What to do if I or someone I know is dependent on a benzo?
Seven important things to know first:
- It can be much more difficult and take much longer - often many years - to come off or ‘withdraw’ from benzos than to come off heroin, opiate pain killers or cocaine - and that symptoms of dependency may still persist for many months or even years after coming off them.
- Coming off heroin and other types of drugs (prescription or non-prescription) does not cause death - withdrawal from benzodiazepines can.
- People who come off benzos ‘cold turkey’, i.e. by abruptly discontinuing to take them (either voluntarily or because they are refused or cannot afford further prescriptions) are in the greatest danger, though this does always not apply to those on a very low dose.
- Those who reduce or ‘taper’ their dose slowly and more ‘safely’ may find themselves going through years of hell, and some commit suicide in the process.
- Rapid detox programmes in addiction or ‘rehab’ clinics over a short period of weeks are often not only hell for the patient but often make the dependency worse than before.
- You cannot necessarily rely on the physician or psychiatrist who first prescribed a benzodiazepine to be medically informed enough to either diagnose benzo dependency or to offer appropriate and knowledgeable advice for dealing with it. They may be so medically ignorant that they even deny that such an illness exists. This can put the patient into a situation similar to that of a rape or domestic abuse victim who claims are dismissed by the police - a humiliating experience.
- There are big differences in the way that doctors and psychiatrists in different nations generally approach benzodiazepine dependency. In some nations such as the U.S., the symptoms are not recognised but instead are often pathologised by diagnosing them under another psychiatric label and treating with other toxic psychiatric drugs - leading to ill-informed or highly dangerous or even fatal ‘polydrugging’. In other countries there has been been a backlash against the over-prescribing of benzos, either because its dangers are to some extent recognised, or more often, because it has become a popular black-market street drug - although one reason for this is that physicians and psychiatrists refuse patients sufficient prescriptions for slow tapering and so force them into obtaining their drug at exorbitant prices on the street or through online pharmacies that are often fraudulent.
- Every individual is different. That means there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for dealing with benzo dependency. The only true ‘expert’ in choosing between different approaches - for example different rates of tapering - is the individual themselves.