is now recognized.  Some people manage to come off these products, but large numbers of people worldwide continue to use these drugs as an integral part of their daily routine.  Benzos are sedatives and are sometimes called minor tranquilizers.

Withdrawal from these drugs is potentially dangerous, incidentally, and medical supervision is a good idea, especially if the dependence is marked.  Try to find a physician other than the one who got you hooked on them in the first place.  In severe cases, hospitalization is required.

The following drugs are in the benzodiazepine category:  Valium; Librium; Xanax; Ativan; and Klonopin.  For a more comprehensive list of brand names, see this site on Wikipedia.

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Important updates on this subject can be found at the following subsequent posts:

More on Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal: A Dilemma

  • Nancy Rubenstein

    Phil, This is dangerous advice. Please contact me.

  • Nancy Rubenstein

    For readers, The reason I say this is dangerous advice is that there are literally less than a handful of doctors nationwide who have proven they can handle this. There is no safe hospitalisation for people in psych drug withdrawal, and folks really need to understand . In the closed facbook withdrawal groups, we see the same story over and over. Doctors who say they know…….don’t. Doctors like Breggin, whom we all love and trust put out a very dangerous withdrawal book recommending ten percent cuts that trash many, many people. Other “experts” claim, “Switch to Depakote and discontinue after a week and you will be fine”. NONSENSE. Until real research and documentation is done, it will NOT be safe to got to “a doctor other than the one who prescribed”, OR to go to a hospital. When people DO go to hospital for emergencies in withdrawal (cardiac, kidney, liver etc etc etc) they need to be prepared to be met with disbelief. That disbelief plays out in harmful ways………many people are diagnosed with “mental Illness” and further drugged, some have unnecessary surgeries………it is a mess.

  • Phil_Hickey

    Nancy,

    Thanks for your feedback, all of which I accept. I had received broadly similar comment from Monica Cassani shortly after I wrote the post in question. In response to this, I wrote another post a few days later, but I neglected to put an update flag on the first article.

    Given the importance of the matter and the recent attention it is receiving, I would like to write another post on the topic highlighting your specific concerns. I would be happy to include any additional information you wish to send me, or if you prefer, you can simply comment on the new post itself. Either way, I hope to have it up within a week or so.

    Again, my thanks and best wishes.

  • all too easy

    Absolute nonsense. Offer proof that only a handful of doctors know how to help people addicted to benzies withdraw safely. There isn’t any.

  • Nancy Rubenstein

    “all too easy”. The proof is thousands of people, and if you were actually interested, their harrowing experiences are online in many forums, in addition to the 500 hundred plus individuals who responded to the change.org petition I wrote to Psychology Today to retract Professsor Ed Shorter’s article proposing that the addcitive label should be removed. The proof is in the lived experience. If you know of a physician who understand 1. benzos shrink gaba receptors and withdrawal that exceeds their rate of regrowth (or upregulation) is disabling, 2. That some people can easily take a couple months (or even less ), and others can spend years suffering, an 3. What Liquid microtapers are…….then please contact me, I need their names. We are compiling safe practitioner lists at PsychRights, and MIA. I can be reached at Ladyheartwork@hotmail.com

  • all too easy

    How does any of that prove your claim that a mere handful of doctors know about withdrawal from benzies?
    Contact The Caron Foundation in Wernersville, PA.

  • Nancy Rubenstein

    The way one proves this unfortunately, is to get very sick in withdrawal and wind up turning to organizations like mine and others after being seriously harmed by well intentioned medical advice. Doctors today are very successful getting MOST people off, and I want to make that clear. It’s a small percentage who have great difficulty, and because there exists no research, and the drug makers and reps insist on the drug’s safety, physician’s often respond to very sick people by telling them “I don’t believe in protracted benzo withdrawal”. What makes things worse is that people who endure this hell an survive are extremely unlikely to speak to the doctors who put them in the situation, which means that those doctors are not getting the feedback or the opportunity to learn. Thank you for the suggestion, I did contact The Caron Foundation and they rapidly taper people off benzodiazapines over a course of a few weeks. For many people that will be fine, but what is not OK, and the reason I would never send anyone (even if I had a crystal ball and knew they would do OK with such a rapid taper) is that they treat this as an “addiction” which it is not. This is a physiological dependency. People who are extremely sick in benzo withdrawal have absolutely no desire ever to take another dose, and in fact, that is something that causes people to cold turkey or taper too rapidly. People “want this poison out of the body” very badly, and the addiction model feels insulting and irrelevant. Best Wishes.

  • all too easy

    “Doctors who say they know…….don’t.” “there are literally less than a handful of doctors nationwide…”
    You went from making those statements to, “Doctors today are very successful getting MOST people off…” in no time once challenged.

