Benzodiazepine Effects: Similarities With Childhood Trauma

Claire Violet Hanley
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2314

Benzodiazepines are a massive violation.

The expression that they are a “rape of the mind, soul and body” has been used for decades by campaigners in the UK for good reason.

The disabilities can start within weeks or even days for some. Personality changes occur and the body starts exhibiting side effects seldom attributed to the benzos, but more often than not, to “stress,” M.E., fibromyalgia or other virtually any other diagnosis. Effects can be severe causing loss of career, interpersonal relationships, violence, suicide and more contact with mental health services which, for some, has resulted in heinous labels, such as BPD or dependent personality disorder, and polydrugging.

The enormous and ever growing number of forums on social media for people damaged by both benzos and SSRI polydrugging bears out the truth that very many people are severely damaged by commonly trusted medications.

I turn now to the childhood abuse survivor community. Esther Rantzen is probably one of the few journalists in the country to have some in depth knowledge of these issues. She both established the helpline for victims of child abuse “Childline” and took up the cause of benzo victims who had written in to her TV programme “That’s Life.” Speaking in BBC’s 2001 Panorama programme “The Tranquilliser Trap” she was clearly incensed that nothing had been done by governments or healthcare agencies to stop the benzodiazepine disaster.

These issues should absolutely be of priority for childhood abuse survivor charities in the UK. Survivors of childhood trauma who are also adversely affected by benzos need to be believed. Many sadly won’t even know until it’s too late that symptoms, often categorized as stress from trauma, could in (some) cases be either partly or even entirely caused by benzos. For example, in my case, a deteriorating benzodiazepine induced brain injury that made me seem childlike was categorized as my “inner child.” When patients do disclose a benzodiazepine injury to their support networks in abuse survivor groups, it is imperative that they are believed. There also needs to be awareness that categorizing everything as “somatisation” is neither helpful nor safe. Again, many charity and patient groups from ME to thyroid charities are currently trying to raise awareness of the harms of the current medical paradigm, which far too often dismisses patients’ unseen illnesses as a psychiatric or psychological disorder.

Victims of severe childhood trauma have already been through far, far too much. Many find when they disclose abuse to GPs the first thing that happens is an instant prescription for an SSRI or benzodiazepine. It is worth noting here that a very small minority of people find themselves unable to walk and even wheel-chair bound after benzodiazepine discontinuation. Some even die. How can this level of risk be justified for anyone, let alone vulnerable abuse survivors with limited or no support networks? Awareness needs to be spread. Those adversely affected in the benzodiazepine community are doing their best to campaign, but their ability to succeed is sometimes curtailed by brain injury and lack of social support that often accompanies the entire benzo journey.

Similarities between benzos and childhood trauma:

Lack of Consent

Benzodiazepines need to be given with fully informed consent. Currently in the UK some people are told the benzos could be “addictive,” but this is neither sufficient nor accurate. Physical dependency and addiction are quite separate illnesses. Moreover, full informed consent should spell out the worst case scenarios such as brain damage and loss of mobility. This can occur even at low doses and even if always taken as prescribed. The Department of Health and the BMA have not ensured that all doctors know this.

Not Being Believed

Many benzo victims go for years having their symptoms totally ignored, minimised or disbelieved.

Vested Interests

The reason that information is not widely known is arguably because of the vested interests of the pharmaceutical industry, governmental failure to act and fear of an onslaught of people taking legal action. There is also the issue of ingrained cognitive dissonance (a term coined by Dr. David Healy) of doctors across the spectrum who believe the marketing of the pharmaceutical industry over the lived experience of their own patients and who would suffer huge professional embarrassment, not to mention shame, if the truth were widely known. Many professionals are simply unable to come to terms with the depths of suffering they have unwittingly caused. The establishment has both failed to own up to its failings and to protect future generations.

Long Term Harm

Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome is a long and severe illness.

Lack of Public or Social Understanding

Benzodiazepine related illness, especially the withdrawal process, causes an incommunicable level of human suffering.

Victim Blaming

The Department of Health still uses victim blaming language accusing victims of the benzodiazepine medical disaster of “drug misuse.” They continue to use this language despite efforts of campaigners to highlight scientific research that explains why this is type of language is totally inappropriate and highly damaging.

Damage to Relationships

Notwithstanding the massive personality changes that can result from benzodiazepine use, relationships are put under a massive strain due to the literally unbelievable and complex array of life altering symptoms.

