The other side of Benzodiazepines
I remember waking up to the faint sound of Madonna playing on the stereo, shortly followed by screaming and the smell of smoke coming from the car. I couldn’t figure out what was happening but heard one of my friends telling the paramedics he couldn’t move his body or neck. The next picture I see is me in the hospital asking the nurse if my friend was dead or paralyzed. I’d like to say the reason my memory was so shot was because I hit my head or was in shock, but I walked away from that car accident with only burns from the air bags in my car. I was on a very common benzodiazepine called Xanax.
Benzodiazepines are a family of psychoactive prescription drugs that have been prescribed for decades to treat anxiety and depression. The most commonly known by their brand name are Xanax, Valium, Klonopin and Ativan. The medication is also used to treat insomnia, seizures, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal and as a premedication for medical or dental procedures. The first similar drug was Librium. It was discovered in 1955 and made available in 1960. By 1963 Valium was marketed. These drugs were seen as safe and effective with proper use. Over time, these drugs have been prescribed by psychiatrists in large quantities across the country as a solution for anxiety and depression. What wasn’t known at the time was the addictive nature of these drugs and the long term effects or how dangerous Benzodiazepine withdrawal actually is.
My friend ended up okay after the above accident. I’ll always remember that fleeting feeling of just how close you can come to your whole life being turned upside down. You see, I was in multiple car accidents after that one. Looking back, I’m lucky to be alive and more importantly that I did not injure anyone else.
I have almost no recollection of those years other than the fact I would take Xanax because it made me someone I was not. I knew if I took it, all my anxieties about my life or problems wouldn’t matter.
I was working as a Cosmetologist in California, trying to build a clientele. It is an extremely competitive profession and people skills are crucial. With all my insecurities at the time, I had almost no people skills. I felt it was hard to survive day to day. Sometimes I struggled to breathe and even gasped for air with my head just above the water that seemed to crash over my life. The way I knew to deal with it at that time was to take these prescription drugs.
A year before the accident, I learned about the drug Xanax from a friend of mine from Cosmetology school. One day we were carpooling to school and I went to her house to pick her up. She had been in a fight with her mom and was crying. She told me that she had to take her anti-anxiety medication because she was sad and anxious. I looked down on the table and saw a large line of white powder and a short straw. She snorted the line and told me it was Xanax.
She took a prescription pill bottle out and gave me one. She told me to break one in half to start and just swallow it when I was feeling anxious. The half tablet quickly grew to handfuls. I started buying them off of her and soon grew a dependence. This was the beginning of my career as a full blown drug addict. Over the course of the following 5 years, I added many other drugs to the list; opiates, weed, alcohol, heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine.
You’d be surprised to know this story is very common. In 2010, 20.4 million Americans age 12 and older have misused benzodiazepines. That same year, 95% of US hospital admissions for benzos reported abusing additional substances. They have a high potential for addiction and this has been recognized since the 1980s. The combination of these drugs with other prescription drugs can have harmful results. In some cases, mixing these drugs with another drug or alcohol can cause overdose or death. The common side effects that benzos can include are….
- irregular heartbeat
- memory loss
- euphoria, vertigo
- suicidal thoughts
I went into many different treatment centers, none of which helped me to address any of the problems I had that caused me to use drugs. Luckily, after many attempts at sobriety and treatment, I was checked into Narconon in September 2011. I finally found a treatment center that helped lead me to find solutions to the problems in my life and handle them overcoming the anxieties I had to medicate or numb. Those same problems in life that led me to a benzodiazepine addition were solvable after all!
I now work in the withdrawal unit at Narconon New Life Retreat as a Narconon Withdrawal Specialist and Certified Nursing Assistant, helping others withdrawal from drugs. At almost 5 years sober, I am very passionate about the effects from benzodiazepines now that I’ve seen it from the other side. A lot of people believe that because Benzodiazepines are prescribed by a doctor, they are safe. In reality, these medications can be more dangerous than heroin or cocaine. If you or someone you know is suffering from benzodiazepine addiction, please call Narconon New Life Retreat immediately.
Written By Guest Blogger Rachel Schoen
Rachel relocated from California to the South, first Atlanta then in Denham Springs, just outside of Baton Rouge. She enjoys going to the gym, long walks with her dog and her job at Narconon Louisiana as a Withdrawal Specialist.