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Benzodiazapine Dependence and Recovery

Benzodiazpines, drugs such as Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan are among the most widely prescribed and best selling pharmaceuticals in the U.S. Often prescribed for the management of anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasms, acute trauma such a intense grief, as well as in surgical procedures, they can and do serve a useful purpose when prescribed and used correctly. What is most important to stress is that if used regularly, even over short periods of time, these drugs or "benzos" as they are referred to, cause the brain/body to become highly dependent on them. When dependency forms, tolerance occurs and the user has to increase the dosage in order to experience the same effects. In some people benzos create a sensation of not only relaxation and sedation but a sense of euphoria. Thus benzos can also easily become drugs of abuse and are peddled on the street and on internet sites at highly inflated prices. Once a psychophysiological dependence has been established benzos can be very difficult to come off of. Depending on several factors, including the frequency, dosage and duration of use, benzo withdrawal can be an extremely difficult and unpleasant experience. They should never be terminated suddenly or in a "cold turkey" way as this could cause seizures and even be life-threatening. Benzo withdrawal is for many worse than that of any other drug, including heroin.

Many people. including physicians, are not aware of the proper way to help patients come off of benzos. Often they try to cut the dosage too quickly and in too great amounts. This can lead to horrible anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks and a whole host of psychophysiological problems. Patients feel like they want to jump out of their skin. Their life can feel like a living hell.

The best way to discontinue benzos is through a protocol known as the Ashton Method which was developed by a British doctor named Heather
Ashton, MD. In this approach the patient is first stabilized at their current dose of whatever benzo they are on and the gradually switched over to Valium. This is done because Valium, having a longer half-life, stays in the body longer and allows for a smoother taper. Then the patient can slowly, at a rate of 10% every 1-2 weeks cut the dose of Valium until they are completely benzo-free. It is well worth it because long-term use of benzos appears to damage the nervous system and create many disturbing symptoms such as anger, mood swings, andmemory loss.The Ashton Manual can be found on-line and downloaded at no cost. I recommend that you read it and take it to your physician if you want to get off these drugs. It can be done!! I will talk later about the withdrawal and post-withdrawal experience.

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