Benzodiazepines tranquilizers first appeared in 1960 with the introduction of Librium followed in 1963 by Valium. This class of drug was originally intended for anxiety but since they made people drowsy, they also started being prescribed as a sleep aid.
These two brands along with Klonopin, Ativan and Xanax became household words during the 1970’s and 1980’s. In 1975 in the USA alone 103 million Benzodiazepines prescriptions were issued.
But these drugs were doing a lot more than giving a night’s sleep.
In 1976 a physician at the University of Tennessee named David Knott noted short-term memory loss in such patients and wrote “I am very convinced that Valium, Librium and other drugs of that class cause damage to the brain. I have seen damage to the cerebral cortex that I believe is due to the use of these drugs, and I am beginning to wonder if the damage is permanent”
In 1982, in Britain, a Professor of Psychopharmacology, Malcolm Lader, wrote that the work he had done suggested that “the brains of regular benzodiazepine takers were damaged and shrunken when compared to the brains of people who had not taken benzodiazepines.”
It was also discovered that benzodiazepines are highly addictive.
Psychiatrists thought only addictive personalities could become addicted to the drugs but it turned out patients taking the normal routine dose were getting hooked on the pills.
In 1999 during an interview on BBC Radio 4, Professor Lader stated “It is more difficult to withdraw people from benzodiazepines than it is from heroin. It just seems that the dependency is so ingrained and the withdrawal symptoms you get are so intolerable that people have a great deal of problem coming off. The other aspect is that with heroin, usually the withdrawal is over within a week or so. With benzodiazepines, a proportion of patients go on to long term withdrawal and they have very unpleasant symptoms for month after month, and I get letters from people saying you can go on for two years or more. Some of the tranquillizer groups can document people who still have symptoms ten years after stopping.”
Horribly enough the drug manufacturers knew about the terrible effects their products were creating.
In Nov 2010 newspapers in Britain uncovered the fact that the Medical Research Council in that country had suppressed warnings from research done 30 years earlier that showed the benzodiazepines Valium and Xanax could cause brain damage.
More recently, Peter R. Breggin, Director of the Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy and Private Practice, Ithaca, New York, USA published a research article entitled “Psychiatric drug-induced Chronic BrainImpairment (CBI): Implications for longterm treatment with psychiatric medication”
He discusses the physical brain damage done by all types of psychiatric drugs including benzodiazepines. He found they all cause chronic brain impairment (CBI)
He wrote that “all classes of psychiatric drugs have yielded similar findings of mental dysfunction and atrophy of the brain in humans after long term exposure”
He found that CBI produces short-term memory loss, apathy, disinterest in creative activities or other people, anger, depression and anxiety.
The final irony was discovered in a research study in 2012 and published in the British Medical Journal.
In these tests, 1063 elderly men and women (mean age 78.2 years) who were free of dementia were newly prescribed benzodiazepines as sleeping aids.
The findings on this large population based study showed that new use of benzodiazepines is associated with an approximately 50% increase in the risk of dementia.
These senior citizens, looking for improved sleep, instead found devastating mental effects from these widely used and “harmless” psychiatric drugs.
Fortunately, Peter Breggin does offer hope for those using or addicted to benzodiazepines.
He learned the cure for Chronic Brain Impairment was to slowly stop taking the drug with the help of someone trained in handling the withdrawal safely and smoothly.
“Young children and teenagers often seem to experience full recovery from CBI despite years of exposure. In my clinical experience, children and teenagers are especially resilient after removal from the offending agents.
Adult patients are more likely to experience continued subtle CBI difficulties with memory, attention or concentration after withdrawal from years of exposure to psychiatric medication; but even in the presence of residual symptoms, they can lead fulfilling lives.
After medication withdrawal, patients often declare, “I’ve gotten my life back. I’m myself again!”
Family members often feel that they have regained the husband, wife or child that they used to know and love before the adverse medication effects set in. The work of psychiatric drug withdrawal, while sometimes difficult and hazardous, can be very gratifying to the clinician and extremely empowering to the patient and family.”
Those still prescribing Benzodiazepines with the belief that the medicine “will help patients to sleep” are ignoring a great deal about the history and effects of these drugs.