Loss of Trust

All this can often lead to a total breakdown of trust in the medical profession. This distrust is often well founded and justified.

Loss of Self Esteem

The experience can alter a person’s sense of self and self-worth.

***

Symptoms of benzodiazepine disability can tragically often seem to resemble complex PTSD, making victims of childhood trauma more vulnerable to taking longer to discover the true cause of their symptoms.

It is worth noting here that many symptoms of trauma are dramatically reduced by slowly tapering off benzodiazepines (using the Ashton Manual by Professor Heather Ashton). Some fortunate people experience no adverse affects whatsoever coming of benzos, and even those who experience physical disability have stated their quality of life has improved after tapering because so many psychological effects have lifted.

Childhood trauma victims are really experiencing a double whammy when they are also adversely impacted by benzos. The benzodiazepine forums are not awash with expertise in complex childhood trauma. This can be isolating for those from the survivor community, although not insurmountable.

No one should have to go through the benzodiazepine nightmare, no matter their background. It is a tragedy successive governments knew the risks and failed to act. In the meantime, people power and the internet are slowly winning. It can only be hoped that future generations can be spared this ordeal.

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39 COMMENTS

  1. “the marketing of the pharmaceutical industry over the lived experience of their own patients and who would suffer huge professional embarrassment, not to mention shame, if the truth were widely known. Many professionals are simply unable to come to terms with the depths of suffering they have unwittingly caused.”

    I do not buy that at all, they know what they are doing, and they do it for money and under cover of the state. Never mind their professional embarrassment, they need to go to jail for destroying peoples lives and their pay packets to the victims. 1000’s of people have died in UK MH care, and their deaths have not been properly investigated. Why? because MH trusts investigate themselves – they do not have to have an independent investigation. Is anyone calling for the police to investigate all this ? And when are you people going to call for drug induced akathisia to be seen a serious crime, perpetrated – mostly – by GP’s and psychiatrists ?

    • Forgot to mention, the psychiatrists know all about the pharmacogenetics test cytochrome P450, as do of-course the NHS, but they don’t give a damn about the patients. Animals, dogs get better treatment. And they say this to you, making sure there is no recording going on, and then laugh at you. When you put in a complaint about all this, what you find is that they (the health trust) give the complaint to the very people you complain about. Obviously they lie in reply. And you think, right I’ve got a load of evidence written on their own letter headed paper that totally contradicts the complaint reply, so you take it to the GMC and the PHSO only to find they don’t give a damn either. It’s for show.. a kind of placebo, being as they see your complaint as further evidence of your ‘illness’. How fucked up is that ?

    • markps2,

      I understand where you are coming from but as one who stupidly went on Temazepam for sleep after being diagnosed with Lymphoma, I wouldn’t wish this drug or any Benzo on my worst enemy. I can’t imagine having trauma and being prescribed this med.

      Unfortunately, I can’t blame the docs as I should have known better after going through psych med withdrawal hell several years ago. But desperation clouded my judgment.

      • markps2–so true that desperation clouds judgement. As a very good RN who also went on benzos for sleep, I felt enormous embarrassment and shame for the situation I found myself in once I developed tolerance withdrawal symptoms and associated suffering. I went on the drugs for night anxiety that led to insomnia, but over time, the benzos caused full blown nocturnal panic attacks, which were immeasurably worse than the anxiety I’d experienced before benzos. I was then diagnosed with panic disorder and my benzo dose increased. Once I figured out what was happening it took a year to taper off the drugs (against the wishes of my physicians), and two years to move through a brutal withdrawal, but I now sleep well most nights and have NO panic. None. Migraine headaches have also ceased. But like you, I don’t blame the docs–I should have done better research.

        • I *do* blame the doctors.

          The “doctors” should KNOW about the drugs they prescribe, including how to quit them safely.

          How were we, the patients, suppose to ‘research’ the possible consequences of benzodiazepines? Pre-internet, there was only the PDR, which was a big blank as far as PAWS/ID is concerned, only mentioning ‘addiction’ as a possible down side. All I knew was that I was a ‘good little patient’ and always took the same low dosage for *years* (wanting desperately to avoid the dreaded ‘addict’ label), and when tolerance withdrawal reared it’s ugly head, my ‘health care’ provider had no clue and just prescribed *more* drugs…

          • As an RN, I knew my prescribers well, and am certain that they didn’t receive any more education about the potential for what happened to us than I did during my nursing education. They were as blindsided by what happened to me as I was. If it happened now, I would blame them, as I made damn sure to educate them during my withdrawal, plus there’s much more media attention to psych drug problems — ignorance is no longer an excuse… I do very much blame the pharmaceutical industry that has surpassed huge amounts of information about risks/side-effects, all in the name of profits.

