I must have shaken a thousand hands that day. I was in my glory, promoting my latest book for teen girls at the prestigious New York Book Expo. When a young man from Psychology Today stopped by my booth and asked me to blog for their website, I was unbelievably flattered. I share this story with you so you understand how people are chosen to become Psychology Today bloggers. We are mostly people with a doctorate degree who are interested in a field of interest that we blog about (teen girls for me) but that does not mean we know it all or are “experts.” Psychology Today didn’t vet me, other than to see I had written a book. However, readers of the blogs assume that we are indeed experts and take what we write seriously.
This is why Edward Shorter’s Ph.D. post is dangerous. Readers may believe he is an expert and decide to begin taking a benzo for their anxiety, pain, insomnia, headaches, etc. Dr. Shorter is certainly is no “expert” in psychopharmacology (no matter how many stats he quotes, or how much history he knows about medicine) and his blog is dangerously misleading. The main point in his blog, Benzo Hysteria, “is that psychiatrists have moved away from prescribing benzos as they have been “demonized” for being addictive. He implies that the move away from benzos is not warranted, as benzos are “among the safest and most effective drug classes in the history of psychopharmacology.” If I were the editor of Psychology Today I would remove this post immediately for fear of a lawsuit from a reader who believed Dr. Shorter’s opinion and began treatment with a benzo, only to be damaged by the drug. Millions of us have been. I find it incredibly hard to believe that someone with a doctorate in the field of studying medicine has managed to overlook the very real life threatening dangers of benzos. But I should’t be surprised. Not when so many psychiatrists are uneducated about benzos too.
Benzos are addictive. Perhaps not in the sense that you crave a “hit” like cocaine or heroin, but try to stop the drug and you find yourself in a world of pain: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. From my understanding, benzos work on the chloride ring on the GABA receptor. Over time, the receptor down regulates. In essence, the drug has caused literal brain damage. Scientists still do not know all of the damage done by benzos. Those of us suffering only know for a fact that our pain is very real, and is disabling. And in same tragic instances, life threatening. (Rest in peace my friends Pauline, Kris and Holly.) Addiction to the drug has been reported in as little as 8 or 9 days of repeated use. Tapering off the drug to ward off horrific withdrawals often is intolerable. My own bloody march to freedom included a cold turkey after 8 hellish months tapering and being bedridden, shaking, terror, sweats, unable to eat or bathe, etc. The horrific stories of what people endure in their tapers to get off of their benzos are heart breaking. A cold turkey path to freedom can be even more horrific. It is not that the return of our old underlying anxiety returns, it is that we now have damaged brains that don’t have any recourse available to calm down from any stimuli. We live in a world of terror, dark existential thoughts, and pain in our muscles, bones and joints for months, if not years. Along with nerve damage, tingling, burning skin sensation, vomiting, extreme weakness, fatigue and hellish insomnia…and more. These symptoms occur even for patients who are on a benzo for ailments other than anxiety or any other psychological issue.
Symptoms of withdrawal can appear at any time on the medication. Tolerance withdrawal occurs and you need to take more of the drug to ward off a nightmare of symptoms. However, most unsuspecting patients will scurry to their doctor with very real ailments only to be told “it is the return of your underlying anxiety” (even patients who were put on a benzo for back pain!) and not told that they are in tolerance withdrawal. Over time, their dosage escalates, because without increasing the drug, they suffer withdrawal symptoms.
The brain damage caused by benzos has been known since the 1960’s. There is a mountain of research proving the dangers of benzos. Dr. Heather Ashton led a benzo withdrawal clinic in the UK and has written extensively on the horrors of tolerance withdrawal, inter-dose withdrawal, tapering, cold turkey withdrawal and the many months, if not years needed for recovery.
I suggest that Dr. Shorter read Dr. Ashton’s work. Or visit the websites benzobuddies.org or recovery-road.org for a better understanding of the damage done by benzos. Google Dr. Reggie Peart, Kate Fay Benzo and Matt Sammet. Watch the YouTube videos of benzo survivors. Or, come and visit me, and see first hand how getting off of and healing from benzos can ruin your life. I went from being a leading authority on teen girls with four books under my belt, to hospitalized with brain damage, housebound, unable to hardly walk, talk or function. I am days shy of 2 years of being benzo free and I am still in debilitating pain every day. Then Dr. Shorter, I would like you to look me squarely in the eye, and tell me that benzos are safe and effective. I’d like you to look at everyone who is healing from the brain damage caused by benzos and tell them how safe and effective benzos are. I am not alone. There are millions of us Dr. Shorter.
Millions are stuck on a drug that looses its efficacy after a few months. Stuck on a drug that damages our brains yet we need to increase the dose if we are to stay out of withdrawal, hence causing more brain damage. Over time our health fails, all because we are on a drug that is almost impossible for some of us to get off of. Yes, some can taper with very few problems. But many, many, of us, find our lives shattered. I am one of those many, many people, Dr. Shorter. And once off? The real nightmare begins when withdrawal goes into full force.
To the editors at Psychology Today, I ask that you remove this blog. It is dangerous to glorify benzos. They have been proven to be harmful. Many have been damaged, some even killed by their use. Those of us suffering as we heal from the damage done to us find this blog post offensive. We who suffer do so often in isolation. We are disbelieved, ignored and abandoned by family, friends, doctors, etc., even though our suffering is real and has been researched and made public knowledge. Your blog reminds us yet again, how “invisible” our suffering is.
I was put on Klonopin in my mid-thirties when I began having anxiety and panic attacks after a series of traumatic events while at the same time revealing for the first time my sexual abuse at the hands of a neighborhood pedophile (and other men.) The flashbacks to the abuse were difficult, but not as difficult as navigating benzo withdrawal. My old anxiety and panic was a walk in the park on a bright sunny blue-bird day compared to healing from benzos.
Dr. Shorter, I ask you to please consider a more thorough investigation before you post about the safety and efficacy of any drug. Thank you.
Dr. Jennifer Leigh