The Gauntlet of Protracted Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Robert Pfaff
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My story is a horror show, and it terrifies me. I feel doomed and depressed most of the time after learning about the long-term effects of benzodiazepines. On December 27th, my father passed away from complications due to a dementia-related illness that he had battled for more than five years, but I had started to conduct my research into the brutal pseudoscience of psychiatry years before – which included reading Mad in America, because of my frustrations and struggles with psychiatry.

In the beginning, my father (who did not drink or take psychotropic medications) was passive and befuddled, and then he became agitated and delusional. As the disease progressed, he became aggressive and violent. I was never truly scared of him because he no longer had the physical strength and coordination to become truly destructive, but on one too many occasions, he placed his own life in danger; and he became especially agitated when my mother was not at home, so I took the brunt of his increasing hostility and outbursts. As a result, his doctor put him on a combination of Haldol and Ativan. When I learned about this new cocktail, I explained to my mother that it was “not treatment, but a slow form of euthanasia.”

And I was right: he was dead within three weeks. He turned into a slobbering zombie: the physical rigidity, the backup of saliva, the rapid deterioration of motor skills and an apparent lack of appetite made it almost impossible to feed him. In two weeks – probably because he was malnourished and dehydrated – he caught pneumonia, and then he died about five days later.

I was there when he died, and my mother asked me to check and make certain he was gone. In my mind, I knew it was not in my best interests to see his body. I knew it was likely to trigger heightened anxiety and possibly panic attacks. But how could I possibly refuse that kind of request from my mother? As soon as I saw him, I knew it was only a matter of time.

To watch someone die that way was heartbreaking, excruciating, horrific. When the funeral was over, the dust had settled, and I was alone again with my thoughts, the persistent anxiety and sense of impending doom returned and I have not been able to shake it. I have suffered from a lifelong anxiety and panic disorder, and I can trace the symptoms back to the age of seven. I have even written a 350-page book about it because I became so frustrated with psychiatrists that I began to do my own research, and all that research and reflection turned into an (unpublished) memoir. In the past twenty years, I have received a minimum of fifteen official and unofficial diagnoses from Asperger’s Syndrome to Bipolar II Disorder – many of these diagnoses would be laughable if you knew me. Through happenstance, I ended up taking the only clinical assessment for Bipolar II Disorder four years after I was diagnosed. It was administered by Dr. Brian Tolliver, the chief bipolar researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina, to evaluate me as a potential subject for a research study. And I failed it, with flying colors. I simply have never met the criteria for a manic episode, so I was not allowed to participate in the research study. Still, I was only tested because a doctor wanted to assess me as a potential guinea pig – not out of concern for my well-being as a patient, not to confirm or appropriately diagnose me with any level of objectivity for my own sake.

By that time, I was on a cocktail of eight different medications in high dosages, including benzodiazepines (clonazepam) and zolpidem (Ambien) and SNRI antidepressants (Cymbalta), in addition to mood stabilizers and low dosages of atypical neuroleptics. From what I understand, I was on quadruple the federally suggested maximum dosage of zolpidem (20 milligrams) and double the federally suggested maximum dosage of clonazepam (8 milligrams). I had done enough research at this point that I decided to “unwind” my relationship with psychiatry. I remember performing a written inventory of these medications, looking up at my mother and informing her that I was not going to be able to untangle these issues outpatient. So I returned to the Medical University of South Carolina (M.U.S.C.) and showed the resident psychiatrist the list of medication I had been prescribed. He sat there stunned and slack-jawed for a few moments. Then he excused himself and returned with a colleague. They wanted me to enter the hospital right away, and I agreed, without hesitation. I think they were surprised when I did not resist and voluntarily entered the hospital on December 6, 2014.

Their strategy and treatment of the underlying issues, and the withdrawal syndrome that I received at the hands of the psychiatric team at M.U.S.C. still baffles me to this day. For some ungodly reason, they immediately dropped me off of the Cymbalta, and immediately switched me from clonazepam to Valium. I left the hospital one week later with a six-week taper from the Valium and a prescription for 10 milligrams of zolpidem. I followed their instructions to the letter, turning my Valium prescription over to my mother to ensure that I did not waver. She placed all my medications under lock and key. One week after I completed the taper, I was halfway through a cup of coffee when I had a panic attack and all the symptoms returned, irrevocably. My hands and feet went numb. A burning, tingling sensation overcame me and I became so irritable and frightened of everything that I simply could not focus or function in any way.

At first, the resident psychiatrist presiding over my case (clinically supervised by a psychiatric nurse for reasons I don’t understand) refused to believe me. He said that protracted withdrawal syndrome did not exist until I pressed him to look into the clinical literature. When I followed up with him, he sheepishly admitted that there was “some evidence” that it existed, and that I showed “some of the symptoms” but he would not put me back on benzodiazepines. I want to be absolutely clear on this issue: I never asked him to put me back on benzodiazepines. In fact, I was adamant that I did not want to go back on them. I told him that I “never wanted to see another benzo as long as I lived,” but I was also adamant that I needed humane treatment for the withdrawal, and I was not getting it. In fact, I was dismissed as a junkie trying to get back on these medications.

