By Lily Lynch: For Complete Post, Click Here…
ngd- When I was a brand spanking new substance abuse therapist in the late ’70s, one of m y first clients was a 75-year-old woman addicted to benzos. She had a truly terrible time withdrawing form them, and I never looked at them in the casual way I had in the past…
I went through acute withdrawal from anxiety medication alone at home during the pandemic.
Iremember little about the past nine years. What I do remember is garbled, like it’s trapped deep underwater, or like my own memories aren’t quite mine. Everything prior to that time remains perfectly intact. I can remember the street I lived on in San Francisco a decade ago but the past five years are largely featureless. It has only been in the last months of this year, during the pandemic, that I have begun to reacquire any clarity, and the desire for clarity.
The culprit is benzodiazepines, or “benzos”, the most popular prescribed class of drugs for the treatment of anxiety. I took benzodiazepines every day for nine years, and in the latter half of that period I also drank. Benzodiazepines such as clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax) are notorious for being among the most difficult drugs in the world to quit, with severe withdrawal symptoms possible after just one month. Long-term use of benzodiazepines, described as use lasting just six months or more, results in marked cognitive impairment, and can cause anterograde amnesia, in which the ability to make new memories is lost.
Most troublingly, these well-established amnesic effects, as well as cognitive decline in other areas, do not abate when a patient stops taking the drugs. Even a year after withdrawal from benzodiazepines, long-term former users still demonstrate “significant impairment in many areas of cognition, ie verbal memory, psychomotor speed, speed of processing, motor control/performance, visuospatial processing, general intelligence, attention/concentration, and non-verbal memory”.
Benzodiazepines do not produce euphoria; they leave you indifferent to the world. Benzos are like the drug soma in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which “a gramme is better than a damn”. The variety of oblivion benzodiazepines have to offer is a lonely, clinical, anesthetic one. “Mother’s little helpers” lack the glamour of other pills and denote dullness, forever associated as they are with the two largely invisible populations to which they are most heavily prescribed: the elderly poor and older housewives. Prescription rates for benzodiazepines are also 45% higher in deprived areas of England.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, anxiety and the use of anti-anxiety medication have been way up. In the UK, the Office for National Statistics found that between 20 and 30 March 2020, “almost half (49.6%) of people reported high anxiety”. In November, the percentage of adults who experienced anxiety was 17%, still well above pre-pandemic levels. In the US, a report published by Express Scripts, a Cigna-owned healthcare company, claimed that the number of prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications rose by 34% from mid-February to mid-March. The Global Drug Survey, the world’s biggest annual drug survey, reported similar results, with 34% of respondents around the world indicating that their consumption of benzodiazepines had increased during the pandemic.
There are others, however, who have seen the pandemic as a precious window of time, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change. Somehow, I am one of them. One day in September, I quit alcohol, cigarettes and animal products, and started tapering off benzodiazepines, all at once. I have now been completely benzo-free for more than a month. (I recommend you consult a doctor before you consider stopping any medications.) The external Covid crisis made quelling my internal one a real possibility. So I sealed myself inside my Belgrade flat, alone, in what became a Marina Abramović-style physical and psychological endurance performance for one. The same pursuit of extreme states of consciousness that led me to drugs in the first place could help lead me out.