Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Held Hostage by a RX Drug: My Klonopin Nightmare

I'm breaking up with Klonopin.

Klonopin is the brand name of a drug that belongs to a group called benzodiazepines, or "benzos" for short. Benzos are psychotropic drugs used to treat a number of disorders, including anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and muscle spasms. Other brand name benzos include Xanax, Ativan, and Valium. (FYI: Rohypnol--widely known as "the date-rape drug," but not available legally in the United States--is also a benzodiazepine.)

These drugs are depressants/tranquilizers and work on the central nervous system by affecting chemicals in the brain. They are among the most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S. and are deemed to be effective for short-term use. Unfortunately, according to a story in The Boston Globe, "Doctors and patients say physicians often prescribe benzodiazepines with no discussion of the dangers and the drugs' declining effectiveness over time."

Welcome to my world.

Let me be clear about one thing: I've never abused Klonopin (generic name "clonazepam"). It was prescribed to me by my doctor, and I always followed the dosage instructions to the letter. But many people who take benzos for a long period of time become psychologically or physically dependent on them.

I am one of those people. My body became physically addicted to this awful drug.

I was first prescribed Klonopin by my (former) psychiatrist about nine years ago. My son was struggling with depression and addiction and it was adversely affecting our whole family. My anxiety level skyrocketed and sleeping was very difficult for me. My psychiatrist suggested I try Klonopin, and at that point in time I was open to trying anything that might help make me feel better. And it did.

Funny thing, though (not really): My doctor never told me that long-term use could be harmful.

My initial prescription had me taking a 0.5 mg Klonopin tablet five times a day, and I thought nothing of it. I figured my doctor knew what he was doing. After all, he kept refilling my prescription and never said anything about it.

A couple years later, though, I felt depressed and started seeing a therapist. When she found out how much Klonopin I was taking, she said I was "grossly overmedicated." She even suggested that my depression could be directly related to my Klonopin use.

That shocked me, and I decided I didn't want to take Klonopin anymore. One afternoon I went home and did something that turned out to be incredibly stupid: I flushed my remaining pills down the toilet and quit "cold turkey."

Big mistake.

The next morning, I felt like I was dying. I had chills, my head hurt, and my body was shaking uncontrollably. I couldn't even get out of bed. Naïvely, I thought I had come down with a bad case of the flu. But I eventually wondered about the possible connection between my symptoms and my having stopped taking Klonopin.

I had my wife call my psychiatrist to ask him if the two things could be related. He said they were, and that I never should've stopped taking my Klonopin cold turkey. It turns out that when you stop taking benzodiazepines suddenly, you risk a boatload of horrible symptoms, including anxiety, depression, dizziness, headaches, irritability, muscle spasms, nausea, heart palpitations, seizures, and tremors.

Funny thing, though (not really): My doctor had never mentioned that to me.

I got my Klonopin prescription refilled and felt better almost immediately after I started taking it again. I can't even begin to tell you how scary that was. This medication, which was prescribed to me like it was no big deal, had hijacked my body. That was incredibly frightening to me. I felt like Klonopin was holding me hostage. So much so, that after my "dopesick" experience I didn't even want to wean myself off of the drug. I was terrified that I'd go through withdrawal again.

I did some research online and learned that benzos can be quite nasty. They are also some of the hardest drugs--prescription or otherwise--to quit. I made the decision to slowly taper off my dosage. No matter how long it took, I had to get clonazepam out of my system.

I've been tapering my dosage for several years now. Yes, years. I've gone from taking five tablets a day to taking just a little more than half a tablet daily. In a few months, I plan on being completely Klonopin-free.

Recently I was pretty sick--physically and emotionally--for a couple of weeks. I knew it was related to the Klonopin tapering, but I fought through it. It wasn't unbearable and I was bound and determined to keep going. A huge part of my motivation was an article I read entitled "How Worried Should We Be About Benzos?" Among the things cited in that article is a new study published in The BMJ (originally called the British Medical Journal) "strongly linking 'benzos' to Alzheimer's Disease."

How horrifying.

Our society is drug crazy. Too many doctors prescribe too many medications willy-nilly, without warning their patients about side effects or long-term implications. And they don't seem to care that unsuspecting folks like me can end up in a place we never wanted to be because of it, even if we take the drug as prescribed.

I'm breaking up with Klonopin. And I can't wait until it's totally out of my life.

Postscript: As the father of a son in long-term recovery, this was a tough piece for me to write. It almost feels hypocritical, or like I'm "outing" myself. But I decided to tell my story to help educate others. If a doctor wants to prescribe a benzodiazepine for you, please discuss it with them at length. I don't want what happened to me to happen to you.


P.S. For an update on my experience with Klonopin, read my 11/11/15 post "Goodbye, Klonopin."