He told me it was impossible that I could be experiencing what I was experiencing. He told me I was “a baby whose bottle has been taken away.” He even told me it was all in my head! Of course it was all in my head – it is a deeply embedded neurological issue. For 3.5 months, I white-knuckled it through every day. I was so irritable and stewing in the darkest thoughts possible that I completely understand why some people commit suicide coming off these medications. But the worst symptom was this obsessive-compulsive fear of everything. I was scared to drive my car because I was irrationally afraid of getting into a car crash. I was afraid of walking down a flight of stairs because I just knew I would fall and break my neck. I had this weird, obsessive fear of bumping my head against the mantelpiece, so I walked a wide berth around the fireplace – those are just some examples of what I went through. Even some television commercials frightened me for a while. The image of someone parachuting from an airplane would make my stomach bottom out, the zero-gravity sensation of falling from a great height.

My doctor insisted that those symptoms (if I was telling the truth) could not be associated with withdrawal – they had to be symptoms of an underlying condition. If they were withdrawal symptoms, he reasoned, then the condition would improve over time, not become worse. I have since learned from legitimate sources that protracted withdrawal syndrome from benzodiazepines can last years, that it can intensify long before it abates, and that it can come and go – with some symptoms, such as irritability under stressful situations, lasting for years until they dissipate. I am beginning to think they can last a lifetime, if they have not already killed me by predisposing me to the same kind of dementia-related early demise that just killed my father last week.

During this time – at the peak of withdrawal – I canceled four to six months of refills of clonazepam, zolpidem and Librium at two different pharmacies, though every brain cell was screaming at me not to cancel them. But I somehow found the strength to do it. Hardly the actions of the hardcore junkie that my psychiatrist had accused me of being. He didn’t use this word, but he clearly implied that I was malingering. For three and a half months, I stayed within the M.U.S.C. network to ensure that no one could accuse me of doctor shopping, and I only used one pharmacy for the same reason; but as a result, I also never received any help. Inevitably, they contacted my psychiatrist and he denied me any assistance, and of course his peers were not going to contradict him. He did finally try Prozac, but it only made the symptoms worse after three weeks. Then they tried Zoloft and the results were the same, I became even more agitated after three to four weeks.

As a last resort, he put me on a low dosage of the antipsychotic Zyprexa. I was told that the Zyprexa would “knock me out and treat the anxiety.” I was also advised that it would increase my appetite and I would gain a lot of weight but that I “needed to put aside my body issues for a while.” I have been athletic all my life – rigorous aerobic exercise was how I always dealt with my anxiety problems, so lethargy and weight gain and the “stupidity” that you feel on antipsychotics as they diminish your frontal lobe activity was like trading one source of depression for another. In my twenty years of experience as a patient, as far as psychiatry is concerned, the cure is always worse than the disease.

I was willing to put aside those concerns for a while if, on the long term, I could get through the intense, protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. But it just did not work. The Zyprexa did not put me to sleep, and it did not take away the intense anxiety and panic that plagued me all the time, everywhere I went. One day, it was so intense that all I could do was pace up and down. I tried to take my dog for a walk to distract myself, but I couldn’t even make it twenty-five feet. I had reached my breaking point. Something had to change, and it had to change that day. So I talked my mother (who was handling all my medications at the time) into letting me have a zolpidem and then driving me to the M.U.S.C. emergency room. Again, I refused to leave the M.U.S.C. network so that no one could accuse me of doctor shopping or any kind of criminal dishonesty.

When I arrived, and after the zolpidem kicked in, I was less agitated, but I explained to them why I’d come there and that I needed to go back into the hospital again. Instead of admitting me, I was referred to an inpatient program at M.U.S.C. for patients over 40 years old with manic depression and schizophrenia (I have never received either diagnosis). The emergency room staff told me that the staff at this program knew I was coming and that I was already registered – I only needed to show up the next morning to get started. When I arrived the next morning, the program staff had no idea who I was, and it took another week to get me enrolled in the program. I went for one day and it became obvious to both me and the clinical staff present that I did not belong there and my issues were clearly related to withdrawal from benzodiazepines. When I did my intake session with the psychiatric nurse in charge of the program, she said to me (and I am not paraphrasing much here):

“I do not understand why they didn’t admit you back into detox right away.”

That was the final straw. I went back to my old practice and found a new psychiatric nurse who recognized the problem right away. She offered to put me back on clonazepam, but I refused. I asked her to put me back on Valium, because I was told by the psychiatrists at M.U.S.C. that it’s the oldest and weakest of the benzodiazepines and the easiest to taper. Though I have been free of clonazepam and SNRI antidepressants for more than one year now, I am still struggling to get off of the Valium and the Ambien. I am committed to zero alcohol consumption and have been sober most of the time for the last ten years, though I have not been perfect. Of course no doctor – psychiatrist or otherwise – informed me that alcohol consumption was problematic with benzodiazepines until years after I had started taking them. When I was first prescribed Xanax in the early nineties, I did not drink that much. Then I discovered the combined effect of white wine and Xanax, and slowly alcohol became another issue, though I have largely cleaned up my act in that respect. In the early nineties, when I told my first doctor that I was drinking wine and taking Xanax, his response was: “When I go home tonight, I will have my three vodka martinis. It’s okay, you just don’t want to get shit-faced.” How could I make this stuff up?

There is much more to the story, but since we buried my father on Saturday, I am terrified and on the verge of panic all the time. It seems to me – based on what I have read on this blog – that there is very little hope of complete recovery and I am destined to the same fate.

I don’t trust the APA either. They receive a significant chunk of their budget from the pharmaceutical companies and they have a vested interest in protecting their members from widespread liability. I may not have an MD but I do have an MBA in Finance, and I worked in the financial investments industry. Large corporations and their trade associations lie all the time to protect the bottom line.

It’s the American way.