  2. It is ridiculous that doctors still give out a month worth of Benzodiazepines to people without explaining tolerance and dependence.

    The problem, I assume, is when you take Benzodiazepines for so long and discontinue, there is a surge of glutamate resulting in Excitotoxicity due to a down regulation of GABA.

    This is not well known but I am wondering if PAWS can be prevented by Glutamate Antagonists, something like Memantine, an Alzheimer’s drug. There are no studies being done but ironically, it is being used to augment OCD and Anxiety now, which are the biggest complaints of Benzodiazepine withdrawal.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4085808/

    Not to mention, most of the new psychiatric medications being developed modulate glutamate activity at NMDA/AMPA receptors.

        • No, I didn’t misunderstand at all.

          What do you know about PAWS/ID? Have you any idea of the duration? Why would I want to take another drug, for whatever length of time, altering the neurochemical soup in my brain (again) after suffering the trauma from PAWS/ID?

          I want my brain back. After 46 months *after* a slow taper (the Ashton Manual recommendations are too fast!) my impairments are not recognized by ANYONE in the medical ‘community’ or (as the author states) by friends/family/employers etc.

          The isolation and the shifting deficits have made my life not really worth living as it passes me by, void of meaning or enthusiasm for *anything*.

          • I am not going into my history because it is basically identical to yours. I know what PAWS is all to well.

            Excess Glutamate is basically what is going on with regards to withdrawal, just from a biochemistry perspective. NMDA Antagonists have been shown to improve the success rate from Benzodiazepines from the little studies that have been done. PAWS is not in the DSM, that is why there are little studies. We have to connect the dots ourselves. I am just as frustrated believe me.

  3. Magnesium didn’t hurt…but never really saw any benefit. Being hell broke, I haven’t have the options of ‘alternative’ therapies (unless donated), and have mostly focused on cleaning up my diet, cutting out grains, sugar, caffeine, chocolate, alcohol (forever; interacts with gaba) and *all* other pharma/supplements, with the exception of the Imitrex I take for the migraines…a frequent issue for me and Vit. D.

    Try to maintain some physical activity, recently began going to a (free) yoga class and have a friend who is using me as a case study for her biodynamic cranial sacral massage training. Acupuncture helped a bit during acute, for the inner vibrations and the weeks of insomnia.

    I use distraction as best I can…which just leads me to feel like I’m wasting time as as time passes one wonders “is this how it is for the rest of my life?”

    There are periods of time when the symptoms recede, the usual waves and windows pattern has been true for my experience…but at this time, it’s been months of slogging thru a litany of issues and I’m tired and discouraged. Permanent damage is a forbidden subject on the support boards, and the constant admonishments to ‘think positive’ just makes me feel that much more alone.

    https://vimeo.com/188181193*
    *don’t watch this if you’re in a fragile condition

    • Excuse me if you already know this, but just in-case not. The NMDA receptor is a glutamate receptor and gated in a voltage dependent way by magnesium ions. However during that extreme state of glutamate toxicity (akathisia) it would seem that nothing would ever work. Eventually my experience was that it does, so long as it goes hand in hand with slow tapering off. The problem is that the body will not accept anything that is not put down by evolution, it changes itself to the point of harm, as is experienced when coming off benzo’s. This is why I do not believe any drugs will work with regards ‘mental health’ issues. Human beings are hard wired to believe they can make themselves more human than human, it is seen through the history of art and also in the belief that a pill can do this, as is the case in sport. Therefore humans will continue to make this mistake fueled by a profit motive. We see history through the filter of change over time and realise either something definitely good or very harmful was done, my view is that our own time will exceed the likes of Hermann Pfannmuller and Hans Heinze.

      The body also needs the active form of B6 p5p to convert glutatmate to GABA. It also uses the enzyme Glutamate decarboxylase in that conversion, so seems to me anything that supports the function of the enzyme is going to help.

