The Monster In Your Medicine Chest

If you've suffered long enough with insomnia, there is every possibility that you've ended up at the doctors office and asked for a prescription to aid your issues, to provide that much needed rest and relief. As insomnia cures go, there's nothing like popping a pill and being temporarily relieved.

However, the moment we take these pills we are instantly beginning to build a tolerance to the effects from these prescribed drugs, and unless they are used strictly for short term relief, the insomniac runs a serious risk of addiction/dependence on said medication. This can lead to strong dependence, and eventually some of the worst withdrawal symptoms of any drug, whether prescribed or considered illegal.

Most sleeping medications are benzodiazepene class drugs, which is normally what a GP will prescribe for insomnia simply because these formulas work like gangbusters to combat a poor sleep regime. Drugs like Ambien, Xanax, Valium, Ativan, e.t.c... are all benzodiazepine class drugs. In effect, with benzos you need only take a pill, wait about 30 minutes and presto, you're in la la land. However, these “benzos” are quickly becoming one of the most abused substances of all the prescribed drugs.
What's worse is that many habitual drug abusers and alcoholics - people who have also taken benzodiazepines long term - have documented that a withdrawal from benzodiazepines is far worse than that of their drug of choice – be it heroine, alcohol, cocaine, e.t.c... Essentially, the noted experiences of benzo dependent individuals, both addicts and normal folks alike, is that the worst part of withdrawal doesn't last days, it can literally last several months after they ceased the medication. 

For a complete list of benzodiazepine drugs, Wikipedia has you covered. You can find the list here. If you already have a prescription sleep medication, do check the brand name and run it against wikipedia's list to be sure of what you're taking.

Let's take a moment to look at what happens when the search for insomnia cures leads you to benzos as a long term solution:
  1. A patient can develop tolerance and dependence very quickly, eventually requiring a larger dosage to get the same effect. In fact dependence can develop in as little as 10 days.
  2. Benzodiazepines cause enhanced GABA inhibition. When this process is sustained for long periods, the brain and central nervous system responds by manipulating it's own GABA inhibition. This leads to increased excitability of the glutamate system. OK OK, explaining how these harsh withdrawals can occur in certain individuals is far too technical. In layman's terms, the body takes a very long time to re-adjust it's normal functions when Benzos are ceased, and markedly more pronounced when ceased abruptly.
  3. The part of your brain that combats anxiety and regulates fight or flight responses can become so “out of whack” that without benzos, you experience the reverse of the pill's intended effect, multiplied exponentially. In other words, when you stop taking benzos after long term exposure, you can potentially look forward to rebound insomnia that was far worse than before you took the pills. You can also experience extreme bouts of anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, mania, e.t.c...
  4. Abrupt "cold turkey" withdrawal from long term benzo exposure puts the patient at a very high risk for seizures, which are life threatening.  
Because any explanation I provide behind you not taking sleeping medication for long term assistance might come across as preachy, I'll just leave you with some examples from actual people who have become addicted to benzos. The quoted withdrawal symptoms I've offered below all come from a popular addiction recovery forum for alcoholics, addicts, even from people unaffected previously by addictive behavior. What is truly surprising is that these forums document many people whom only developed such addictions due to their insomnia or anxiety condition, as a result of their own GP's recommendation to use benzodiazepenes as a long term treatment.

I really should clarify at this point that I am by no means suggesting you do not listen to your Doctor and trust his opinion. By and large they really do know what they're on about. This post is only meant to show you the adverse reactions that can occur when a doctor's sleep aid prescription is taken over a long period, and only if that prescription is a benzodiazepine class drug. 

So please, before deciding that the only way left to deal with insomnia is by taking prescription sleeping pills, just read these stories. My goal is that you heed the words and experiences of people, some of whom were in exactly your position once, only to find their lives dramatically and negatively affected by the reliance on sleep and anxiety medications. Plainly, my fair and gentle readers, be extremely careful to exhaust any and every natural and behavioral insomnia cure before heading down the pharmacological road. 

Look through my sidebar or here for some of the natural insomnia cures I endorse, at least before heading to the doctor out of pure frustration. And I'm not suggesting this to "get your cash" by any stretch. I literally make pennies from these products. If not my site, find another avenue to purchase a natural sleep aid, or a behavioral enhancing sleep program such as meditation. Those programs and products work folks, some even better than a sleeping pill. Most importantly, a natural solution won't leave you facing potential dependency or any cruel and potentially dangerous prolonged withdrawals once you decide to stop using them.

I don't lend my reputation to anything that hasn't heaps of positive data, and everything I endorse costs less than the average sleeping pill prescription. That said, whatever it is you do try don't just offhandedly believe "all I need is a pill" without understanding the potential consequences. That pill can become the monster in your medicine cabinet, the one that keeps you awake and in fear, long after you've thrown out the pill bottle.

Patient Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Stories:
...from SR recovery forum: Just a bit of history on me... I'm a hard core alcoholic, my disease evolving since I was young. It should be obvious from that qualification that I've had many extremely painful and protracted withdrawals and detox from the booze. A few times I came as close to death as humanly possible without actually kicking the bucket, all due to alcohol withdrawal.

Here's the thing. Those pains and experiences with booze withdrawal, and I'm talking about the worst times I've ever had coming off of the drink, they were walks on a sunny day in a park filled with dancing bunnies and rainbows, compared to the withdrawal from benzos. I would rather die than experience that agony again. Seriously, I can honestly say that under no circumstances would I put myself through that again. If it was a case of me not having a choice but to face the 5 months (yes, 5 months) I spent in living hell coming off of Xanax and Ambien, I would just top myself.
...another post from SR recovery forum: I came of 10mg xanax, a few other benzos and a stupid drinking. I stopped them all on the same day, nothing comes even close to what happened.

I had over 150 symptoms at once, from hallucinations to a seizure on day 7
Now at 5.5 months off I still have 20 symptoms remaining.

The most annoying being a 5.5 month long migraine
...A thread from another recovery forum: Something else I forgot to mention about benzo withdrawal: Most people get whacked out on these things begin using them to find relief from anxiety, or from insomnia. The ironic (read: evil) thing about benzos is that when you stop taking them cold turkey, the problem of anxiety and insomnia comes back fast, only it's at least 1 000 000 worse. It's the reverse of the pills intended effect, multiplied exponentially.

In the first 2 months of coming off Xanax and Stilnox (Ambien) I can count the number of days I slept on one hand. Seriously. One stretch was 11 days without a wink of sleep, and most other days I'd get maybe 15 minutes before having some of the worst psychotic dreams one can experience. With that little sleep I had many days of audio hallucinations and a few visual as well. (Room swelling, floor waving)

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