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Prolonged [Benzo] Withdrawal – Will It Ever End?


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From a PsychCentral blog by a psychiatrist specializing in addiction at http://blogs.psychcentral.com/epidemic-addiction/2012/10/prolonged-withdrawal/ Go to this page to see links embedded in the text.

 

Prolonged Withdrawal– Will It Ever End?

By J.T. Junig, MD, PhD

 

Message from a reader:

 

I am trying to determine what my best course of action might be in dealing with protracted withdrawals from a number of drugs, including benzodiazepines.

 

My history is as follows: I was snorting Oxycontin for about 6 months and went into treatment to stop. Before entering the rehab hospital they put me on Clonidine .2 mgs, Ambien 12.5 mg and Sertraline 50mgs for about 1-2 weeks. Once hospitalized they switched me to Mirtazapine 15 mg, Clonazepam 1 mg and Cymbalta 20 mg., and I was on these for 5-6 months.

 

I took myself off all three of the last meds over a week or two, becoming free from all drugs. I believe stopping these medications cold turkey affected my CNS. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke pot. I basically stopped interacting with all of my friends to stay away from all drugs and alcohol.

 

I still feel awful. My primary symptoms are anxiety, depression, foggy-headed and depersonalization.

 

I have read posts from a woman who goes by username “Polenta,” from a site called benzo buddies, who is nearly 80 and has been in withdrawal for 20 years.

 

Will I fully heal? Does everybody heal no matter how far out they are?....

 

Would I benefit from starting a low dose of an antidepressant and then tapering very slowly off to help stabilize my CNS? I greatly appreciate any advice that you can offer me. I’ve been in a lot of pain these last couple years and believe that someone with your professional and personal experiences can help me find some answers.

 

Tom

 

My Thoughts:

 

Hi Tom,

 

I hear similar complaints frequently. Just today I saw a person who has been struggling to get off psychiatric medications, including benzodiazepines, for several years. He is not able to stop cold turkey because when the diazepam level in his bloodstream drops too low, his anxiety and panic become unbearable.

 

There is a split between what you will read on the internet* vs. what you will be told by most physicians. Horror stories about permanent structural damage to the GABA receptor complex have little or no basis in scientific research.

 

The common medical opinion is that benzodiazepines act at GABA receptors in a reversible manner, and that while withdrawal is very unpleasant for some people, there are no permanent symptoms caused by benzodiazepine intoxication or withdrawal. Benzodiazepines have been prescribed fairly commonly for 40 years or so, and the collective experience suggests that they are quite safe, beyond an increased risk of miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy and the well-known problems of tolerance, dose escalation and addiction. That said, I am no fan of routine use of benzodiazepines, as I point out here.

 

I suspect that most physicians who hear your story will write the symptoms off as psychiatric or psychological. There will be homeopathic or naturopathic physicians who will use your symptoms as reason to sell you all sorts of ‘cleansing’ products, or gadgets that ‘rebalance the body’ in some way, or bizarre-sounding therapies that adjust your ‘energy fields.’

 

I’m sure I sound skeptical, because I AM skeptical. Since you are writing to it me, I’ll share my opinion, and you can decide who to believe. I am a scientist at heart. One thing that getting a PhD teaches a person is how to critically assess the scientific literature. I am a reviewer for two publications—Academic Psychiatry and Journal of Addiction—where I am occasionally called upon to review articles that have been submitted, suggest changes, and help determine whether the study described in the article contains bias or statistical errors that should prevent publication. I know very well how easily we humans can misperceive things by seeing what we want to see, or by automatically believing what we suspect to be true.

 

The supplements used to treat opioid or benzodiazepine withdrawal are essentially worthless. There are many plants that have folklore attached to them, and in many cases that folklore has been copied in some bogus ‘encyclopedia of natural remedies’ and then claimed by other people to be true— because it is in a book. People write all sorts of nonsense in home medicine ‘references’; many such books are self-published, so there is not even an editor putting his/her reputation on the line—or if there is, the lure of quick cash has erased concerns about leading people astray. My patients have used many of the remedies, including products that advertise on my web sites. I’ve never witnessed relief beyond the expected placebo effect. Realize that the placebo effect has a huge impact on psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety.

