Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium linked to brain injury, job loss, suicide

AURORA, Colo. — For decades, countless Americans have been taking benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin as a supposedly safe way to treat anxiety. These drugs are certainly effective at staving off anxiety temporarily, but recent studies are now tying the benzodiazepine drug-class to numerous concerning side-effects. Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus report that both benzodiazepine usage and discontinuing usage of these drugs have a connection to nervous system injury and negative life effects.

These findings illustrate a major medical conundrum facing many Americans that barely anyone is talking about. Countless patients have been prescribed these drugs by their doctors and psychiatrists for daily use for years or even decades. Now, when many patients want to stop using benzodiazepines, they’re faced with major withdrawal symptoms, agonizing rebound anxiety that’s often worse than their initial stress, and a number of additional side-effects like insomnia and depression.

Benzodiazepine use has also been extensively linked to memory issues, and to a lesser extent, full-on cognitive decline. Perhaps most troubling of all, many patients complain they still don’t feel quite “normal” after ceasing benzodiazepine use.

“Despite the fact that benzodiazepines have been widely prescribed for decades, this survey presents significant new evidence that a subset of patients experience long-term neurological complications,” says Alexis Ritvo, M.D, M.P.H., an assistant professor in psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and medical director of the nonprofit Alliance for Benzodiazepine Best Practices, in a media release. “This should change how we think about benzodiazepines and how they are prescribed.”

“Patients have been reporting long-term effects from benzodiazepines for over 60 years. I am one of those patients. Even though I took my medication as prescribed, I still experience symptoms on a daily basis at four years off benzodiazepines. Our survey and the new term BIND give a voice to the patient experience and point to the need for further investigations,” adds Christy Huff, M.D, one of the paper’s co-authors and a cardiologist and director of Benzodiazepine Information Coalition.

Medicine, pills on top of brain MRI scans
(© Katsiaryna – stock.adobe.com)

This project was a collaborative effort between CU Anschutz, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and several patient-led advocacy organizations aimed at educating the public about the harms of benzodiazepines. Many members of the research team have first-hand experience with benzodiazepines.

Symptoms were generally long-lasting, with 76.6 percent of all affirmative answers to symptom questions reporting the duration lasting at least a few months to more than a year. There were 10 symptoms that persisted for over a year among half the respondents: low energy, difficulty focusing, memory loss, anxiety, insomnia, sensitivity to light and sounds, digestive problems, symptoms triggered by food and drink, muscle weakness, and body pain.

In many cases, these symptoms were entirely different and new from the original anxiety symptoms they had been prescribed benzodiazepines for in the first place. Additionally, most patients reported prolonged negative life impacts in all areas. More specifically, these negative events included significantly damaged relationships, job loss, and increased medical costs. Over half (54.4%) reported experiencing suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide.

BIND, or benzodiazepine-induced neurological dysfunction, is theorized to be a result of changes that occur in the brain in response to the drugs. According to a general review of pre-existing relevant literature, BIND tends to occur in about one in five long-term users. BIND risk factors are largely unknown at this point, which means much more research is necessary to further define the condition and produce new treatment avenues.

Earlier studies have described this injury using numerous terms, with the most well-known one probably being protracted withdrawal. As part of this study, a scientific review board unified these names under the term benzodiazepine-induced neurological dysfunction (BIND) in an effort to more accurately describe the condition.

Additionally, in an attempt to better characterize BIND, researchers analyzed another dataset originally collected by a previously published survey of current and former benzodiazepine users that asked about their symptoms and any adverse life effects they attributed to benzodiazepines. That survey, which encompassed 1,207 benzodiazepine users from benzodiazepine support groups and health and wellness sites, is the largest of its kind.

Participants included those actively taking benzodiazepines (63.2%), those in the process of tapering (24.4%) or those who had fully discontinued (11.3%). Close to all studied subjects had a prescription for benzodiazepines (98.6%), and 91 percent took the drugs mostly as prescribed.

The study is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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Comments

  1. You start off at 0.25 mg then becomes .5 then .75 then 1mg.

    If you have not stopped it by the time you hit the big one you will not be able to. You proceed up the bars bigger and bigger until you hit the really big one.

    The problem with bars is that if you miss a dose or your doc refuses to refill you have a big problem.

    I stopped it at the third day cold turkey and had puppet strings pulling on me randomly for years.

    It took years to resolve the stressors and where I am today I cannot be bothered to stress about anything at all. In other words I quit giving a tinkers damn. So I dont need that class of medicine anymore.

  2. There is a chicken/egg element here. A dramatic comparison is adolescent school shooters. Did they shoot the kids because they were mentally ill or was it the anti-psychotic and SSRIs that altered their judgement. Anxiety is a powerful disease and results is a shorter life span and a bevy of most of the time. Like depression there is no proven cure or drug that works for most, with some struggling from drug to drug before finding something that helps, yet most still have periodic spells of depression. Dosage is important as well. There is a big difference. There is virtually no withdrawal with a starting/basic dose. It is a question of degree of anxiety and upping the dose of the benzo. I chose not to up the dose and take only as needed. I venture to say that alcohol does much more brain damage, if abused, than benzodiazapines. I’ve had anxiety since about 16 and am now 63.

    1. Yeah that’s the current lie/ propaganda. First they take the pain meds and now they’re taking the anxiety meds.

      1. What your saying is a lie. These drugs are dangerous. I’m almost 2 years discontinued off a 20 year mess and I can tell you it caused extensive damage.

      2. Good for you. We are not all created equal, I wish I was never prescribed that junk. Ruined my life and i am glad I’m free of it. Statements like yours are why they get away with hiding stuff. This isn’t all tin foil hats looking for aliens stuff. Plenty of us have beeb hurt by benzos.

  3. Great. Another hit piece on benzos. First of all, not all benzos are the same so please stop lumping them all together as if they all have the same potency AND half-life. I’ve been safely taking a benzo for over 20 years and it has helped me enormously with absolutely no negative side effects. My life has vastly improved because of this particular medication. I’m so tired of the demonization of an entire class of medication that has literally helped tens of thousands of people. How much did Big Pharma pay you to write this article & promote this study? Also, I’m not taking anyone seriously who condemns benzos while pushing fentanyl and marijuana. Give me a break.

    1. Good for you. We are not all created equal, I wish I was never prescribed that junk. Ruined my life and i am glad I’m free of it. Statements like yours are why they get away with hiding stuff. This isn’t all tin foil hats looking for aliens stuff. Plenty of us have beeb hurt by benzos.

  4. I am currently dealing with this and it’s definitely true. I overused/abused xanax for a couple months and I quit cold turkey not realizing what I was in for. I was awake for 6 days straight! During that time I could barely function, obviously the longer I was awake the worse it got, by day 4 everything was like an acid trip. Inevitably I had to go to the er and be honest about my situation and I found a doc that figured out what was happening. He gave me 4mg of xanax and I slept for about 4hrs (for the 1st time in 6 days). I woke up feeling normal again, had an appetite again etc. If you take as prescribed I’m sure they can be fine but if you abuse benzos I’m here to tell you they definitely fried my brain. Now I have to work with my pcp to ween off of them. I had no idea how dangerous it was but abusing xanax almost killed me.

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