Nightmarish Benzos and Friends

“People want a quick fix but that’s not how it works. It’s a whole way of looking at life, a whole way of living, taking care of yourself.” – Babette Galang on healing.

At a coffee get-together, James remarked that he finally had a good night’s sleep. Temazepam was the solution, he explained. I shivered. Temazepam is a benzodiazepine—a “benzo.” All I could tell James was that I learned about benzos the hard way! My experience with these medications that physicians have been prescribing for over sixty-five years sparked a return to my nightmarish past. Benzos made me dizzy, depressed and incontinent. They caused restlessness, twitching and horrible itching. I had many falls. I was intoxicated, as if I were using alcohol. I was forgetful, couldn’t walk straight, my hands shook, got mixed up easily, my emotions were erratic and I called the crisis line most days. My psychiatrists admitted me to hospital for depression, agitation and sleeplessness. But it was the medications that they prescribed causing the intoxication, and making me look like I was mentally ill. My treatment in hospital relied on more medications, such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers and more benzos. Oh yes, I can’t forget the addiction. Once I learned that my problems were due to an addiction to benzos, I had to accept help from the health system that caused the addiction in the first place. Once I realized the psychiatrist did not know how to get me off the drugs safely and humanely, I had to do my own research and educate him. I asked him to read the manual, Benzodiazepines: How They Work & How to Withdraw by Dr. Heather Ashton. The Ashton method has a 90% success rate, if people are supported and given the information. After eight months of the doctor writing prescriptions according to Dr. Ashton’s protocol and eight months of withdrawal symptoms, I succeeded in getting off all of the benzos and other psychiatric drugs. Even though I was free of all psychiatric drugs, it took five more years before my body and mind settled. I would never wish what I went through on anyone. Yet 14.1% of senior Canadians, including James, are putting themselves at risk by using benzos. Learn More Benzodiazepines are associated with a greater risk of cognitive problems, delirium, falls, fractures and car accidents. This is serious considering these drugs are on the Beers list of potentially inappropriate drugs for the elderly. The 2012 version of the Beers list states, “Avoid benzodiazepines (all types) when treating insomnia, agitation or delirium.” So, for fifteen years I relied on benzos to sleep and once off them it was up to me to manage without the pills. My sleep improved by facing my fears and worries and learning ways to keep calm. When I have a sleepless night, I tell myself that is the way it is. James was determined to take pills to sleep and I am sure he had his reasons for not hearing my warning. I let it go. That is what friends do, allow people to make their own decisions. If the opportunity arises, I may say something intriguing to catch James’s attention, and in the meantime we will enjoy coffee together.