    • humanbeing: Time will heal. I was where you are now, terribly frightened that it would never end, but it did. I tapered for a year and had hard, painful withdrawal for two years, but then my brain slowly began to function better than I remember it being pre-benzos. There’s truly reason to hope! As others have said, both here and elsewhere, eat as clean a diet as possible, get some fresh air and exercise (even gentle walks in a park), try to meditate and/or practice mindfulness (MBSR helped me enormously), and wait it out. I can’t tell you how sick I was, but that’s past tense! You’ll get there, I’m sure of it.

  4. As a person who survived incest for 12 years. I was been diagnosed with ‘BPD’ almost 25 years ago and have been on antipsychotics and antidepressants all this time. 6 years ago, after my brother took his life, benzodiazepines were also added. The dose has been doubled in this time. I am almost sure that many of the ‘symptoms’ or emotional difficulties I suffer are caused by this cocktail of drugs. However, I have no way to prove this.

    Silenced as a child and silenced and sedated by medication for the last 25 years. Told by secondary MH services that I have a disordered personality and that I am ‘severely mentally ill’.

    I have been asking for help to taper and withdraw slowly and safely from these drugs but so far this has been refused. I am in the middle of a formal complaint with my NHS trust which entails my medicated with no informed consent, my inappropriate diagnosis and negative treatment that has followed, and the fact that since disclosing incest 25 years ago I have been refused 1-2-1 therapy to tell the story of what happened to me because I am “too complex”!

    This is my last attempt to get professional help to get off my medication. If this fails I have now got enough information from online to start to taper on my own. I need them to prescribe lower dose tablets to make it easier for me to taper my benzodiazepines but so far this has been refused. I will therefore have to invest in a pill cutter and scales etc.

    I totally agree with what you have written Clare. For me being on medication and being in MH services has re-traumatised me and re-abused me. Mirroring what my Daddy did to me when I was a little girl.

    • And I married my abusive mother…not literally, but yes, once abused, always abused? I’m the family scapegoat..always the ‘identified patient’ and always wondered when I was a child, and my mother kept dragging me to counselors, why it was that they never talked to *her* about what was going on at home.

      I don’t think it’s a shock that those of us who end up in the ‘Mental Health’ system have trauma backgrounds…only to be re-traumatized.

      • My mom had her own traumas that she handed down to me like a family curse without (fully) realizing it. Her own mom was neglectful and allowed her to be molested between ages 8 and 14.

        Mom went to the opposite extreme with me. She did her best to make me hate men and fear sex. Till I was twenty I had a bad case of geniphobia–not helped by years of sexual harassment at school. At age ten Mom used me to vent in full, graphic detail all the horrible stuff Art had done to her. Why, Mom, why? I was a ten year old child, not your therapist or clergy!

        Thanks to my SMI label Mom continues to “parent” and control me into my forties. She won’t stop till one of us is dead. I’m still a virgin, but if by some slim chance I ever find a man willing to marry me I will have to secretly elope. Mom is THAT BAD!

    • spicky211: I’m also a survivor of profound childhood abuse who was on benzos and SSRIs for 25 years. Like you, I was unable to find anyone who believed me and would help with a taper, so I did it myself — successfully. It was definitely not easy, but the ultimate outcome 4 years later is splendid! I found myself!

  5. Thanks for this article. I totally agree.
    When my infant daughter was put on benzos 40 years ago, I asked the paediatrician if they were addictive. He laughed as if I had asked a really stupid question, but gave no answer. 25 years later, she tapered off them, but damage was permanent. She died at age 33.
    Benzos should not be given to children.

  6. No mention of this so far, the Las Vegas shooter last month who killed 58 and injured hundreds by a sniper attack from the 32nd floor of a hotel with a machine gun had an rx for valium 10 mg bid filled 3 months prior. No other drug has been mentioned to date and no other motive has come to light. Did a benzodiazepine cause this mass murder? It would be absurd to ignore the possible cause and effect. In some cases, benzodiazepines can be brain disabling and neurotoxic. People who knew the man cannot believe it was him. His “personality” was completely altered by something. Even if toxicology reports indicate a blood level of zero, the withdrawal, another form of toxicity, must be considered. How many of the mass murders would never have happened without psych drugs? Doctors are unwittingly prescribing poison and regulators are missing it.