 

There is a bizarre tendency among people to accept what is described as ‘natural.’ Many people are afraid of FDA-approved medications that have been through years of testing, yet gobble down supplements from China that were never inspected by anyone. I’m off topic, but I think that the general attraction of things described as ‘natural’ must be called out for the silly charade that it is. Your body has no way of knowing what is ‘natural’ and what isn’t; your intestine takes on the breakdown and absorption of ingested chemicals regardless of whether that chemical was made by a factory or by a mushroom.

 

The products hyped to ‘cleanse’ the body are simply bogus—with the exception of a few medications with very specific binding properties such as chelating agents that bind heavy metals, or chemicals that draw ammonia from the bloodstream into the colon. When someone is given naltrexone, opioids are NOT flushed from the system. Naltrexone competes for binding at the mu receptor and causes withdrawal, but the molecules being antagonized are still in the body, and are eliminated at the same rate whether or not naltrexone is present. Yet the ‘rapid detox’ people love to write about ‘cleansing’ the body of opioids. Hogwash!

 

Back to your case… from a scientific, evidence-based perspective it is difficult to see how withdrawal would cause permanent damage to neurons, provided there were no seizures or lack of oxygen at some point in the process. While some people have long-term symptoms like you describe, the vast majority of people suffer insomnia for several weeks, but then return to normal as the receptors lose their tolerance. Why would your brain be different? Realize that dividing physical vs. mental causes for symptoms creates an unnatural dichotomy. Mental symptoms are caused by physical changes in the brain. If you are having depression and anxiety, there are neurons in your brain that are firing in a certain pattern to make you to feel that way.

 

So if I’m correct, why do some people experience symptoms like yours for years after stopping benzodiazepines?

 

I suspect that in some people, psychological symptoms and physical or emotional feelings become ‘imprinted’ on the brain, as memories that play back over and over in response to certain cues, until they are replaced by other memories and imprinting. Memories form because the neural pathways that get used become more likely to be used again, like ruts in a muddy field. The pathways that make you feel anxious, for example, fire strong signals over and over during true withdrawal, and from that point forward, those pathways are easily set off again by certain cues, or perhaps even spontaneously.

 

I see more evidence for this phenomenon in people addicted to opioids, whose thoughts can generate symptoms of withdrawal months or years after the last use of opioids. As one thinks about it, if memories of a pleasant vacation can generate smiles for weeks afterward, doesn’t it make sense that memories of withdrawal can generate anxiety and depression?

 

The answer for your situation then becomes forgetting those miserable experiences, best done by replacing the bad memories with layers and layers of better memories. That may mean doing your best to ‘act as if’; to ‘fake it ‘til you make it’, force a smile, and keep on truckin’ day after day until you feel better. Keep your mind open to change, and do your best to see the positive side of things. Practice gratitude whenever you remember to. Exercise is always helpful, I think because it forces us to replace thoughts of despair and impotence with the experience of pushing forward despite those feelings.

 

I wish I knew an easier, faster way to feel better. But if there is one, I haven’t discovered it yet.

 

I wish you well,

 

J

 

* References to a certain UK physician have been removed. I admit that my knowledge of that physician’s body of work comes from what I have read from others– not directly from the source.

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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I want to tell that it is not only about withdrawal. I believe many mental issues stem from Lyme and co-infections.

So if withdrawal taking long time, test for Lyme and co-infections + parasites.

 

Lyme is the great Imitatior of illnesses, psychiatric and physical.

 

Everyone should test at IgeneX (mandatory)

 

Because I read about many have pain issues + depression + serious sleep issues and diffuse illnesses.

 

Please listen, it is cruical to collect all new facts to understand this phenomen with protracted withdrawal and why some heal fast but not others.

 

Lyme/co-infections + parasites delaying substantive healing can be a cruical factor here.

 

And I believe many much more is affected. In Nevada for example, 90% was infected with Lyme but lots of them were asymptomatic.

But mixed with withdrawal makes body stressed so Lyme attacks the body. It was what happened to me.

