Doctors Rarely Warn about Benzo Withdrawal


The Boston Globe interviews people who became ever more severely dependent on sedating benzodiazepines without realizing it, because as they tried to stop taking the drugs they thought their withdrawal symptoms were actually symptoms of underlying anxiety problems. “My anxiety was getting worse; I was getting dizzy spells; I was getting sick more often, and my capacity to deal with stress was less,” Alison Page told the Globe. “I thought I had a worsening anxiety disorder.”

“Medford resident Karen Psaledakis was prescribed Ativan to treat panic attacks after her father’s 2006 death,” reports the Boston Globe. “Her psychiatrist offered ‘zero’ warnings, she said.”

“We still hear from members [in the United States] that their doctors claim there is no potential for dependency or addiction with this class of drug,” a leader of an online discussion forum about benzo withdrawal told the Globe. “Some doctors even sometimes ‘cold turkey’ their patients off large doses of benzodiazepines, even after protracted use. This is extremely dangerous.”

“[Doctors] get used to prescribing these drugs and they forget what they’re dealing with,” John Kelly of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital admitted to the Globe. He described the corresponding “false sense of security” patients can get from their doctors that the drugs are “safe, or much safer than illicit drugs you’d obtain on the street.”

When withdrawal is the hardest part (Boston Globe, September 8, 2014)


  1. Mad in America, PLEASE use proper terminology when speaking of benzo patients, otherwise you are just harming them and their cause further.

    Above, you say: “The Boston Globe interviews people who became ever more severely addicted to sedating benzodiazepines without realizing it…”

    If you aren’t abusing the drug and you don’t even realize what’s happening, it is called dependence, physical or physiological dependence, iatrogenic dependence. Some people do use “accidental addiction” which is a better term than just “addicted”, but is still largely improper based on the definitions of the two.

    “Addiction is a biological and psychological condition that compels a person to satisfy their need for a particular stimulus and to keep satisfying it, no matter what.
    It is a compulsive behavior that demands more and more drugs, regardless of the consequences that lead to dysfunction.”


    “Dependence is a physical state that occurs when the lack of a drug causes the body to have a reaction. Physical dependence is solely a physical state indicating that the body has grown so adapted to having the drug present that sudden removal of it will lead to negative consequences such as a withdrawal reaction. This can occur with almost any kind of drug.”

    Thank you.

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  2. Okay, you convinced me, elocin! I normally wouldn’t make a change to an article based on any comments, but in this case I think you’re right and it is a specific point of factual accuracy, not interpretation or opinion. It wasn’t the correct, most accurate word to use. And I also did not represent accurately how the Boston Globe article described it — which sometimes is an issue, i.e. I always try to remain fair or true to how an article I’m summarizing described something, even if it’s not representative of what I personally think or believe. But then usually I would try to put something like that in quotes or something. So thank you, and I stand corrected, and I’ve corrected it in the text.

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    • Bob and Elocin

      I have had problems with this distinction (addiction vs dependency) over the past 21 years I have been trying to help people overcome addiction problems while working in a community mental health setting. Bob, your agreement with Elocin is much too quick and the debate over this question is far from over.

      Yes, there absolutely does need to be a distinction made between addiction/dependency when it is forced onto or ignorantly imposed on unsuspecting people by this oppressive medical model promoted by Biological Psychiatry. But to artificially separate addiction from dependency has some inherent issues with definitions and with a problematic mind/body separation.

      For example, if some one was kidnapped for three months and forcibly shot up with heroin or forced to take Xanax three time a day they would clearly have problems (when rescued) with both physical and mental processes in seeking to withdraw and reach a state of total abstinence.

      Prolonged use of opiates commonly lowers a person’s pain/frustration tolerance level making them much more sensitive to both physical AND emotional (mind) discomfort. It would not fundamentally make a difference what circumstances (forced or otherwise) led to this state of addiction or dependency, many of the same physical symptoms would occur and very similar mind games would take place preceding the very difficult and inevitable temptations and choices regarding the use of pain drugs.

