1. Go slow or go fast, either way, be prepared for inevitable side effects.
Getting off benzos such as Ativan®, Xanax®, and Klonopin® is tough. Detailed methods for slow weaning abound, but that doesn’t guarantee a symptom-free withdrawal. Several of our Coleman Institute locations provide a medically assisted benzo detox to safely remove most benzos from the body in a week, and provide medications to deal with the usual side effects.
2. Understand you will still experience anxiety when the benzos are gone.
Anxiety is a normal part of being human. It is only when the anxiety starts to interfere with a person’s ability to live the kind of life they want to live, that it’s really a problem.
Our brains are wired to be on the lookout for danger—it is what has kept us alive as a species. But if our brain has unknowingly been ‘trained’ to perceive danger when in reality we are safe, it still responds as if we are being chased by a saber-toothed tiger.
The whole cascade of neurotransmitters and hormones respond to ‘save’ us from the perceived anger. This is the familiar Fight, Flight, or Freeze response. When these unquestioned automatic responses rule their world, people withdraw from dreams and goals. There are many methods available to learn to live with, and put anxiety in the proper perspective. (Disregard this if a saber-tooth tiger is chasing you.)
3. Although you may have benefitted from benzos at one time, long-term use is a bad plan.
Patients that come to the Coleman Institute for a benzo detox have often fallen through the cracks of well-meaning providers. They were going through a rough period in their life and were prescribed Xanax®; perhaps they were having trouble sleeping and received a prescription for Ativan®. They may have been struggling with balancing shift work and raising a family. As a younger person, they were tongue-tied at social gatherings or felt panicky when they were in public situations and Valium® smoothed things over. Somehow, the prescriptions kept being re-filled.
Most people outgrow anxiety issues as they get older and have no need for such long- term medications. Benzos become particularly worrisome as a person ages.
Take a quick browse on the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) or NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) to get a feel for good reasons not to stay on benzos:
- Long-term benzodiazepine users have an increased risk of dementia compared with never users.
- Risk of falls increases dramatically.
- Cognition and memory are impaired.
- Restorative sleep is impacted.
The list goes on and on. The risks of being on benzos clearly outweigh benefits in the long run.
4. Have a plan in place.
When you have decided once and for all that you no longer want to be on benzodiazepines, it’s time to gather your resources.
Educate yourself about the psychological and physical side effects that are likely to happen (although the response to withdrawal varies in everyone). Work with a responsible, reliable health care provider who understands the importance of partnering with you through this difficult time.
Find a therapist to work with on cognitive behavioral skills to learn how to co-exist with anxiety. (I frequently steer people toward The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety by Forsyth and Eifert.) Start now to cultivate some sort of mindfulness or meditative practice to become the Observer of your TEAMS (Thoughts, Emotions, Associations, Memories and Sensations); eventually you can learn to watch your thoughts without reacting to them.
We receive hundreds of calls from people desperate to get off their benzodiazepines safely. It is absolutely possible to become free from them, and recover completely, but it will take determination. Having the best resources to support you through this is key. The Coleman Institute is available to be part of your team. Please call us to see if a Rapid Benzo Detox at one of our offices is a good fit for you.
Joan R. Shepherd, FNP