 

Again, please listen. I only want people well. I know many don't think Lyme is a issue to be taken seriously, but it is. Lyme has many faces:

 

It is transmitted not by only ticks, but fleas, flies, mites, bed-bugs, pets, animals and sexually transmitted. It is of enormous proportions. Worldwide affected already.

 

Also it was recently discovered that people that with autism, aspergers, bipolar, epileptic, borderline, psychosis, anxiety/depression all had Lyme + co-infections + parasites (most of them).

 

It also explain the factor why people die from AIDS, as they die from immune defiency, which is the same process that happens with Lyme constellation.

 

The term MCIDS (multiple chronically infectious disease syndrome) is used more now, as the Lyme constellation is broader than just Lyme.

 

One key issue is the biofilms, which make harder for immune defence to find and eradicate the bugs. The pathogens use it to hide inside, like a fortified fort.

And other is, among many other techniques the pathogens use is that Lyme creates balls (cyst forms) they protect itself from outside. They are actually very clever.

And the L-form of Lyme spirochetes. There are also different species and sizes of Lyme, ranging from very small to parasite (worm)-like sizes.

They excrete toxins, which is damaging to CNS.

 

It also involves candida, fungus, yeast, parasites, co-infections, nano-bacteria, viruses and much more. CFS/ME, is also a symptom of MCIDS.

 

Also involving heavy metal toxicity (mercury/cadmium/lead) and crippled detox pathways. Low CD cell counts. Autoimmunity.

 

Alto, what do you think? Do you think we should work harder at finding the reasons and make people with psychiatric issues test themselves at IgeneX ?

 

Check for Montagnier (from france, noble medicine prize in medicine) on Youtube, he is researching the connections between Lyme and illnesses. It was a good video there.

 

Alto, I think it should be valuable if you could contact me by PM so we could speak more about this very important issue.

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I think Lyme disease is under-recognized, Mixter. Whether this means large numbers of people should have an IgeneX test, I don't know.

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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Interesting.

 

The fact that the individual attained both an MD and PhD was the most striking thing for me. A neuroscientist and psychiatrist? This ruins my fantasy that no bright person with a doctorate in a hard science could subscribe to current core tenets of psychiatry sufficiently to make an honest living at it. The addiction field (Dr Jung's third specialty) bats at an average that makes psychiatrists look like all stars. So, an interesting hat trick!

 

Anyway, a few of Dr. Jung comments caught my eye.

 

I am not an expert on the "the internet" but I mostly see benzo support forums full of people championing fairly slow tapers and recoveryforcertain pep talks not "horror stories about permanent structural damage to the GABA receptor complex" but I concede on expertise. Also I get the gist of his point about supplements and snake oil salesman, however lots of supplements do seem to help people specifically with the bzd's and writing them all off shows a bit of ignorance of these benefits. Magnesium? Niacinamide? l'theanine? No benefit beyond placebo?

 

And this bit: "Your body has no way of knowing what is ‘natural’ and what isn’t" Maybe so but beside the point. Unless one disbelieve the current model for the origin of earth's species (including the homo sapiens) then it seems clear that the body is better equipped by selection to process the things it has adapted to processing. Adaptation takes time they say and the natural stuff is, naturally, older. If twinkies and other junk grew on trees a billion years ago maybe we'd see a lot less insulin resistance today.

 

At last: "That may mean doing your best to ‘act as if’; to ‘fake it ‘til you make it’, force a smile, and keep on truckin’ day after day until you feel better." I got $500 a day worth of this stuff in rehab. We all did. 80-90% of us relapsed, a few died, a few got sober. Also, Dr. Junig doesn't make it clear if he is recovery himself -- the absence of this information on his about me page leads one to believe he is not a recovered substance abuser ... In my personal experience addicts tend not to make the best doctors and, as a general rule, I avoid soliciting the advice of alcoholic/addict physicians... Hate to say it, but I've just known too damn many.

 

The main takeaway for me: I think DrDr's opinions leave me confident on where the conventional wisdom sits at present. And that's always good to know.

