Author of The Blackout Book and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted
America has a disturbing history of creating medical crises with prescription drugs. Just look at the “opioid epidemic” – it’s an epidemic started by doctors prescribing medication to their patients in response to severe pain. It turned countless people into addicts, and many died as a result of these drugs – or the ones they desperately sourced when the medical community cut them off cold turkey.
The next prescription drug “epidemic” is likely to be benzodiazepines. These powerful drugs are prescribed for a few physical ailments, such as seizure disorders, but more commonly for maladies, such as insomnia and anxiety. They aren’t supposed to be long-term solutions but rather a stopgap measure. That doesn’t stop the medical community from treating these sedatives like they are designed to be taken indefinitely.
What are benzodiazepines?
Some of the most popular and frequently prescribed benzodiazepines are alprazolam(Xanax), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), and temazepam (Restoril). Most prescriptions come from primary care providers.
Benzo prescriptions were already dizzyingly high, doubling between 2003 and 2015. Then came the pandemic and all its accompanying woes. Benzos were prescribed even more as people suffered from social isolation, financial woes, media-stoked fear of the illness, and other stressors.
…Researchers concluded that 12.5% of adults in the U.S. used benzodiazepines, which extrapolates to about 30.5 million persons. However, only 2.1% of U.S. adults misused them (at least once), and only 0.2% met the criteria for benzodiazepine use disorders. Among benzodiazepine users, 17.1% misused them…
However, “misusing” is a term that is…dare I say it, misused.
Benzodiazepines were never supposed to be taken on a long-term basis. But people take them for years and years, not realizing that by taking their medicine exactly as prescribed, they’re developing a dangerous physical dependency. The misuse often comes straight from the doctor’s office.
What does this have to do with prepping?
With the high numbers of people prescribed benzodiazepines, chances are, someone you love is taking them too. If (or let’s be real, when) our medication supply dwindles, these people will be left without a medication they took as prescribed, and they could face a horrible withdrawal – sometimes ending in death.
Because of the dangers of benzodiazepine withdrawal, it’s important to know what the symptoms are, how to help, and how to taper off safely. I’ve seen the aftereffects of somebody weaning off of a benzo. It’s not pretty. And cold turkey is even worse.
If you take benzodiazepines, don’t think that you’re fine just because you are taking them as directed. You’re still developing a physical dependency. Please understand there’s a difference between physical dependency and addiction. Being dependent on benzos doesn’t mean the person is a junkie, out there robbing the neighbors for their next fix. You’d never even realize the dependency existed until the medications were taken away.
If you’re not prepared to manage withdrawal, I suspect that we could lose many loved ones due to this prescription medication once it becomes unavailable.
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How should withdrawal be managed?
In a perfect world, all benzodiazepine withdrawal would be handled by a caring medical professional. Therein lies part of the problem. If you have to go to the doctor every month or three to renew your prescription under the guise of being “monitored,” that’s a moneymaker. I’m certainly not suggesting that all doctors who prescribe benzos do it for the money, but some do.
If that’s the case, then they have a vested interest in keeping the patient on the medication. As well, many doctors – as in hundreds of thousands – don’t seem to understand that these drugs are meant for short-term use only. They may not see a problem with the patient continuing to take the med indefinitely.
If that’s the case, then help can be difficult to come by, particularly if money is tight. Detox facilities may or may not work because those who take benzos aren’t necessarily addicts – they’re dependent. Weaning off benzos takes a long time – longer than most folks would be in rehab.
If your doctor won’t help, your best course of action is to find a doctor who will. Seek out a doctor who has a more osteopathic practice – they’ll nearly always want you off those drugs, but they’ll be able to prescribe the medication needed to taper off.
What are the symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal?
Benzodiazepine withdrawal can range anywhere from unpleasant to deadly. It’s highly, highly recommended never to go cold turkey. That not only escalates the initial symptoms to almost unbearable levels but can also set the patient up for a long-term health crisis called Protracted Withdrawal Syndrome, in which the symptoms last for years.
Early symptoms start within 24 hours of stopping the medication. Acute withdrawal takes place after that, and it’s far more intense. This can last anywhere from 5-28 days or even longer. Some people suffer from PWS for years after that.
40% of people who take benzos for more than six months, even as directed, will suffer from moderate to severe withdrawal.
Medical News Today lists some of the symptoms a person suffering from benzo withdrawal could experience.