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Robert Pfaff
Robert Pfaff is an activist and writer with 25 years of experience working on LGBT and other social justice issues. He has detailed his battle with a lifelong anxiety and panic disorder in the unpublished memoir Wild Life. Robert is currently working on a supernatural thriller about a psychiatrist haunted by a vengeful spirit hell-bent on possessing the body of his newborn child. While it is a supernatural thriller, it is also a researched indictment of the brutal pseudoscience of psychiatry.

89 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for sharing your story.

    It is unbelievable what some psychiatrists will say to patients. I found it particularly upsetting that your diagnosis was not considered strong enough for you to participate in a research study, whereas at any other time – as you say- it seems impossible to get rid of a diagnosis

    I just wanted to say that when I read this site (and also M0nica Cassani’s Beyond Meds site), I see enormous hope for complete recovery. People seemed to be recovering from the most terrible states. You seem to me to already have so much that is well functioning (e.g. you are writing thoughtful blogs, acting as a support person to your mother in time of crisis, etc. etc.)

    I look forward to future blogs from you describing your continual recovery.

  2. Thanks for posting – I have similar experiences, and am finishing up a taper of a different Rx, although I have the same ‘burning’ feeling and some anxiousness similar to what you recounted.

    Just wanted to say you’re not alone because here I am too. And, thanks again: The more people who write/blog/post/tell their stories, the better for so many important reasons

  3. Good luck with your book and don’t give up hope. I never knew what anxiety was until I cold turkyed Cymbalta. I went mental . This was long after my Ambien ct and before my Ativan taper. I also stayed in my network, enduring judgement and ridicule so no-one could accuse me of doctor shopping. I’m looking more like myself seven months after a Valium taper and my mind is slowly coming back.My grandfather died of Alzheimer’s shortly after Drs started drugging him. What will be will be. But for now I plan on and have every hope of living a good life for as long as I can.

  4. Robert, what a very, very heroic struggle you’re waging. My heart goes out to you.

    As someone who has battled benzo withdrawal for over two years now, I empathize a great deal with what you’re experiencing. BenzoBuddies.org offers support and guidance for those going through withdrawal as well as post-withdrawal. You will also find advice from those who have either withdrawn from the other pills you mentioned or are tapering currently. Personally, it’s been extremely helpful to me to know that I’m not alone, that my symptoms are not unusual, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, however far ahead that may be.

    I will never understand how absolutely, and ruthlessly, idiotic most doctors are when it comes to understanding benzo withdrawal, along with their firm conviction that benzo withdrawal is not the cause of extreme symptoms a patient is suffering but that the patient is returning to “preexisting anxiety” or some such ridiculous notion. Doctors have had over 50+ years to get on board with benzo knowledge, yet most have either refused to do so or have simply allowed ignorance to take its course. The result is that more people are on these drugs than ever before, and patients keep being told (with absolute straight-faced conviction, no less) that such a thing as benzo withdrawal doesn’t exist or won’t last past a short period of time.

    The problem is that society has let doctors off the hook for far too long. The poor doctor didn’t understand what he/she was doing, and the result was that the patient was left to suffer alone, most likely, for months or years, because no one else understood what the patient was experiencing either.

    Doctors should NO LONGER be allowed to skate past the extreme calamity that prescribing these drugs has caused. I believe that giving patients fast tapering instructions or telling a patient to simply stop taking a benzo drug altogether ought to be known as malpractice, as doing such a thing causes a cascade of debilitating symptoms that can be dangerous and at times fatal.

    Robert, I wish you the best in your healing. Please know that you’re not alone.

    • You’ll be delighted to know that no doctor would think of withdrawing you using niacin (vitamin B3) because it would be too dangerous, the proof being that you can physically withdraw someone from alcohol in 24 hours using it. Further evidence for the psychiatric mind is that niacinamide and niacin raise your convulsive threshold, so you can withdraw from hypnotics without flopping like a fish in the process.
      Withdrawing from benzos is likely to be much trickier, as they’re fat soluble- you’d be likely to wind up taking several grams of B3 a day over a period of weeks to months- a big deal unless you run with B3-using schizophrenics, who have taken it for years.

  5. Hi Robert.

    Your story is very familiar and much like mine. Benzo withdrawal CT survivor here as well- although I came off multiple other psych meds CT at the same time as well (all of which had been prescribed for symptoms of benzo tolerance misdiagnosed as so-called “mental illness” over the years I was in benzo tolerance and no one recognized it as such). 37 months off and still unwell, but have improved some over time as I’ve been off and enduring. Worst hell I’ve ever endured or could’ve imagined- this is the stuff of worst nightmares- only worse.

    Anyhow, just wanted you to know what you’re not alone. I got fed all the same BS – “it’s not possible”, “these drugs don’t cause that”, “it’s all in your head”, “you must NEED the drugs if being off of them makes you feel this bad”, etc, etc, etc. I finally found ONE doctor (after seeing MANY) who believed me and has stuck with me all this time. She can’t help me since the damage is done and she knows that – but helps with paperwork and such that I’ve needed and also validates that this is real and as bad as I say it is. She also offers compassion and support if I need it and has apologized for the iatrogenic damage, despite not being the one who caused it.

    Hang on, we do recover I’m told. Many have before us. And in the years I’ve been in the groups I’ve seen many completely recover in time. Please do join some of the facebook groups or support forums online to find others in similar boats. There are many of us, unfortunately.

    Take good care of self. Time is the ultimate cure as the receptors slowly upregulate.

