The Real Benzo Hysteria


On June 12th, Psychology Today published an article entitled, “Benzo Hysteria: the Chilling Effects of the ‘Addictive’ label,” by Ed Shorter, PhD.  Although there were numerous false statements in the heart of the article, all directed in the best interests of the pharmaceutical industry and its shareholders, a dangerous and unfounded claim was made in its final paragraph, which reads as follows: “The benzos are among the safest and most effective drug classes in the history of psychopharmacology.”

Unless Professor Shorter means to say that the history of psychopharmacology has been a disaster, harming millions, a point with which many agree (and I don’t believe he is making that point) he must be talking about how much money has been made on benzodiazepines.

This is a serious problem.  Benzodiazepines are in fact highly addictive and many people suffer for years from protracted withdrawal syndromes that are disabling.  I am currently one of those people.  Psychology Today is defined on Wikipedia as a publication “written for a mass audience of non-psychologists.”  This means that anyone anywhere can read this article and come away believing that benzodiazepines are non-addictive.  They may then fall victim to torture that almost escapes words.   Almost.

In the academic world, personal accounts (a/k/a anecdotes) have the tendency not to be taken seriously.  In the past two years I have been involved in a number of projects which seek to collect these personal stories because, after all, the plural of anecdote is data.  There is, however, a far more compelling reason; to document this tragedy of human suffering and to honor those who have died in desperation and those who suffer horrifically.

Professor Shorter’s article is not only dangerous to unwitting future victims; it is also an affront to all of those who have survived, and especially to those who are trying to survive.

As soon as this article came out, reactions and personal stories began to pour on to the Psychology Today Comments section.  Professor Shorter expressed his “surprise” over the plethora of outraged comments while continuing to deny that benzodiazepines are harmful and addictive.  And the comments took a dark turn as an individual using an alias attacked the commenters very personally.

Psychology Today then removed all of the comments, with the exception of Shorter’s reply, leaving the article intact with its treacherous denial of harm unopposed.

In response, I started a petition with Change.Org entreating Psychology Today to retract the article “Benzo Hysteria.”  I obtained over 500 signers, replete with horrendous accounts, in 3 days.  Harvard psychologist and research methodology specialist, Paula J. Caplan, PhD, was one of the who posted critical comments on the site, just one of which was that Charles Nemeroff, whose work was cited by one of Shorter’s supporters as providing evidence of his allegations about the safety of benzos, has been found to have concealed the vast amount of money he had taken from pharmaceutical companies.

Psychiatric Times is a publication which defines itself as, “a medical trade publication written for an audience in the profession of psychiatry.”  It goes on to say, “It is distributed to about 50,000 psychiatrists monthly.”

On May 15th, Psychiatric Times published an article titled, “Benzodiazepines and pain.”  The author, Steven King, MD, MS, wrote:

“Two reports from the CDC indicate the scope of the problem with benzodiazepines.  From 2004 to 2008 there was a 111% increase (going from 144,600 to 305,900) in the estimated number of emergency department visits involving non-medical use of opioid analgesics.  For the same period, there was an 89% increase (from 143,500 to 271,700) in such visits for benzodiazepines.  Data from the National Vital Statistics Cause-of-Death File in such visits from 2010 show that opioid analgesics were involved in 75% of pharmaceutical overdose deaths, benzodiazepines were in second place with an involvement of 29% of such deaths.  Benzodiazepines were also involved in 30% of opioid deaths, far more than any other class of drugs.”

Does the CDC really understand the problems with benzodiazepines?  No they don’t, but the 500 people who signed my petition in 3 days do.  They are parents who watched helplessly as their children suffered for years.  They are friends whose friends committed suicide in despair that they could not endure.  They are brothers and sisters whose siblings’ lives were destroyed.  They are nurses, teachers and other professionals whose lives are in suspended animation.  They are husbands whose wives have never been the same.  They are wives who lost their marriages, children and livelihoods.  They are adult children who have been traumatized by what happened to their parents.  It just goes on and on.

One person suggested to me that the best way to describe what Professor Shorter denies is as a silent holocaust because “we call out in pain and no one hears us.”

I am including here a link to the petition so that anyone can read for themselves the lived experience of people all over the world.

Benzodiazepines are highly addictive drugs which cause severe damage.  The real Benzo Hysteria is the denial of the medical establishment.

A beautiful young woman in the very prime of her life, a physician’s assistant before her years of protracted withdrawal, summed things up best when she said, “I wouldn’t give this drug to Satan’s dog.”


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Thank you Nancy…that’s been a rather horrifying drama that played out on that guys website. I recently (after the whole thing had gone done) found out the guy is highly respected in some circles. I hadn’t realized that…it further adds to the sickening nature of his denial and ignorance. Not that it’s surprising really, but it still can on occasion shock me how this can be the case.

