Benzodiazepines and sedative-hypnotics have a way of sneaking into people’s lives unnoticed. Someone is feeling anxious or has trouble sleeping, he or she reports as much to the doc and suddenly Xanax-popping is a part of daily life. This was certainly my situation back in the 90s, before there was a lot of press out there about these things—long before “Ambien eating” became a part of our cultural nomenclature. And now addiction to these sorts of pills is sweeping Australia, where, according to The New Daily, an estimated half a million Aussies have become dependent.
So What Are These Drugs?
Benzodiazepines are not only the hardest class of drugs to spell correctly but are also quite misunderstand. I took plenty of Xanax and Valium for a good half decade and I never actually knew they were benzos, or had even heard of the classification, until I was in rehab and a guy smoking cigarettes at the same picnic table as me said, “Ahhh, so you were a benzo girl” when I told him about the drugs I used to go buy in Mexico.
Benzos, in the simplest terms, increase the calming chemicals in the brain. That sounds all well and good—except it’s not well and good at all since benzos and hypnotics are highly addictive and there are plenty of non-addictive drugs out there that can provide similar benefits.
The Real Pill Problem Here
Back when I took Ambien, Xanax and Valium, I didn’t think of myself as addicted. I just thought that I couldn’t sleep and so I needed to something to help. My memories of these days are foggy at best but I have to assume that the first doctor who gave them to me warned me that they could be addictive because I do remember that he told me to only take a quarter of a pill a night. I may have done that the first couple times but the body builds up a resistance to these drugs fairly quickly and pretty soon I was saying “Screw this cutting-pills-in-four thing” and taking whole pills and then many whole pills every night.
I wasn’t alone with needing to take more and more to achieve the same results. It takes about a month to become addicted to a benzo or hypnotic and, according to The New York Times, benzos were present in about 30% of prescription med ODs in 2013. In other words, yes, opiates are the major drug problem today. But the risk of obsessing over the dangers of drugs like Oxycontin is that we can then overlook the fact that Xanax, Ambien and other benzos and hypnotics kill people, too. As Dr. Marcus Bachhuber, an assistant professor that recently conducted a study on the dangers of benzos, told The Times, “With public attention focused primarily on opioid painkillers, the role of anti-anxiety drugs fell under the radar.”
How to Get Off (and Not Sexually)
The way Australia is attempting to handle their growing benzo problem is with an online therapy program called “BDZ eHealth: A benzodiazepine gradual reduction program.” The idea behind this “web & mobile psychoeducation program” is to provide advice, strategies and information so people can reduce and withdraw from the drugs by watching modules that focus on sleep, meditation, muscle relaxation and other topics.
Whether or not the online therapy proves to be effective, anyone who manages to quit benzos and/or hypnotics may be shocked to discover what I did—that is, that these drugs are completely unnecessary. There are oh so many SSRI’s out there that can help the anxious and sleepless with their troubles and you don’t build up a tolerance to any of them.
An added benefit: they don’t cause you to shovel Oreos in your mouth without knowing it. No, we sugar addicts can be entirely conscious for that.
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