  6. Thank-you for telling your story. It is hard to believe “doctors” can be so inept, dangerous, ignorant, uneducated, arrogant, and useless.
    Am I wrong, or have the “(mal)practitioners” in the “specialty” of psychiatry poisoned, disabled, destroyed, injured, traumatized and killed more people (equal opportunity-toddlers, teens, women, men, autistic, elderly) than any other so-called medical specialty??
    I wish you peace and healing. No one should have suffered the misery you have experienced.

    • The trouble is, there are untold numbers of us who do and who have.

      It is hell on earth.

      It isn’t just psychiatry, either. My local health clinic hands out benzos (and psych meds) like candy…

      How many have died? How many lives ruined?

      24 months off Klonopin here (and numerous other psych meds over the years) and still suffering and hugely impaired.

      Somebody should be made responsible for the damages wreaked on lives/families/incomes thanks to big pharma and their enablers.

      Instead, we are blamed and made to suffer alone and without support. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the bullshit about ‘underlying condition’…

      Thanks for writing up your experience, Robert. And like you, I wonder will this ever end? Are we permanently damaged?

  7. Most doctors prescribe benzodiazapines as a last resort, when patients repeatedly come to the office hysterical, crying about how they can’t sleep, can’t cope, “please doc can’t you give me something”. You leave a lot out of your history. Unless you were involuntarily committed to an impatient facility or ordered to do so by a court, no one is forced to take benzodiazapines. You also fail to mention any type of ongoing therapy for your problems. Normal alcohol use and normal doses of benzodiazapines are not a problem except in people with addiction. Your judgement was so impaired that you apparently did not realize or ignored the fact that combining alcohol and benzodiazapines was a problem, at least for you. I am curious how you got the information that valium is the “weakest” and easiest to taper of all the benzodiazapines. I don’t even think it is the oldest, but hardly see how order of discovery is relevant. Unhappily, psychiatric diagnosis is not always easy or clear cut. Having a correct diagnosis, may give guidance to what medications may be effective, or what direction psychotherapy should take, but since symptoms overlap widely and treatment overlap widely, the exact name to give your symptoms is not always critical. Your narrative is so full of holes, misinformation, and general nonsense that I do not see how anyone could take you seriously. You state that you have little hope of recovery. Since you have had serious psychiatric symptoms for the last twenty years it is unlikely that you will stop having serious psychiatric symptoms. As far a treatment, you seem to be your own worst enemy.

    • lucilda, beg pardon? You a doctor trying to be a joker or something? I got prescribed a valium for being exhaused with a newborn, fully breastfed baby, it nearly killed both of us. As for normal alcohol use, bollocks! Effexor turned me into drinker. These pills cause these addictions, and instead of blaming these deadly pills, the alcohol gets blamed? Easy for me, went of the pills, didnt need the alcohol. Read rxisk “”Driven to drink”” you might actually learn something……….. I thought his narrative was great, are you are writers critic or something? Or perhaps a troll for Merck?
      I had serious psychiatric symptoms for damn 20 years (on and off). All caused by the meds.
      Every time, I have gone to a gp, for any problem, what do they prescribe, damn psych drugs. They dont say they are psych drugs………… so many times I have been conned, so many times, got off the stuff.
      People only get valium for being hysterical, beg pardon? I was exhausted two kids, and a newborn, and an absent husband…. here darlin take this tablet and go home and sleep…. that one tablet damn near killed me…. instead of blaming the tablet, I got to spend three weeks in a psych wards, before they actually realised there was nothing wrong with me (nearly killed me three times on damn psych drugs).
      Psychiatry is a con, and you lucinlda, really, really offend me. Unhappily psychiatric diagnosis, is bullshit and rubbish, so of course not easy nor clear cut….. But while you are around, obviously there are going to be thousands more of us, suffering at the hands of ppsychiatric bullshit.
      As the present DSM bible stands, with all the votes for new and more bizarre “”illnesses”” so the pharma profits grow, so the psych profits grow, everyone in the world, could have a psych diagnosis. I suppose you diagnose them in 10 minutes as well?
      Reality, the nutters in this world ARE the psychiatrists.

      • Depends on the patient. I react horribly to one crumb of magnesium. Even using magnesium spray is dicey.

        Frankly, I would try CBT first and then try OTC remedies very gradually. And if they are necessary, just because they aren’t drugs, doesn’t mean they are harmless.

    • “Most doctors prescribe benzodiazapines as a last resort.”

      What planet are you on?

      “Normal alcohol use and normal doses of benzodiazapines are not a problem except in people with addiction.”

      You sound like one of MANY very ignorant, cavalier doctors.

    • lucilda,

      In addition to being extremely rude, presumptuous, and misleading, your comment is perhaps the most inaccurate I have ever seen on MiA.

      As a sufferer from protracted withdrawal myself, I know the truth of Robert’s article and I am very grateful that he wrote it. I have had many of the same experiences that he writes about. And in my case, I KNOW I am not merely suffering from “pre-existing conditions” because I have been suffering from many conditions that I’ve NEVER HAD BEFORE.

      But lucilda, your comment is validating in that it shows the ignorance and dismissiveness that we sufferers of protracted withdrawal confront on a daily basis. So thank you for that, and I hope the weather is nice on Bizarro World.

      • Did any member of this medical multitude ever do anything like use one of the forms of Vit. B3 in the course of this withdrawing. All of them raise your seizure threshold and neither inositol niacinate nor niacinamide cause flushing.
        The multitude certainly didn’t think of using magnesium oxide @ 750-800 mg./day for anxiety attacks, instead of more or upped benzos. A sad story, likely to be the source of many more.