"Well my ship's been split to splinters and it's sinking fast
I'm drowning in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it's light and it's free
I've got nothing but affection for all those who sailed with me.

Everybody's moving, if they ain't already there
Everybody's got to move somewhere
Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interesting right about now."

- Zimmerman

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Dr. Junig is open to intelligent discussion in the comments on his article.

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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  • 2 years later...

What a bunch of hooey. Sorry. Not trying to be rude, but the esteemed doctor is dismissing thousands upon thousands of patients who have experienced protracted withdrawal from psychiatric medicines, with symptoms that are not the result of entrenched thinking. To ignore all of that anecdotal data is extremely unscientific. Most of medicine's great discoveries were the result of anecdotal observation, including the discovery of genetics and the germ theory of disease. I mean, I had inner vibrations/tremblings in my body from benzo withdrawal at such a fast rate that it felt like a cell phone had been sewed into my gut (like that fellow in the Batman movie); I really doubt that my entrenched thinking lead to that.

 

Furthermore, these very medicines that he touts contain toxic chemicals in them such as bromide, a known carcinogen and thyroid blocker (and guess what you have a ton of thyroid receptors in your brain, so that's not really good for your brain, people), and fluoride, which is a toxic waste product from nuclear reactions. But the natural stuff is what we need to worry about. Sorry, but that's opposite of science. Nutrition is the foundation for health, including mental health, and to dismiss that out of hand is the most unscientific thing I have ever heard. I'm sure he is cashing a check from the pharmaceutical companies-- my last psychiatrist ended up moving to work in house for one of them.

 

Niacinimide and NAD therapy may offer real hope to people trying to get off drugs. Iodine is yet another. But this doctor seems unconcerned with all of those suffering from drug withdrawal. It's in your head, he says. Well, what I say to him is, why did you go to medical school? So you can proudly name drop all of your degrees? Because you certainly didn't go because you care about people. People are suffering. Wake up.

Celexa 40mg 2001-2015; 20mg 2015-2020; 10mg 2020-present 

Valium 10mg, 2007-2011, tapered over 13 months; - off 

Remeron- had to go on due to horrible Valium withdrawal60mg 2011-2013; 30mg 2013-2017; 15mg 2017-present

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  • 8 months later...

Alto do you think this is true?

 

""I suspect that in some people, psychological symptoms and physical or emotional feelings become ‘imprinted’ on the brain, as memories that play back over and over in response to certain cues, until they are replaced by other memories and imprinting. Memories form because the neural pathways that get used become more likely to be used again, like ruts in a muddy field. The pathways that make you feel anxious, for example, fire strong signals over and over during true withdrawal, and from that point forward, those pathways are easily set off again by certain cues, or perhaps even spontaneously.

 

I see more evidence for this phenomenon in people addicted to opioids, whose thoughts can generate symptoms of withdrawal months or years after the last use of opioids. As one thinks about it, if memories of a pleasant vacation can generate smiles for weeks afterward, doesn’t it make sense that memories of withdrawal can generate anxiety and depression?""

Was on Citalopram 20mg since Feb 2008 - switched to Paxil 20mg in August 2010

Tapered way too fast in April 2012 by skipping days. Taper completed in 6 weeks

Tried prozac 20mg for 3 days - felt spaced out, not better.

Tried 30mg Cymbalta for 2 days. SEVERE ADVERSE REACTION

Antidepressant free since 14 August 2012

Birth control on and off during this time - Last taken 18 June 2017 - Morning after pill 

Started mainly using 0.5mg Xanax beginning 2016 for severe panic attacks and anxiety due to trauma

Xanax on and off never more than 0.5mg at a time, never taking it 3 days in a row - used sparingly 

 

6 Years antidepressant free - Still in severe withdrawal with over 60 symptoms

Severe setback started May 2018 with no let up to date. Developed many new symptoms like tremors, inner vibrations, insomnia, visual distortions and dr/dp are 100x worse, i have severe sensitivity to movement, My dizziness and vertigo got worse and it now feels like im constantly rocking on a boat, my anxiety is sky high, suicidal idiation is back, i feel extremely brain damaged 

 

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