    • Yes, totally possible…withdrawal of benzo’s can = toxic psychosis, this is known as akathisia. It is note worthy that this story has gone out of the news. Also there seems to be conflicting evidence of the position of the shooter. Three videos seem to show much lower than the 32nd floor. Who knows what the truth is. But one thing is for sure: benzo withdrawal can do it…

      “Withdrawal of a benzodiazepine should be gradual because abrupt withdrawal may produce confusion, toxic psychosis, convulsions, or a condition resembling delirium tremens”

      http://benzo.org.uk/BNF.htm

  7. My withdrawal was / is so severe that it gave me PTSD. But how do you heal from PTSD when the “event” hasn’t ended yet? I feel like I survived the initial battle (acute withdrawal and the sheer horror and survival and inhumane torture of the first 2+ years off), but I’m still in the war. I’m 4.5 years off and still in daily physical, cognitive, and emotional pain (with outright disability in all 3), but my symptoms are generally more “stable” and “manageable” now (at least compared to the earlier years off.) And yet I find myself in intense fear of my own body and mind “attacking” me again, or of being sucked back into the abyss of those earlier years, even though I am slowly recovering.

    It’s also worth mentioning that my damaged, glutamate-storming brain and constant DP/DR alters my perception of everything, so that even POSITIVE memories of the past (which are now intensely vivid, as if they’re occurring right now, as if I have dementia) are tainted and darkened as if they were actually traumas instead. Everything is “too much” to handle, everything is overstimulating (as if I’m autistic now), everything is scary, unsettling, wrong / bad, like I’m on an acid trip that hasn’t ended, etc, etc – even GOOD things make my nervous system over-react with fear and pain.

    It isn’t *similar* to trauma, it *is* trauma! And don’t even get me started on not being believed by professionals, fearing all medicine, having most of my friends and family disappear, and losing my basic abilities, talents and independence – THOSE traumas I can almost handle. What I can’t handle is 4.5 years straight of extreme torture in my body, mind, and brain; of fearing my own self. Can someone please tell me: how am I supposed to heal from these PTSD like responses when the trauma hasn’t yet ended?

    • The best way to help someone with PTSD is via the ways a primary attachment figure can provide. However, since you said you’ve lost so many relationships already, you might check into something like this: https://paws4people.org/

      I wish I could offer you more. When PTSD is wreaking havoc with a person, he/she needs something stable on the outside to calm and stabilize and when the trauma issues finally, hopefully, cease, something to help heal.

      • No Pets allowed. I haven’t seen a rental for years that allowed pets.

        I only wish I could afford a dog and a yard and a garden of my own and enough money for groceries and the electric bill. If only.

        The neighbor dog has been barking *all day* (great for my nervous system) for many days now; my plan is to go over there, knock on the door, and offer myself as a dog-walker while this person is at work. Obviously the dog is bored. Just so you don’t think I’m not trying…

        • No, I wouldn’t accuse you of that…our society really sucks at helping people who need help. We’d rather victim blame. I wish I could suggest something else: a lot of people do artistic things and gardening, etc, but I do understand the limitations of those kinds of things especially when the trauma is continuing to occur…

      • Thank you for your suggestion, but I’m still not able to care for my own basic needs, let alone those of another living creature. I’m still mostly bedridden due to extreme physical and neurological issues, and adding in any extra work for my husband (who is already overwhelmed by his caregiving responsibilities) is the opposite of what we need right now. Also, during the first 2 or 3 years of my recovery, having a pet would have been literally impossible, even if my husband had the extra resources to care for it. I was in such a severe state of exhaustion, sensory overload, derealization (etc, etc) that I simply could not have handled it at all… even the sight of a dog would have caused extreme pain and terror for me. If I’d been a single mother with a child, my child would have been taken from me. Of that I have zero doubt. I was so sick I could not have even lifted a spoon to feed a child… I could barely summon the energy to lift a fork to my own mouth (I mean that literally).

        That said, I have made improvements over time, and about a year ago a neighbor’s cat started showing up at our house. While this was neurologically difficult for me at first, I had finally reached a stage in my recovery where it was possible for me to handle it. So over time me and this cat slowly become friends, and now he often spends his days curled up next to me on the bed / sofa, which is really nice. I don’t think it helps my PTSD response or other symptoms (plus the cat makes me sneeze!) but given the fact that I’m rarely well enough to see anyone other than my husband, it’s nice to have another companion.