    • lucilda

      If you are NOT a Biological Psychiatrist then you have seriously missed your true calling. Your words are literally dripping with that indomitable combination of the highest levels of arrogance and ignorance that permeates the psychiatric profession

      Oh, where to begin to dissect such utter nonsense!

      “Most doctors prescribe benzodiazapines as a last resort…”

      I guess the 94 million prescriptions for benzos in 2013 (most of them likely long term) was just of a lot of “last resort” prescribing, instead of being one of the worst examples of medical malpractice in all of American medicine.

      “…when patients repeatedly come to the office hysterical, crying about how they can’t sleep, can’t cope, “please doc can’t you give me something”

      How is this fundamentally different than patients “asking for” or “demanding” antibiotics. Doctors/psychiatrists resisting “Dr. Feelgood” personas is a necessary prerequisite for practicing ethical medicine, especially when they should be educated about the long term negative (emotionally crippling) effects of the unethical prescribing of benzodiazepines.

      “no one is forced to take benzodiazapines”

      Is this not the essence of the kind of “blame the victim” posturing that permeates the excuses of virtually all prescribing medical malpractice?

      “Normal alcohol use and normal doses of benzodiazapines are not a problem except in people with addiction.”

      Exactly who are these “people with addiction” that are somehow the ONLY ones who might develop a problem combining alcohol and benzos on a regular basis? What the hell is “normal alcohol use” and “normal doses of benzodiazepines” anyways? Does this not vary dramatically from human being to human being DEPENDING ON THEIR LIFE EXPERIENCES AND THEIR PARTICULAR ENVIRONMENTAL CIRCUMSTANCES in which they consume these substances. Anyone can develop an addiction, even someone with your level of hubris, lucilda, if they are in the right combination of life circumstances.

      “Your judgement was so impaired that you apparently did not realize or ignored the fact that combining alcohol and benzodiazapines was a problem, at least for you.”

      Everyone here should seriously question the judgment of someone making the above nonsensical statement. How many doctors have taken the time to learn about the dangers of benzodiazepines, and truly understand the science of addiction as it relates to combining two different drugs from the sedative hypnotic family? The synergistic effect of these combinations are not a simple one plus one equals two; the effects are quite often much much higher. If someone (that means me or even you, lucilda) has NO PRIOR problem with substance use, yes, they are at risk of developing addiction issues if they combine these two types of drugs on a regular basis.

      “Having a correct diagnosis, may give guidance to what medications may be effective…”

      Are these words not the living embodiment of Biological Psychiatry’s approach to “treating” extreme states or psychological distress. Robert should be pleased to know that his living nightmare could be finally over if he just found the right psychiatrist who could label his “diagnosis/disease” correctly (once and for all) and tweak the right combination of psychiatric “medications” to target his “chemical imbalance.”

      “Since you have had serious psychiatric symptoms for the last twenty years it is unlikely that you will stop having serious psychiatric symptoms.”

      The “wisdom” and hackneyed phrases of modern psychiatry just keeps oozing out of this benevolent, or should I say, malevolent comment. Just more disease mongering with the added caveat of perpetual permanency.

      “Your narrative is so full of holes, misinformation, and general nonsense that I do not see how anyone could take you seriously.”

      Is this not the THE classic case of projection and looking in the mirror? Though unfortunately, lucilda, in this case I DO take YOU seriously. Having worked in community mental health for over 22 years, and in that time worked with perhaps two dozen different psychiatrists, I have encountered your hubris, outlook, and approach many times.

      Lucilda, when you say “you seem to be your own worst enemy” I want to return to the first part of my comment above. If you are not currently practicing psychiatry PLEASE PLEASE sign up right away. For the sooner you become part of the psychiatric profession I will be comforted in knowing that Psychiatry’s ultimate demise will be finally much closer at hand.

      As insane as our current world truly is, lucilda, your version of reality could only have the effect of perhaps (once and for all) “turning reality back on it head” or smacking some sense into the larger public consciousness with the shear absurdity of your ideas. You certainly “woke me up” today, for sure!

      BTW, Robert, this was a great blog that is filled with great insight and very important questions. Your story is a living example of the true nature of the current benzo crisis and the high crimes of modern psychiatry.

      Richard
      PS. Word of note, I chose to leave alone lucilda’s misspelling of benzodiazepines in the context of her quotes.

      • I’m amazed at how lucid and well researched your tale and the detail of your experience is, and while you’re still on drugs, and after suffering such horrible iatrogenic effects.

        My experience was with the antidepressants / antipsychotics, not the benzos. One is almost completely incapacitated from all rational thought, while mandated to take over the maximum recommended doses of those drug cocktails, not to mention “psychotic,” via anticholinergic toxidrome.

        I’ve read the withdrawal from the benzos is much worse than the drug cocktails forced upon me, but I think it’s just a different kind of long run egregious, unethical, and morally unacceptable iatrogenic harm.

        Have hope, I do believe those who have such, can almost, if not totally, fully recover. Although, let’s hope those perpetrating these unjust and undeserved iatrogenic harm onto others, do some day pay. After all, that’s for what the doctors’ malpractice insurance was intended. And the fact the medical community has malpractice insurance is why we trusted in doctors in the first place. Our government and legal system may not make them pay, but I do believe God will. Justice is important.

        Best wishes in your healing journey, and have hope for a full recovery. I’m so impressed at your abilities thus far. And get your books published, we need them turned into movies to educate the public of our current medical industry’s ongoing crimes against humanity.

