Stress Busters: Chemical Coping – Drink, Downers, and Dope
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From the early 1900s until the mid-1950s, barbiturates such as phenobarbital and Seconal were the drugs of choice for treating anxiety and insomnia. Unfortunately, they also were associated with thousands of suicides and accidental deaths among both children who took them accidentally and adults who overdosed on them. Other side effects included widespread abuse and dependency, and chemical incompatibility with other drugs and alcohol. By 1954, these drugs were being replaced by the new, "nonaddictive" meprobamate (Miltown) as the calming agent of choice. It turned out to be as addictive as the old drugs.
The 1960s saw the introduction of the currently popular benzodiazepines: diazepam (Valium), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), clonazepam (Klonopin), and the shorter-acting alprazolam (Xanax) and temazepam (Restoril). In the United States alone, 25 million prescriptions are written annually for these so-called "minor tranquilizers" to treat anxiety and insomnia. Their calming effect is due to their action on the receptors for the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). By increasing GABA activity, the benzodiazepines tend to dull awareness and overall brain activity. In effect, they calm your anxiety but also dull your senses.
Marcy is a case in point. At age thirty-five, Marcy found herself stuck in an unhappy marriage and with a young child. Seeing no escape, she began to take large doses of Valium to shut out the pain. One day, while filling yet another prescription for Marcy, the pharmacist said, "In case you don't know it, you're addicted. Speak to me when you're ready to stop." This was her wake-up call.
In shocked response, she simply stopped the drug cold. She was too ashamed to face the pharmacist, who would have advised a slow withdrawal program under medical supervision. Then, not knowing she was suffering from withdrawal symptoms, she simply, in her words, "went crazy" for the next two months or so while she became accustomed to living without the drug.
Valium had caused Marcy's brain (GABA receptors, to be precise) to downregulate in response to Valium's relaxing action. This led to extreme agitation (withdrawal) when she stopped taking it, which lasted until her brain readjusted itself. "When I finally got my mind back, I decided to leave my husband. I never looked back. Nor did I ever dare take another tranquilizer," declares Marcy, now, at forty-eight, a successful writer and a proud grandmother.
Fortunately for Marcy, her pharmacist said the right thing. However, many people addicted to prescription drugs often go for years, having their prescription refilled in large, impersonal pharmacies, or rotating between several different stores. Harried physicians with little time to really listen to patients find it easier to renew a prescription than to deal with someone's symptoms. And the prospect of detoxification is a tough one for either of them to deal with.
Be very aware that if you are addicted to tranquilizers, withdrawal must be taken seriously. In fact, withdrawal can prove fatal if not done correctly and under medical supervision.
Downsides of Benzodiazepines
Regular usage will cause:
- Tolerance after taking benzodiazepines for some time, more is required to get the same effect.
- Forgetfulness, drowsiness, accident-proneness, and social isolation.
- Hangover morning-after fogginess or accidents from an undetected hangover (a leading, hidden contributor to automobile accidents).
- Addiction must continue to take it just to stay "even."
- Serious withdrawal effects upon quitting, including anxiety, insomnia, irritability, tremors, mental impairment, headaches, and possibly even seizures and death.
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From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright © Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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