No, it’s not opioids.
Sasha goes in to see her primary care provider because she is feeling stressed and seems to be constantly worrying about work. It is waking her up at night. She can’t seem to shake the tight chest sensation and it’s hard to take a deep breath. Sasha’s primary care provider listens to her concerns and decides that a prescription of Klonopin, a benzodiazepine, once daily should do the trick! Sasha picks up the prescription and begins taking the medication as prescribed. She finds the medication is working. She feels less anxious. After some time however, Sasha begins to notice that when she misses a dose of Klonopin her anxiety has returned with a vengeance. She also begins to forget simple things. Sasha decides the medication is no longer needed and she stops taking it. Unfortunately, she has a seizure due to the withdrawal from the prescribed medication and goes to the hospital for treatment.
Klonopin. Xanax. Valium. Ativan.
This is not an uncommon scenario. All these medications belong to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are primarily used as an anti-anxiety medication and they suppress the symptoms of anxiety. These medications are effective at doing just that- suppression. They do not treat anxiety. Withdrawal from ongoing regular use of benzodiazepines can be fatal! Withdrawal from benzodiazepines is some of the most challenging and scariest withdrawals off of any type of drug I have ever seen. Additionally, when used in combination with alcohol, it can create be fatal. Primary care providers are prescribing these medications, often times without educating the patient of the risk of withdrawal and risk of developing an addiction. But no one seems to be talking about it.
But what are we supposed to do about it?
If you know someone who is struggling with anxiety, explore alternative medications with your medical provider and get into therapy. Therapy works! Therapy helps you learn to decrease potential triggers for panic and can help you learn skills to manage your anxiety. Let’s not get another generation hooked on pills. I encourage you or someone you love to reach out for help.