Last night CNN’s This Is Life with Lisa Ling examined the scope, origins and impact of benzodiazepine (benzo) addiction in America. The piece takes a raw an unflinching look at the benzo withdrawal experience that thousands of people go through each day, as well as the rampant rates of prescribing in the United States and the path to dependency and overdose that has ensnared so many. It also highlighted the enormity of use across all populations in the country and how easy it can be to get hooked. One of the most alarming elements of the episode is its examination of the medical community’s role (and apparent negligence) in the escalating crisis.
A Portrait of American Benzo Addiction
Benzos like Klonopin® (clonazepam), Valium® (diazepam) and Xanax® (alprazolam) are sedatives commonly used to treat anxiety and certain types of sleep disorder. They work by releasing a calming neurotransmitter to regulate mood, and should only be taken for up to six weeks at a time, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Benzos are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States and across the globe. Data from Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston indicates that percentage of outpatient medical visits that led to a benzo prescription doubled from 2003 to 2015.
Impact of Benzo Addiction
The National institute on Drug Abuse reports that over 11,500 Americans succumbed to overdose involving benzos in 2017. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that benzo overdose fatality among women has increased over 830 percent in the past two decades. Along the way to these tragic overdose deaths is sickness, withdrawal, mental illness and the painful exacerbation of the very conditions these drugs were initially formulated to treat. Some of the most extreme withdrawal symptoms include severe pain, hallucinations, psychosis, severe anxiety and depression and more. Many doctors and clinicians in the addiction treatment industry are drawing parallels between escalating rates of benzo addiction and the rise of the opioid crisis that started in the early 1990s.
Effectively Combating Benzo Overdose
Part of combating benzo addiction and benzo overdose is ensuring that users have access to non-pharmacological means of treating their anxiety disorder. Recovery Unplugged uses music to help patients overcome their acute anxiety and more readily embrace the treatment process. Music has been found to alleviate anxiety in many different therapeutic contexts. Recovery Unplugged leverages this healing power to pave the way for world-class evidence-based treatment from experienced and qualified doctors, nurses and therapists. We have helped thousands of people overcome their benzo addiction, reduce their anxiety, cultivate healthy sleep habits and improve their quality of life.
As benzo addiction is poised to threaten more and more Americans, and benzo overdose becomes more and more frequent, it’s time to examine more viable alternatives to treating long-term anxiety, while providing an accessible avenue to treatment for those who are struggling.