    I had left a comment too that was deleted with the rest of them…it included a link to my benzo page from Beyond Meds…It’s the most complete page documenting harm of any psych drug on the blog because there is so much documentation proving benzodiazepines are dangerous. It’s hard to accumulate so much information from so many different sources for some of the other classes of drugs still….but the fact is benzos are very well documented to cause harm

    So I’ll share for anyone who needs even more info to become convinced of the danger of benzodiazepines here is what has become a rather extensive collection of articles and stories and references to studies etc…that deal with benzos.

    I had hoped that comments could be left up…they were so damning that his delusional article appeared exactly that: delusional.

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  2. “Benzodiazepines are highly addictive drugs which cause severe damage. The real Benzo Hysteria is the denial of the medical establishment.” Amen Nancy! Also the denial of the medical establishment to the fact that most psychotropic drugs are addictive, have serious adverse effects and all cause brain damage. Thanks for writing this excellent article. Congrats for surviving the holocaust of Pharmagedon!

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  3. Thank you Nancy. Very well written and 100% accurate. Ed said that he was “surprised” by the number of responses and that may very well. be. But to be bombarded with multiple testimonies of people whose lives have been destroyed and continue to deny the potential destructiveness of benzos is downright arrogant and dangerous. One day this “silent holocaust” will be exposed and kudos to you for being a beacon of hope and light in the darkness of denial.

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  4. nancy, words cannot describe how much i thank you for your article about seroquel and it’s dangerous side affects. has anyone addressed how terrible PAXIL is?? i have quite a few horrifying tales of the doctors telling me i would be taking it for the rest of my life, and what happened to me the multiple times i tried desperately to wean myself off.

    as soon as i started taking seroquel, only a few days later i started noticing that the light of day was absolutely blinding. to the point where i get intense migraines just from having my eyes open . i did some research, found and printed your article, brought it to my pharmacist (since my doctor does not care about my mental well-being at all) and his mind was blown, as is mine.

    I’m quitting the seroquel now too. and once im off of klonopin, i’m sincerely hoping my life will return to normal….

    i have hope now after i read your article.

    THANK YOU!!!!

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  5. and i’d like to add….. you made me seriously consider a thought that had never crossed my mind.

    i was misdiagnosed, and given a cocktail of horrible drugs. i took them because my doctor told me to, and i thought all doctors were to be trusted.

    now that im weaning off, im wondering. was i ever really crazy in the first place? because i think the paxil turned me into something i’m not….

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  6. In July of 2013 when this article ran I was in the continual fight of my life enduring a ‘cold turkey’ Klonopin withdrawal that held me in the grips of the worst state of psychosis and mental torture imaginable for 6 horrendous weeks. I’m still not right 2 years later. All because my mental healthcare workers informed me it was ‘just fine’ to stop taking it abruptly. They couldn’t have been more wrong. There is not enough space to detail the devastation Klonopin has done in my life let alone list the 50 torturous symptoms I endured. . But I am thankful I’m reading it today. This I’m sure is the kind of hogwash my community mental healthcare providers read and believe. Because they never believed me when I told them what my experience was, ever…

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  7. In July of 2013 when this article ran I was in the continual fight of my life enduring a ‘cold turkey’ Klonopin withdrawal that held me in the grips of the worst state of psychosis and mental torture imaginable for 6 horrendous weeks. I’m still not right 2 years later.

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  8. Benzodiazepines, when used properly, ARE among the safest drugs to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Does a level of dependence and tolerance develop? Sure. But to equate these properties with addiction is way more than a stretch. Countless patients have been on the same therapeutic dose of benzodiazepines for 10+ years, without abuse, without getting high, and without needing to increase the dosage. The pharmaceutical industry that you are claiming is in “denial” are the same ones pushing SSRIs since the ‘90s, when it is well known that the side effect profiles of SSRIs is a nightmare compared to benzos. 40-60% of patients discontinue SSRIs simply because of the side effects. I’m sorry for anyone that inadvertently, or purposefully, misused or abused benzos in such a way that led to addiction or a struggle to taper off the meds. However, you are discounting the benefits they provide to millions of patients to prove your point. Car accidents take so many lives each year, but we don’t rally against the machine itself, but rather the many ways in which these machines can be mishandled/misused that results in harm to others. If you do not personally want to take these drugs, you have every right to refuse. But just because they may have caused you issues or you are scared of them doesn’t take away from their effectiveness, both in short and long term use to manage crippling anxiety and panic disorders.

    P.S. – “discontinuation syndrome” from SSRIs is a nice way of saying WITHDRAWAL. And the side effects of SSRIs can persist for months to years after being completely off the drugs

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