Myth 1: You have to have an addictive personality
to become hooked on a benzo.
I shared my benzo withdrawal story with a new friend of mine, who come to find out, is on a benzo. She said, “Thank God, I don’t have an addictive personality, so I won’t have any problems when I want to come off.” I did my best to gently explain to her the ways benzodiazepines work on the brain and the damage they can cause, making a reduction in dose bordering on inhumane suffering. I told her that people couldn’t get off the drugs, not because they are addicts, but because they are chemically dependent. She replied that her doctor told her that unless she was prone to addiction, the drugs were safe to take. “Besides,” she said, “I only take one every other night so that I won’t get hooked.” I explained that even PRN use could cause dependency, but I could tell that she wasn’t open to hearing the truth about these drugs. She was content to rely on her doctor’s advice, which in most instances, is wise. But not so with benzos. Most doctors are uneducated about benzos. Educate yourself. Google benzo withdrawal. Read people’s stories about their withdrawal experience. Discover for yourself the truth about these medications.
Myth 2: Going to rehab is the safest
way to get off a benzo.
If you had a problem stopping alcohol, pain meds, or street drugs, rehab is usually a safe way to get clean. Not so with benzos. A rehab or detox center is one of the worst options for getting off of a benzo. They taper patients off way too quickly. Rehabs and detox centers also are notorious for adding more medications that can harm us in benzo withdrawal. The best way to get off a benzo is to make gradual (not more than 10%) reductions in your dose. Some people require a year or more to taper off of their medication. Many people who go to detox or rehab, come home with so many debilitating and unbearable symptoms that they either reinstate or end their lives.
Myth 3 and 4: Slow tapers and long holds guarantee
an easy withdrawal experience.
We all wish that this were true! A slow taper does help to minimize withdrawal symptoms, but it is by no means a guarantee that you won’t experience withdrawal symptoms. Some people have symptoms no matter how small a cut they make. Another myth that goes hand in hand with this one is that if you hold your dose long enough you’ll “stabilize.” That isn’t always the case, sadly. Tolerance is a very real phenomenon. (Dr. Ashton, a leading expert on benzo withdrawal) recommends that for people who are extremely ill from their benzo that they get off as quickly as it is safe to do so instead of holding.
Myth 5: Reinstatement ensures that a second slower taper will be less symptomatic.
Many people are so overwhelmed by their benzo withdrawal symptoms that they reinstate in hopes that they can have a “do-over” and get it right the second time around. Dr. Ashton’s research found that reinstatement after four weeks after discontinuation rarely worked in the long run. Like many things in benzo withdrawal, we don’t know why, Symptoms may be reduced at first, but tolerance usually rears its head within a few weeks and what gains you’ve won go right out the window. You can become just as sick as you were when you reinstated. Plus, getting back down off the drug can now cause even more symptoms due to the phenomenon of “kindling.” It’s best to taper slowly to avoid as many symptoms as you can, and once off, stay off!
Myth 6: There are medications to stop withdrawal symptoms.
There are no medications (or supplements or vitamins) that stop withdrawal symptoms. (Flumazenil, a benzodiazepine receptor antagonist has been thought to stop withdrawal symptoms, but it is not a permanent cure.) Many of us seek out help as we are so desperate for our suffering to stop. However, the only true cure for benzo withdrawal is time. The brain heals itself. Our best stance is to do nothing that interferes with our recovery. We must avoid alcohol and drugs or herbs that work on GABA receptors. Even vitamins such as D, B, and magnesium have been known to flare our symptoms. Antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers and other medications can often make us worse. Some people have reported that they have gotten some relief from medical marijuana, while others report that it sent them into a horrible wave of symptoms.
Myth 7: Once healed, it’s safe to take another
benzo in the future.
Once you have recovered from benzo withdrawal, it is best to avoid taking another benzo at any time in the future. Too many people have reported that they took a pill or two for a scary flight, or an emotional upset, only to be thrown back into withdrawal. It’s not worth the risk. I wear a medical alert bracelet that states I cannot be administered a benzodiazepine. I never take it off.
Myth 8: You will have the same recovery schedule as
someone who was on the same benzo and dose.
Every brain is different so no two benzo recovery stories are the same. What determines your recovery is your unique DNA and your ability to weather the adversity that comes with withdrawal. Never compare your recovery to someone else’s recovery. You’ll either scare yourself that yours will take as long as theirs or you’ll be disappointed that theirs was shorter than yours. Focus only on the day you are in and don’t worry about what’s up ahead. You’ll face and cope with whatever comes your way.
Myth 9: You’ll have PTSD from your withdrawal experience
Although this may be a possibility, I’ve not spoken to anyone who feels that they haven’t been able to put their withdrawal experience behind them. True, while you are still recovering, it can feel as if you will bever be able to let go and forget, however, as your GABA receptors heal from the damage the benzo caused, you’ll see that there is very little, if anything, you will need to do to walk away and not look back. I had a very traumatic cold-turkey withdrawal, and I don’t feel haunted by it. I rarely think about it. I’m so grateful for my recovery and my new life that I don’t look back. The chances are good that you won’t look back either! You won’t be traumatized forever. You are definitely not “ruined” forever because you experienced benzo withdrawal.
Myth 10: It’s always best to cross over to a diazepam to taper
There are pros and cons to moving over to diazepam to taper. If you are on a short acting benzo such as Xanax, a gentle move over to a longer acting benzo might be helpful. You’ll be less prone to interdose withdrawals. Diazepam comes in small doses which make tapering easier than the other benzos. However, many people can’t tolerate the move over to diazepam as it doesn’t work on some of the sub-receptors that the new benzos work on. Diazepam is notorious for causing severe depression in many people. It’s a personal choice which benzo you decide to taper from. There is no right or wrong; it is only what works best for you.
Myth 11: A few good days means that withdrawal is behind you.
Oh, how I wish this were always true! When we have days (or hours) when we are symptom-free, or notably better, we call that being in a “window.” When we experience worsening/new symptoms we refer to that as being in a “wave.” Recovery from the damage caused by a benzo is not linear. It is up and down and sideways! We can experience a few good days and then be slammed again back into the pit of withdrawal. It’s frustrating that our healing is so unpredictable. It takes a great deal of emotional energy to ride out the waves. The good news is that eventually they fade away and we are left with good days! You’ll know when you can say that you feel that withdrawal is behind you and you no longer fear or anticipate waves.
Myth12: A low dose or short time on
equals a pain-free withdrawal
No one is sure what causes a benzodiazepine to damage one brain so badly and not harm another. All we know is that withdrawal is not always tied to how much of the drug you took, or the length of time you took it. People have reported severe withdrawals from ten days of prescribed use. Others have reported little to no withdrawal symptoms after years on the drug. The best rule of thumb is to respect these drugs and to get off of them as safely as possible. Don’t assume that because you were only on for a few weeks means you can be cavalier about your tapering process. On the other hand, don’t assume that just because you were on for a long time means that you will suffer horribly. You may get off without too much wear and tear as many have. Not everyone experiences withdrawal symptoms. But everyone should use caution getting off of their benzo.
The bottom line is that you must educate yourself about benzo withdrawal so that you can successfully and safely get off of your benzo. Please don’t trust the advice of anyone who isn’t educated about benzos and the recovery process, including doctors and other medical professionals. There is a great deal of information to be found on websites that are dedicated to benzo awareness and education. Please don’t fall prey to the myths about benzos and benzo withdrawal. Educate yourself. Be safe. Take good care of yourself, please.
What other myth about benzos can you think of to add to this list to educate people? Please leave your comment and join in the conversation.