It’s hard to suffer from an illness that isn’t recognized by the medical community. It’s even harder to suffer from that illness when it was caused by the very people who don’t recognize it: doctors. It’s incredibly frustrating to be told misinformation about our illness by those doctors. It’s like salt rubbed into the wound. Here is what we want doctors to know about benzodiazepine withdrawal:

  1. Benzodiazepines can cause chemical dependency in susceptible people in as a little as five to ten days. Dependency has nothing to do with an “addictive personality” and everything to do with DNA mutations that allow the drug to harm the brain. There is no research (yet) to indicate what these mutations may be, however, there is some indication that the MTHFR gene mutation may play a role. Benzos should never be prescribed for more than a few days. The prescription insert provided by the manufacturer indicates no more than two to four weeks of continuous use. Even this timeframe may be too long for some susceptible individuals.
  2. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms occur because the drug changes the brain. The drug causes down-regulation of the GABA receptors. It is this chemical brain damage that is at the center of benzo withdrawal suffering. There may be other changes in the brain as well. More research is needed.
  3. A slow taper is the best way to get off of the drug. No more than a ten percent cut at any time, and a hold of one to two weeks, or longer is recommended by Dr. Heather Ashton, the leading authority on benzodiazepine withdrawal. It would be helpful if doctors wrote prescriptions for the amount we need so that we can have the drug compounded, otherwise, we are left to our own methods of reducing the dose. These include water titration, dry cutting, and using scales. All of them are clumsy and rife for errors.
  4. Rehabs and detox centers are not the way to help a patient get free from a benzo because they use a taper schedule that is too fast. Also, these types of institutions are notorious for putting people on other powerful and damaging psych meds—get off of a benzo but come home on a handful of new drugs.
  5. Withdrawal symptoms can occur even while on the drug. This is known as tolerance withdrawal. We may have had symptoms for years that have gone undiagnosed for what they are. As we taper, we may acquire new or more intense benzo withdrawal symptoms.
  6. The anxiety, terror, panic, or paranoia that is common in benzodiazepine withdrawal are not the return of underlying “disorders.” They are the result of the changes in the brain from the drug and they will resolve in time as the brain heals.
  7. Prescribing psych meds for benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms is not helpful and can be harmful. Intrusive thoughts, OCDish thinking, and behavior, as well as anxiety, rage, depression, fear, paranoia, panic, hallucinations, etc., are not indications of a new (or old) mental health disorder and should be viewed as part of the healing process.
  8. Dismissing our benzo withdrawal symptoms as “in our head” isn’t helpful. We want you to know that we value your support and want you to become educated about the process of withdrawing and recovering from a benzo.
  9. Benzo withdrawal can last for many months, if not years, as it takes the brain quite some time to heal. The central nervous system needs time to calm down and recover from the down-regulated GABA receptors. Healing is not linear and is punctuated by “windows” and “waves”. We can feel better in a window only to be sick again in a wave. Even years off the drug, some people can have a relapse of withdrawal symptoms.
  10. Alcohol, vitamin D, B, magnesium and fish oil have all been known to increase benzo withdrawal symptoms. Also, chamomile, kavinace, kava kava, valerian, and phenibut, work on GABA and should be avoided during benzo withdrawal.
  11. Although we are aware that there are no drugs that can cure benzo withdrawal, we do want your help as a doctor. We’d like you to rule out anything other than withdrawal and we’d like you to reassure us that our symptoms will one day go away. We mostly need support and reassurance.
  12. In order to help us the most as we withdraw and recover from the benzodiazepine that we took as prescribed, you need to educate yourself about benzos and benzo withdrawal. We’d be incredibly grateful if you’d take the time to learn and to understand the very serious health challenge that we face.
  13. Most of all, we’d love it if you’d stop prescribing benzos for more than a few days so that you don’t inadvertently harm anyone else.