    • The only thing I agree with in Lucinda’s statements is that therapy is warranted. One needs to understand what to expect from a psychiatrist and what the expectations of therapy are, as they are very different. Sometimes the therapist can collaborate with the doctor to form a better outcome for the patient. In many situations doctors would be wrong to not also refer to a therapist.

    • Lucilda,

      I’ll only add one thing to how others already thoroughly refuted your comment.

      You said, “Since you have had serious psychiatric symptoms for the last twenty years it is unlikely that you will stop having serious psychiatric symptoms.”

      There’s no logic to this comment – unless you knew the individual person and their strengths and weaknesses well, you could not possibly make this prediction with any degree of accuracy. Some people suffer for a very long-time due to misinformation, lack of access to social support or therapy, bad luck, and then at some point the combination of factors changes and allows things to get much better. Addtionally, psychiatric distress is on a continuum and for different people in a complex individual way over time; serious psychiatric symptoms do change constantly.

      I sincerely hope you do not work in the “mental health” field.

  8. I am just so puzzled, why you blame everything on benzodiazipines? I can not tolerate benzos (yep one tablet 3 week inpatient stay)…………..
    Later I took 1/4 valium, and realised why I had that three week inpatient stay…. much longer story, but that will suffice.
    My experience with SSRIs, zoloft, effexor mostly.
    I went of zoloft, due to pregnancy, I was fine for damn 12 months, then the Withdrawals began….I had no idea, didnt expect it.
    Same going off Effexor, couldnt do it, had to switch to zoloft. Effexor is the worst.
    Went off everything 14 months ago. I tapered, but after 4 months of feeliing fine, the Withdrawals Hit, they get worse, now at 18 months out, I have had about two weeks in that whole time where I actually felt near normal, the other 17 and a half months? Agony…………… If you can walk your dog, you are way better than me, most days I cant leave the house……..
    So why are you putting all the blame on Benzos? SSRIs and SRNIs and seroquel, no benzos, and damn this I know, will last years, i hope I live long enough to recover.

  9. “”Normal alcohol use and normal doses of benzodiazapines are not a problem except in people with addiction. “”

    Not correct. Many people have taken benzos as prescribed by their doctors and had a horrible time getting off of them.

    I hope to god Lucilda you aren’t a doctor or a health care professional because if you are, with all due respect, you shouldn’t practice another day until you seriously educate yourself on Benzo withdrawal. Otherwise, you are causing great harm to your patients.

  10. “”I am curious how you got the information that valium is the “weakest” and easiest to taper of all the benzodiazapines””

    If you google Heather Ashton, an expert in Benzo withdrawal, she would advise people to cross taper to Valium and then withdraw from that. The theory was it would easier to taper from since it had a longer half life than other benzos.

    However, many people found that wasn’t the case in their situation felt it was easier to taper off of the benzo they were on.

    The issue though which I am not sure you understand Lucilda is that Benzos like all psych meds need to be tapered very very gradually to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Many people find they have to taper them at 5 to 10% of current dose every 4 to 8 weeks.

    And no, I don’t have any research links to give you since sadly psych med professionals are mostly clueless about tapering and blame all withdrawal symptoms on mental health issues as this column excellently points out.

  11. Robert,
    Sorry to hear you were put through all this shit and wish you all the best in improving to the maximum degree possible in terms of coming off the drugs and functioning better. Putting someone on 8 mg of Klonopin is ridiculous; that would be enough to sedate a horse. The most I was ever on was 1 mg.

    As you said, lying and deceiving is the American corporate way; it is one reason I am not proud to be an American, given that our country cannot muster the will to put any reasonable limits on these sociopathic entities and their parasitic activity.

  12. Thank you for sharing your story. I am sorry for your loss and I am sorry that you have gone through all of this psych drug madness. I have found that it is all one big just trial and error with these drugs and these doctors seem to have no clue that they are addictive, that the side effects are tremendous and to be honest, I am not so sure they care. They do not seem to know what to do other than prescrible medications. I feel like with mental health it’s a treat them and street them attitude that needs to change. I wish I could change this for everyone. I too have panic disorder and had to learn to manage completely w/o meds because the meds make me literally crazy. Luckily, I have been pretty successful with managing it. I wish you the best of luck. Keep strong.

  13. The bad news, as has already been noted by many here, is that the comment by “lucilda” [far above] is an aggressive, ‘gaslighting’, and mean-spirited comment on many levels. I was shocked to read it. The good news, however, is that its presence here suggests that some individuals in or around the psychiatry profession must be threatened by the writing at MIA, or else this type of thing wouldn’t be here at all.

    So glad for Richard D. Lewis’ reply as the ‘insider’ I understand he was until very recently. The clients he served must miss him!

    I wish Robert Pfaff all the courage and strength in his journey ahead. This is a very moving account of harrowing personal struggles. It made me wonder what happens to the millions of children who are prescribed these horrible drugs. To that end I did a Google search and a ‘Huffington Post’ piece by Dr. Peter Breggin popped up. Terrible enough for an adult to survive this withdrawal; this ordeal for children must be beyond comprehension.