    Benzies are physically addictive, which is why withdrawal is difficult, more difficult than withdrawal from heroin (injected) depending on the length of treatment and dosage. Why suppose you know more than doctors (M.D.s) who are experienced in drug and alcohol addiction and withdrawal.

    Of course patients should talk to their prescribing physicians about their experiences on any med. Doctors want to help people. That is what they do.

    “physician’s often respond to very sick people by telling them “I don’t believe in protracted benzo withdrawal”. How do you know physicians often respond that way?

  • Nancy Rubenstein

    This is my last message to you “all too easy”. It’s Benzos, not Benzies. I know because this is my job. I respond to hundreds of people a week seeking resources. We document their experiences. Best Wishes.

  • all too easy

    There is no proof of a lack of M.D.s who handle drug withdrawal. Contact The Caron Foundation in Wernersville, PA. if you have questions or need referrals. They have a number facilities. There are many fine, reputable, residential treatment facilities. Try Sierra Tuscon.

    There is safe hospitalization for people in drug withdrawal all across the U.S. If a specialist, an M.D., who focuses her practice in this area of medicine, recommends certain drugs to use to withdraw, ask questions. Do your homework. Ask for a second opinion.

    If you’ve been diagnosed with an illness of the brain, don’t worry how others may perceive you. (Normal is a setting on a dryer.) Most people couldn’t care less about you. Join or participate in a free or professionally run support/therapy group. Talk to your doctor and others if you believe you are being treating unfairly by her or her staff or others. Ask her if she enforces HIPAA regs. Bring a mature friend to your appointments.

    “HIPAA is the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. The primary goal of the law is to make it easier for people to keep health insurance, protect the confidentiality and security of healthcare information and help the healthcare industry control administrative costs.”

  • all too easy

    “When people DO go to hospital for emergencies in withdrawal (cardiac, kidney, liver etc etc etc) they need to be prepared to be met with disbelief.”

    When people need hospital care for help withdrawing from drugs, they may be confident they will receive appropriate medical care.

    “That disbelief plays out in harmful ways………many people are diagnosed with “mental Illness” and further drugged, some have unnecessary surgeries………it is a mess.”

    Many people who are mentally ill are treated with respect and professional expertise. Doctors are in no hurry to change the medications prescribed by another doctor without consulting her, and less eager to operate. To claim that these people undergo needless surgery without presenting research and documentation to substantiate it, is simply wrong and without a sound basis.

    “and the drug makers and reps insist on the drug’s safety…”

    The fact is drug companies include a comprehensive leaflet in each package drugs come in that lists in lay terms the risks associated with that drug.

    “What makes things worse is that people who endure this hell an survive are extremely unlikely to speak to the doctors who put them in the situation, which means that those doctors are not getting the feedback or the opportunity to learn”

    Pure speculation, without providing documentation.

    “Other “experts” claim, “Switch to Depakote and discontinue after a week and you will be fine”. NONSENSE. Until real research and documentation is done, it will NOT be safe to got to “a doctor other than the one who prescribed”, OR to go to a hospital.”

    How can anyone say, one way or another, it is nonsense to follow a doctor’s instructions when the research and documentation haven’t been done? A non-doctor is telling you not to trust your doctor because research and documentation are not informing her decisions, while simultaneously explaining that without that documented research, she knows better than the doctor.

    One begins to sense something is amiss, something doesn’t smell right about the antis’ claims. One senses an agenda, or perhaps more than just one. The devil is behind every door and every corner, they are convinced. They wail that all of psychiatry is evil. Psychiatrists, all of them, participate consciously in a conspiracy to do nothing except that which deceives and exploits others. Not one respects and cares for her patients. All prescribe dangerous drugs out of greed to make money and to exert their power over those who are less than they.

    Fred Baughman believes that drug companies intend to rule the world by hooking everyone on their drugs, from the cradle to the grave. He believes they are worse than drug cartels. “As if this were not enough the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health is set to foist upon us the compulsory, government-mandated mental health screening of all 52 million US schoolchildren. Clearly, it is a psycho-pharm-government cartel. When normal people are told they have a disease to make “patients” of them, we have a violation of informed consent which equals medical malpractice.” His paranoia, jealousy and grandiosity are rather infectious it appears. 

    “The real evil forces reside in our schools and physicians office,” and he “calls the leadership of the psycho-pharm-government cartel (FDA, NIMH, White House New Freedom Commission on Mental Health) the biggest, most evil drug cartel in history. “At least the pusher of ‘crack’ on inner city streets does not come in a white coat…”