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.

Peace.

Evil stuff. Very, very evil stuff.

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


14 comments:

  1. Important information to share. Thank you for your honesty!!

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  2. Your telling most of my story only I needed rehab to kick it after 20 years of prescriptions.. Only 6 milograms a day but deadly and my Dr had me believing that it was a normal condition I had

    Thanks for sharing

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  3. I know that must have been hard to admit. I, too, was taking Xanax prescribed by a doctor in order to get some sleep due to anxiety and worry over my son's addiction. I was on it for a couple years and have discontinued using it a few months ago. I also found out Xanax was my son's drug of choice, so it made it even easier to rid it from my life. It feels so good to sleep aid-free again.

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  4. It happened to me as well and I went cold turkey too, not knowing I wasn't suppose to. I spent an entire year in a fog, horrible feelings. Its now been over two years and I will never take another benzo. Imagine my surprise when I realized I was addicted even though I always took only as prescribed! Good luck, you can do this!

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  5. That doctor was totally irresponsible with you. That's WAY too much for an initial dose, and then to let you take that much for that long ... I'm sure you're not seeing that doctor anymore.

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  6. It's amazing that the doctor's do not tell their patients that they will become addicted if they take it every day. I have a script for xanax .25 mg which is the lowest dose and I will only allow myself to take it at night twice a month at most as I was well aware before I took it that the drug was addictive. Anytime I am given a medication I research it before taking it, in saying that I am saying the doctor shouldn't have told you. I mean it is pretty common knowledge that benzos are highly addictive and for anxiety they can treat you with an antidepressant as well.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your story. Sadly, The same is true of antidepressants and many other drugs.Doctors carelessly prescribe them without considering or discussing the long term effects. People find out the hard way.

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  8. Thank you for the story. I have in fact been on Serax (Oxazapam) for 20 years, and on Valium for 10 years before that. All prescribed for panic disorder. About 5 years ago, I realized what you are saying is true. I am a hostage to this drug. I weaned myself to 10mg/day from 30-50mg/day. I cannot get below the 10mg mark without enough discomfort to make me take one. It is a horrible feeling to start to withdrawal even from a small amount of Benzo..I fear my body has had it for too long to quit entirely. My Dr. still prescribes it (probably knowing what will happen). This article inspired me to continue to push through to zero mg. :)

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  9. I also was taking a benzo, they did help with the shooting back pain. Most days I didn't take more than one...some days none, some two.
    I decided I was done and quit (I was "only" on the .5mg). It's been two months and I am still not sleeping well, some nights a few hours others up to six, with a few wakeups.
    I also had a son addicted, saw that he "liked" Diazepam and Heroin, seemed like I was preaching double standards... ok for me, but not you?
    Keep blogging, I learn something in everyone! Thank you!!!

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  10. I've been taking Klonopin (Clonazepam) for 20 yrs. No less than 5 psychiatrists prescribed and kept upping the dosage - so I was on 3 mg. a day. I have all the symptoms of withdrawals trying to decrease by 1/2 mg. They're so awful - I've considered suicide. I'm now down to 2 mg. a day - but don't know the best way of taking them-time wise. I've also heard that some doctors use Valium along with the withdrawal. Has anybody tried withdrawing this way? Any way to ease the symptoms. My heart races, I have such tremors I lay in bed until I can actually feel like a human being. But it doesn't last for long. No one ever told me the side effects when prescribing it. For all going thru this battle - breathe deeply and try to keep positive. I know-easier said than done. May you be blessed and filled with peace.

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  11. I am in the Klonopin Hell right now. I've taken benzos on and off for years. I am seeing a psychiatrist for thr first time in my life in 4 days because the thing I want Most in this world is to be drug free and I hope he can help me. This is the worst thing I've ever gone through and I only wish I knew then, when I was first prescribed, what I know now. I pray I find a way to live in Peace without benzo addiction. It's pathetic really. How did this even happen. I am angry, scared, disappointed with myself. It feels as though it has stolen "Me". I'm not the same and probably never will be.

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  12. I am now down to 1 mg. daily - tomorrow I start the last leg by take 1/2 mg. daily. I figure the best way is taking .25 in the a.m. and another 1/2 mg. late afternoon. My sleeping has gotten better (with the doctor prescribing 200 mg. of trazadone at bedtime) but I still have so many memory and attention issues plus have lost all the feelings I so cherished. I know soon I'll be in the recovery period and since my mind doesn't let me stay in the "present" - it gets in a loop and takes me back to horrible times when I was younger or makes me think about my recovery period. I don't know who I am anymore - and find no pleasure and have developed a fear of people and leaving the house. I'm NOT living - just existing. The only feelings I have are sadness and helplessness. My fiance tries so hard to keep me encouraged and positive and still have thoughts of suicide. He is the only reason I am still here - but worry about the future (recover and post-recovery) if the "real me" will come back at the end of this frightening journey! I wish peace and send love - the only ones who TRULY understand is someone who's been through tapering and in recovery. Klonopin should be outlawed. That will be my cause when I'm at the end of the last leg of this horrible journey.

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  13. am at the end of lorazepam tapering. Down to 3/4 of 0.5mgs. My doctor wont help me taper and is cutting me off when my September prescription is done. I have been five years on benzos started at 3 mgs klonipin for PTSD. No doctor told me of the horrors of the drug and withdrawal. I experience tremors air hunger and the feeling I am going to have a seizure. I feel de-realization. If doctors had been honest with me about the effects of benzos I would never have agreed to taking them. My life has been destroyed by these drugs...

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    1. Anonymous... You may want to seek out an addiction specialist. They would more than likely be willing to help you with tapering off. You can find a doctor certified by the American Society of Addiction Medicine at this link: http://community.asam.org/search/default.asp?m=basic

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