    Liz Sydney, parent of drug-free children

  14. Just a few comments of my own:
    1) Why do people always assume that nobody has their best interest at heart. I suspect the large majority in the medical profession, and I speak from many years of experience, do have your interest at heart.
    2) I will attest that, for some unknown reason, there are psychiatrists who do not understand withdrawal from psych meds and benzos but some do. Find one of them! These drugs are powerful and should be used very judiciously. When they are correct they can be miraculous.
    3) I am a Board Certified Mental Health Psychiatric Nurse and I can not prescribe or oversee an MD. Perhaps you saw a Nurse Practitioner?
    4) Why is psychiatry a pseudo-science but no other brand of medicine is? For every disease/illness you will find every doctor has a different approach, mental or physical. This is why they call it “medical practice.”
    5) You obviously need intensive help and some sort of medication(s). I am not saying this to be rude, mean, or judgmental; simply to say: do not cast aside all help and medications to the point of having a low quality life. Apparently, you do need to doctor shop. An in-patient stay with a long observation would be advisable.

  15. Many opinions, very few facts. I didn’t prescribe medication, I said what I would say to anyone with mental health issues seeking guidance. I am legally (wether you like it or not) qualified to to give that information and did nothing out of my scope of practice. Telling someone to continue seeking help is not wrong, illegal, or unethical by any stretch of the imagination. I am not going to respond to comments baiting for an argument. A factual debate is fascinating especially when absent name calling and insults. I am employed full time, busy with a family, and will respond when I feel so inclined.

    • Here’s what you said ASD:

      “You obviously need intensive help and some sort of medication(s)… you do need to doctor shop. An in-patient stay with a long observation would be advisable.”

      You don’t know this guy. You’ve never met him or even spoken to him on the phone. You are not a prescribing psychiatrist. Surely you know that most mental health professionals don’t advise taking medication or going inpatient based on reading a few paragraphs written by someone they’ve never interviewed online. The guidelines at Psychforums.com, Psychcentral.com, Medhelp.com, etc. make it clear that public online forums not the place for that type of thing.

      I wonder what the arbiters of your profession would say if they saw you giving out this advice on taking drugs and going inpatient to a person you’ve never met on an online forum… they might not view it quite like you do. Obviously, like many of us, you prefer not to give out your identity publicly, which is probably smart in this case, as what you advised if acted on and leading to harm could indeed be construed as malpractice.

      And as for the lack of validity and reliability of mental health labels, and the pseudoscientific nature of the psychiatric position, I see that you wisely prefer to avoid that debate, knowing that you don’t have any solid arguments.

  16. I apologize Robert. I was referring to Transformation guy and a couple others. He seems rather angry. I appreciate your comments and perspective and am taking it in and processing it all. I can honestly say I have heard much of your experience many times from patients. over and am truly sympathetic. I can only have a positive in my corner of the world by advocating for my patients, which I do wholeheartedly. It starts by listening (or reading) and asking questions. I appreciate your respectful reply.

    • I was referring to Transformation guy and a couple others. He seems rather angry.

      I that how you try to invalidate “your patients” too — by saying indefensible things to them that you are “legally qualified” to say, then defining their reactions as “pathological”?

      Me angry? Nah, just doing my job & pointing out your inconsistencies. Anger would enter the picture only if you had some kind of power over me.

      Still waiting for those facts btw.

        • Haha I hope so Oldhead 🙂

          I am a B.A. after all. It may not be as impressive as the letters after the names of many people in this forum, but it’s something.

          If this important debate goes to court then I will hire counsel to argue that I am competent to have opinions. That would be more representation than most people get in fake (mental) hospitals.

          • Yeah, but are you competent to hire counsel? After all, the idea that you need a lawyer might be a manifestation of your condition (possibly a symptom of anosognosia).

          • Very funny oldhead. Apparently he is the only one here who is “qualified” and we must take his word for it. Everyone else must provide proof. Heaven help you if you have a difference of opinion as it will warrant personal attacks. Oh well, enjoy!

          • That might be a problem Oldhead 🙂

            After all, the comments I made on this page alone are probably sufficient for me to be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Spontaneous Combustion Disorder, and Upsetting-Seemingly-Ignorant-Mental-Health-Worker Disorder.

          • Apparently he is the only one here who is “qualified” and we must take his word for it. Everyone else must provide proof.

            Yeah well, you know, seniority has its perks. Still waiting for those facts.

          • They tend to find other things to do when it becomes obvious that the straw man can’t be erected in a slight breeze.

            “After all, the comments I made on this page alone are probably sufficient for me to be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Spontaneous Combustion Disorder, and Upsetting-Seemingly-Ignorant-Mental-Health-Worker Disorder.”

            Thanks for the smile this has put on my face BPD, they’ll throw the book of insults at ya lol.

  17. hi, robert.

    sending support and hugs from me, too.

    heartfelt condolences on the loss of your dad- i’m so, so sorry.

    it is, indeed, a long road off benzos and other ridiculously dangerous psych drugs. good for you! enjoy being reborn- step by step.

    my husband’s 10 year relationship with benzos and other legal drugs and “the system” kind of/nearly ruined his life, my life, the lives of our 4 children, among others…

    one of the biggest pearls of wisdom is this: everybody struggles with something. everybody. no free rides in life. and no such thing as a chemical imbalance. when you give somebody psych drugs you have taken a healthy brain and caused dysfunction. the brain now must compensate and work around the foreign body now present. that’s why these drugs cause such havoc in the brain- andw hy they cause such havoc when you get off of them.

    stay strong. you are not alone.

    blessings

    erin

  18. Thank you so much for this article Robert. A heart-felt and visceral read.

    You’ve been through so much. My heart goes out to you. Recovery from benzodiazepine or z-drug withdrawal is an odyssey. I came off a z-drug almost 3 years ago and have suffered greatly through protracted withdrawal. The World Health Organization considers the z-drugs (zopiclone/Ambien/Lunesta) to be, for all intents and purposes, benzodizepines.