Evil stuff. Very, very evil stuff.

On the left: My former prescribed daily dose. On the right: What I've
tapered it down to.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Helping a Sibling Affected by Addiction Pay for College

Back in April, I wrote a blog post entitled "Of Lottery Winnings & Younger Siblings of Addicts." In a nutshell, that post talked about what I would do with the money if I ever won the lottery. And how I'd love to set up a foundation to help younger siblings of addicts.

In that post I wrote:

"Younger siblings of addicts are amazingly special people.

"Addiction is a family disease, and there's no doubt that it eats away at families in every way possible: emotionally, physically, financially. It affects everyone in the family, too: mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles. But I don't think anyone is affected as much as younger siblings are, because they are so innocent and vulnerable. They really don't know what's going on with this person who means so much to them, or why it's happening."


"Unfortunately, an older sibling's addiction also has a negative financial impact on younger siblings. While trying to help an addicted child, parents burn through money like nobody's business. They spend thousands and thousands of dollars on rehab treatment, hospitals, therapy, intensive outpatient programs, sober living houses, special medications, etc. . . . By the time the younger sibling of an addict gets to the point where they need help financially, their parents are quite frequently tapped out. And, once again, the sibling--through no fault of their own--gets moved to the back burner, at least temporarily."

Well, I've decided that I'm not going to wait until I win the lottery to help.

Even though money is incredibly tight for my family right now, I feel a need to make a difference. Yes, I am unemployed and without much income. But I have some savings. And I have decided to dip into that money to help a younger sibling of an addict pay for college.

So here's the deal:

I'm putting up $500.00 of my own money to fund a scholarship of sorts for one younger sibling of someone who has suffered from addiction. I've also started a campaign on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe so that anyone who wants to contribute to this scholarship can do so. (I'd love to get the amount of the scholarship up to $1,000.00 or $2,000.00. Or even more if at all possible.)

I'm still working out details, but my thinking is that I'll officially announce the scholarship on my blog in the spring. I will create an application for people to fill out and email to me by a specific date. That application will require an essay that discusses how the applicant's life has been affected by their older sibling's addiction. I will review all the applications and essays. I will also enlist the help of a handful of connections from the addiction/recovery community. As a group, we will vote to determine who gets the scholarship. The recipient will be posted on my blog and their scholarship check will be made out to the college or university that they are attending.

All of this might sound like a crazy idea, but I'm a little crazy and this is something I really want to do. I've seen first-hand how addiction can affect an innocent sibling's life. This is my attempt to try and make a difference.

If you have any comments or suggestions, or if you'd like to help out in any way, get in touch with me through my blog. Or leave a comment below.

Here is the direct link to the GoFundMe campaign:


"No one has ever become poor by giving." --Anne Frank

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Two New Blog Posts Published Today

Just wanted to let you know that I had two new blog posts published elsewhere today.

The first one is my latest blog for Heroes in Recovery. It's entitled "Parent Collaboration: A Key to Dealing with an Addicted Child." It talks about how important it is for parents to be on the same page when dealing with their child's addiction.

The second one is my latest piece at The Huffington Post's blog site. This one is entitled "What Some Old Photos Revealed to Me About My Son's Depression, Addiction and Recovery," and is adapted from a post that first appeared here on my personal blog last month. It talks about the effect looking through some old photos of my son had on me.

Lastly, my Huffington Post blog "Bigger U.S. Health Crisis: Ebola or Addiction" was cited today in a Letter to the Editor in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I was flattered to see this and am grateful that even more people will now be hearing the message I've been working to get out for so long. My thanks to Janice Meinert of Shaler, Pennsylvania, for writing that letter.

All in all, quite a busy day. Here are direct links to the aforementioned pieces:

New Heroes in Recovery blog post:

New Huffington Post blog post:

Letter to the Editor in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

As always, please read, share, like, and comment. We need to keep spreading the word. :)


Sunday, November 2, 2014

28 Months

Just wanted to share the Facebook status update I just posted:

"Awesome things: Having [my son] drive himself over to visit on what just happens to be his 28-month clean/sober anniversary date. There are no words to describe the feelings of gratitude I have every single day. Every. Single. Day. ‪#‎Grateful‬ ‪#‎NeverGiveUp‬ ‪#‎RecoveryHappens‬"


Thought for the Day: Hope

"The reason I never give up hope is that everything is so basically hopeless. Hopelessness underscores everything--the deep sadness and fear at the center of life, the holes in the hearts of our families, the animal confusion within us; the madness of King George. But when you do not give up hope, a lot can happen. When it's not pinned wriggling onto a shiny image or expectation, it sometimes floats forth and opens like one of those fluted Japanese blossoms, flimsy and spastic, bright and warm." --Anne Lamott

That is all.