      Xanax (and all other benzodiazepine) addiction/dependency leads to a disturbance with gaba receptors in the brain. Over even short periods of time (2-4 weeks) of regular use can lead to serious problems for most people; making a person’s issues with anxiety more severe due to a heightened sensitivity to all types of stressors, and even experiencing intense anxiety when there is no perceived environmental stressor. Painful stories of these struggles with benzodiazepines have been quite numerous on MIA and throughout the Web. People’s battles, to even very slowly withdraw from Benzos obviously involve very intense physical and psychological processes to develop resilience in both areas of their being.

      I believe both categories of people (those who were forced into addiction/dependency by the medical establishment and those with a developed addiction by other means) would describe very similar physical and emotional (mind) battles to achieve a state of recovery and/or abstinence. And in reality aren’t those people who develop addictions by other means in many ways actually “forced” into addiction/dependency by traumatic and/or oppressive circumstances in their lives that makes relief from stress or various forms of escape (with the use of mind altering substances) more attractive.

      Bob and Elocin, the debate over the issue of addiction/dependency for me has not ended. There is not a simplistic distinction to be made between these two conditions; this issue deserves far more discussion and attention.


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      • Bob and Elocin

        Some additional questions to be raised on the issue of “addiction vs dependency”: Isn’t it the same doctors who are so quick to put people on these drugs that want to avoid the term “addiction” when their patients start to have the inevitable problems with withdrawal?

        Aren’t these same doctors the ones who want to refer to these problems as “dependency” issues because there is less liability and medical responsibility in using this description?

        Isn’t it the same shunning of responsibility that makes them avoid the word “withdrawal” with all the resulting problems from their over prescription of psychiatric drugs? Isn’t this the reason that they euphemistically refer to these problems as “tapering issues” or “withdrawal syndromes?”

        Biological Psychiatry has a great deal invested in avoiding any association of the words “addiction” and “withdrawal” connected to their prolific expansion of our culture of addiction.


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        • I agree. In principle medically speaking physical addiction or physical dependence are the same thing. I think using a term “iatrogenic addiction” is the most accurate – it does not cover up the severity of the problem by using a nicer word “dependence” but clearly informs that it’s the medical profession that is responsible.

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          • You raise some good points and suggestions Richard and B. We have some similar challenges when we attempt to define whether or not antidepressants or antipsychotics are “addictive,” don’t we? By some people’s accounts, it’s more difficult to get off antidepressants after many years of taking them than heroin.

            In essence, though, there are some meaningful distinctions that can be made between the type of physical-psychological ‘addiction/dependence’ that one knows is possible and that comes about as a result of active pursuit on a regular basis of a particular kind of ‘positive high,’ and the type of ‘addiction/dependence’ that one doesn’t know is possible and that comes about as one attempts to avoid ‘negative experiences or effects.’ There are a lot of similarities between those, too, of course, especially when we start delving into the psychology behind it all. But there are enough differences that it seems worth distinguishing them at least in some way. And having a single word for it, instead of a lengthy explanation, is sometimes handy for journalism. 🙂 If also sometimes misleading… (btw I don’t like “iatrogenic addiction” because I think only a tiny percentage of the general public would know what that word iatrogenic means.)

            I’ve always found the “mental health” field to be very fraught with language problems of these kinds, because there are so many interests pushing for control of the ideas and the words circulating in the public consciousness, and the whole field is already embedded in such profound philosophical and psychological complexities, conundrums and manipulated language.

            Incidentally, if you haven’t seen them, in the area of defining what addiction even is or what causes it, I’ve always enjoyed pondering these ideas that emerged from the “Rat Park” experiments:

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        • BTW, I wish to thank all those responsible for getting this article published in the Boston Globe.

          This is one of the best published articles that combines real science with personal stories of survivors fighting back and finding recovery solutions and alternatives. I have made copies of this article to pass out to my clients and other open minded people working within the system.


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  3. ““safe, or much safer than illicit drugs you’d obtain on the street.””
    Buehahaha (evil laughter).
    I had a head of the unit I was involuntarily held at tell me that benzos don’t cause amnesia. When I challeneged her and said: “please, go to the computer, and type in “benzodiazepines and amnesia” in pubmed” she quickly changed and say “eh, well, but that’s in very high doses” and continued arguing with me. When I was released from the unit I was adviced to take 3 different drugs to “manage” my symptoms (mainly being pissed at them because of the abuse). Have I been a compliant person I’d have no memory and no liver (a side effect of another drug).

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