    The truth is that this is a very difficult journey for a small minority of us – approximately 10 to 15%. The prescribing physicians do not know much about discontinuation syndromes or even the proper way to taper and withdraw from these medications.

    I hold out much hope for your healing though and am here to tell you that it does get better. I’m almost healed now. I too have uncoupled from psychiatry in my bid to regain my health.

    I do hope that you continue to update us as you heal and I look forward to your next blog post. You write beautifully.

    Finally, I am very sorry for your recent loss. I am no stranger to loss and grief and that too is a long and difficult journey for many of us. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Vancouver

  19. Thanks for sharing your experience, Robert. I thought I was the only one.

    I’ve been on a comparatively small dose of clonazepam (0.5 mg to 1 mg depending on how anxious I am) for years. I tapered off it for a while a few years ago and had a horrible experience with protracted withdrawal. Like you, I was afraid of everything for months. And I had an obsessive-compulsive preoccupation with death. I would see skulls and dead bodies dancing in front of my eyes night and day. I couldn’t sleep. And I was certain I was going insane.

    I wasn’t as strong as you. I went back on the clonazepam as soon as my doctor offered it. Now I’m trying to go off it again and I’m scared.

  20. I don’t think one can say with certainty that there is a definite link “yet” with the use of benzos and development of dementia. Just read a recent,very detailed and thorough study printed in Forbes Magazine on Feb. 2016 that disputes that connection. So I think the jury is still out on that one.

  21. I am an addict in long-term recovery who has worked in the field of chemical dependency treatment for many years. I have had thousands of clients and I can say that folks coming off bzs and alcohol (combined) often have the worst – most protracted and severe – withdrawal symptoms I have ever seen. And many of these people only started taking bzs after they consulted with their provider about their drinking and anxiety. It is a commonplace for doctors to prescribe alcoholics benzos to alcoholics on the logic that the bz will “treat” the anxiety that is driving the drinking. I have never seen that happen, even once. For that matter, I have never seen a psychiatrist successfully treat an addict or alcoholic. Yet they run the show. A giant big pharma scam. So long as the addict continues to relapse he serves as a cash cow for the industry. Thus we are told that opiate addiction is a “chronically relapsing” condition. False and misleading and dangerous.

    Robert, you are strong and brave and doing the right thing. Thanks you for speaking your truth.

  22. I googled my topic and up popped your blog. I see noone has replied since last year but I just have to reach out to you to thank you to have the courage to share your journey. You have inspired me to want to share the most incredible journey of mine thru the madness of being taking off 88 5 mg tabs of diazepam a month for a total of being prescribed it for a decade. I almost didn’t luve thru it and spent over a year in a psychotic state before having such panic and fear of my delusions that I went into cardiac arrest believing that I was choking to death on a throat full of worms that were blocking my airway and i was actually not able to breath due to gagging and choking. I was dying and all alone a 4:00 am. I called 911 and saved my life. I didn’t wake my husband because he had to get up so early to go to work. I am ready to take fellow victims on a journey of crazy that started November 2012 to January 2014. I am now in a good place to start to reclaim my life somehow though I will never be the high functioning , go getter, social butterfly, reach up for the stars and accomplish all your hopes and dreams and keep climbing the ladder of success. I have come to terms with the new me that is never going to be that girl I was. The new me is well enough from all the brain damage I did to myself with the benzo that took away my anxiety I developed after some very traumatic events that rocked my world. I really could use some advice and feedback on knowing how I’m going to deal with this terrible life changing decision that my psychologist who I trusted and respected so much took away all that I had in life and left me a shell of a person who doesn’t leave the house except to go to my dr appointments. Since I had to be hospitalized in a mental health center off my rocker , I no longer can work as an RN with I worked so hard to get. I was a single mom of 3 daughters and no child support working 3 jobs and in nursing school at the same time and managed to graduate with honors. I worked in a hospital on the med/surg ward and I loved my job. It fit like a glove and I am not bragging when I say I was very good at my job and never cut corners or not give my 100% to each patient in my care. I wasnt ready to give that up after the work I put in to achieve my dreams. I was still had student loans. I had a group of friends that Some were from gramma school that I dropped due to the condition I was left in. My best friend got sick with lyme disease and was near death and begged me to come help and take care of her. She supported me all thru nursing scholl and my moms death and for gratitude I had to refuse. I had just been released from the hospital and she didnt know about the nightmare I had been living in for over a year. She will never forgive me. How could I tell her how insane I was and still was so sick when she was so proud of me for reaching my goals and being so strong. I think I want to get a copy of my medical records from my dr, who did this to me. I think I want to meet with him and tell him how he almost killed me. I know it was out of ignorance and lack of being up to standards of practice by researching the result of cold turkey withdrawal. I want to edycate the dr.s and I think my experience is shocking and would be a story that proves how dangerous and cruel it is to put patients thru. I have all the proof and the story is so horrific it will cause quite a sensation around the world. I am not the kind of person to sue or seek revenge but I don’t want this great teaching moment to go to waste. Please write me back and give feedback of my story. I promise that when you hear it all that its so shocking, you will never forget it. I’m feeling well enough to start taking baby steps to form some sort of plan to tell my dr. s and other professionals that added more suffering to the withdrawals with some of the actions they took when I was sick. I have the best husband in the world who took over running the house and cooking, driving me to my appointments. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was thinking I was acting and thinking normal. Thank you for your story and I would like to know how you are now and hear more of your story.