- physical aches and pains that can range from uncomfortable to severe
- abnormal sensations, such as the feeling that bugs are crawling on the skin
- muscle spasms
- weight loss
- anxiety attacks
- trouble concentrating
- panic attacks
- grand mal seizures
- detachment from reality
- hallucinations or delusions
There is very little information about managing withdrawal online because it should be managed by a healthcare professional. Unfortunately, if things have gone sideways, this help may not be available.
What should preppers know about benzodiazepine withdrawal?
While I certainly can’t provide medical advice, having watched someone go through this firsthand, I can suggest a few things you should know.
Know what medications your loved ones are taking.
This isn’t just true of benzodiazepines. There are many meds that could cause severe problems when stopped cold turkey, particularly psychiatric ones. If you know what medications your loved ones are prescribed, you can prep now by learning about safe withdrawal specific to those medications.
If you are able to find alternatives, do so.
If you can taper off of this medication now, before things go sideways, it will be one less crisis to manage later. Talk with your doctor to see if there’s an alternative that doesn’t create a physical dependency. This article is by no means suggesting you just stop taking your meds nor should you encourage others to do so.
Never, never go cold turkey if you can help it.
Stopping these medications cold turkey is how people die. And I mean that literally. At the first sign that medication is becoming difficult to acquire, consider finding a doctor to aid in tapering off the medication. If you have been taking these medications for a long time, consider taking steps now with your doctor to find alternatives that don’t carry the risk of severe withdrawal.
Know the symptoms of withdrawal.
Being able to identify the symptoms of withdrawal can help if your loved one is going through it. Many of the symptoms listed above mimic other health concerns or mental health crises. It’s easier to manage if you know the reason it’s happening. It can also give the sufferer hope that this will pass.
Most people who have become dependent on this medication trusted their doctors. They were truly suffering and found relief. They’re feeling physically and mentally awful anyway, and additional judgment won’t help this process. Your compassion could mean the difference between success and failure. Remember, if meds are no longer available, failure could be fatal.
Stockpile meds for the taper.
If possible, it can be helpful to stockpile enough medication to manage a taper. This medication should be kept hidden and handed out in carefully reduced doses, preferably according to a doctor’s advice. Some people who are extra-sensitive may need their meds cut by a fraction of a milligram at a time, and some may need longer than others between cuts. Many experts recommend waiting until withdrawal symptoms have completely gone away before further reducing the medication. Depending on the dose the person was taking and how long they were taking it for, this can require several months to a year to be completely off the drug.
Be prepared to manage the taper for the person going through withdrawal. Their judgment could be impaired or they may not feel up to handling the details.
Understand the timeline.
This isn’t a short-term recovery for most people. Expect at least a month of downtime while a person is tapering off the medication. Keeping busy with tasks they can manage can help them focus on something other than how awful they feel, but if they need to rest, respect their limits.
Learn everything you can.
This goes for more than just benzodiazepines – it’s true for any psychiatric medication. You need to learn everything you can about helping a person who is tapering off their drug. As I mentioned, this information is fairly difficult to find. You might be able to locate more advice on a forum than on an official website due to the dangerous nature of withdrawal.
Obviously, you have to be very careful with the information you get on a forum. These folks are not doctors – they’re people who are going through the same thing that you or your loved one may face. But you can learn what to expect, you can develop a bit of an expected timeline, and you can learn about worst-case scenarios. (It’s often the people suffering the most extreme experiences who share on a forum.) You may also learn some coping mechanisms that people used successfully to handle their symptoms.
Knowing what to expect is a huge part of the battle. Print off any particularly useful information in case you need it one day.
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Download the Ashton Manual.
The most widely- accepted advice for benzodiazepine withdrawal is the Ashton Manual. Some people believe this manual has been discredited, while others swear by it. You can find it here for free: https://benzo.org.uk/manual/
Some reader-recommended resources:
Peter Breggin – http://www.breggin.com/
Beyond Meds – https://beyondmeds.com/
Mad In America – http://www.madinamerica.com/
Benzo Buddies – http://www.benzobuddies.org/
Surviving Antidepressants – http://
Prep for benzodiazepine withdrawal like any other emergency.
If you or a loved one takes benzodiazepines, you should prep for withdrawal like you would any other crisis on the horizon. That means understanding it thoroughly, knowing the risks, taking steps to mitigate those risks, and putting back items to make the crisis more comfortable.
Do you have any other suggestions for people who face withdrawal when the meds run out? Do you have any thoughts about prepping for this scenario? Is there a personal experience you want to share?
Let’s talk about this quiet crisis in the comments.
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites. 1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2) The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.
Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 12 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at SelfRelianceand Survival.com You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.