What are benzos and why should you care? If you’ve been taking anti-anxiety medication or sleeping pills, chances are it’s a benzo. Learn about the downside to benzos, where to turn for help, and what it’s like to withdraw.
In our inaugural episode, D E Foster, author of the book, “Benzo Free: The World of Anti-Anxiety Drugs and the Reality of Withdrawal,” discusses the basics that everyone should know about benzos whether you’ve taken the drug for years or never even heard of them before. Topics will include the facts about benzos, the history of the drug, a few statistics about usage, and even benzo dependence and withdrawal.
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00:00 Teaser 03:02 Introduction 06:39 Q&A 12:03 Feature: Introduction to Benzos 25:07 Mindful Minute
Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Benzo Free Podcast. In the opening of this episode, D provides a brief introduction to the podcast and then moves onto the Q&A section where he answers a few questions about himself, the Ashton Manual, and a bit about trust, opinion, and objectivity.
This is the section where I would normally answer questions from the listeners. Unfortunately, since I pre-recorded the first several episodes for the podcast launch, I don’t have any feedback yet. Thus, the following questions are either based on questions I have experienced on the discussion boards, or just some basic information I think I would want to know if I was listening. I’ve provided some brief answers below, but I cover much more detail on the podcast.
Who am I (the host)? I am 53 years old, live in Colorado in the U.S., and share my home with my wife of 22 years and my dog, Bear. I have been a writer, teacher, and database programmer among other jobs over the past 30 years.
Do you support the Ashton Manual? Yes, definitely. The Ashton Manual is often thought of as the “Bible” of benzo withdrawal. If you have not heard of it, you can learn more on our website on our Ashton page. There is a link there to her online manual on that page. If you have never read the Ashton Manual, do so, end of story.
There’s a lot of “false media” and “misinformation” out there about everything, especially benzos, recovery, and addiction. How can you expect us to trust you? I don’t. I really don’t. I hope I can gain your trust over time, but I too am a skeptical person and I would be hesitant to believe me if I was in your shoes. All I can say is this: I promise to try and be as objective and honest as I can. That’s all I can do. I will fail at times, but when I do, I will admit it. This podcast is not about me, it’s about you and your struggles. I don’t mind looking like a fool if it means I can help get the information to you that you need to help. Keep two key things in mind: 1) This is all my opinion. 2) Everyone’s experience in benzo withdrawal is different.
Today’s featured topic: A Brief Introduction to Benzos
Today’s discussion will include the basics that everyone should know about benzos whether you’ve taken the drug for years or never even heard of them before. D will discuss some basic facts about benzos, talk about the history of the drug, cover a few statistics, and even touch on benzo withdrawal. I’ve included an abridged version of the content below. Please listen to the episode for more detail.
What are benzos? The term “benzos” is short for “benzodiazepines,” a class of psychoactive prescription drugs developed in the 1960s. Benzos often includes three separate classes of drugs including benzodiazepines, nonbenzodiazepines, and thienodiazepines. Also called “anti-anxiety medications” or “minor tranquilizers,” benzos were developed to combat a variety of issues including panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasms, and seizures.
What are the different types of benzos? Let’s look at the most common types in each class. Benzodiazepines – The most common benzodiazepines, starting with the most popular, are alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), and temazepam (Restoril). Other common ones include chlordiazepoxide (Librium), clorazepate (Tranxene), estazolam (ProSom), and triazolam (Halcion). Nonbenzodiazepines (Z-drugs) – As for z-drugs, they include eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata), zolpidem (Ambien), and zopiclone (Zimovane).
Brief History of Benzos On February 24, 1960, the FDA approved the drug chlordiazepoxide (Librium), and so started the era of benzos. Librium was considered safer than barbiturates since there were fewer side effects and fewer deaths from overdose. When Librium hit the market, it quickly outsold barbiturates and soon became the most prescribed drug in America. It remained that way until 1969 when it was replaced by another, perhaps better-known benzo: Valium. Valium was 2 1/2 times more potent than Librium and became the top-selling drug in the U.S. for 13 years, between 1969 and 1982. As benzos became increasingly popular, a backlash also gained momentum.
By the middle of the 1970s, the FDA had collected numerous reports of benzodiazepine dependence…Many patients who had been on high dosages of Valium or Librium for long periods of time would experience excruciating physical and psychological symptoms when they stopped taking the medication: anxiety, insomnia, headaches, tremors, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, the feeling that insects were crawling all over them, and extreme depression — and, in some cases, seizures, convulsions, hallucinations, and paranoid delusions. — My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel (I highly recommend this book. Click the link above to check it out on Amazon)
In 1979, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy led a Senate subcommittee hearing into suspected dangers of benzodiazepines where he said, “If you require a daily dose of Valium to get through each day, you are hooked, and you should seek help.” The backlash started, and drug companies released a new class of drugs for anxiety and depression, SSRIs. But the backlash didn’t last long. In 1981, pharmaceutical manufacturer Upjohn (now part of Pfizer) released alprazolam, and they marketed it under the catchy name of Xanax. While still a benzodiazepine, Xanax represented this new group of benzos that are even more potent than the ones in the 70s. Xanax is 20 times more potent than Valium.
By 1986, Xanax had overtaken Miltown, Librium, and Valium to become the best-selling drug in history. And by 2013, prescriptions for benzos in the U.S. climbed to 5.6% of the population. The market demand for general anxiety medications was valued at $3.2 billion in 2014 and is expected to rise to $3.7 billion by the end of 2020. Benzos were back and with a vengeance.
Benzo Stats According to IMS Health, the total number of U.S. adults taking anti-anxiety drugs in 2013 was over 34 million. This number includes all anti-anxiety medications including benzodiazepines, z-drugs, and others.
Let’s close with two quotes about benzos and withdrawal…
Benzos are very easy to get on, almost impossible to get off. Benzo withdrawal is a beast — often terrifying, sometimes dangerous, and almost always drawn out over a very long period of time. — Dr. Allen Frances, Professor Emeritus at Duke University, Chairman of the DSM-IV Committee (Read the full article in Rehabs.com Pro Talk)
I’ve met people who’ve been addicted to benzodiazepines for 20 or 30 years — wrecked their lives, wrecked their jobs, wrecked their families. It’s a silent addiction. We all know about illegal drugs, we all know about alcohol, we don’t know about this group. — Anne Milton, Public Health Minister, United Kingdom (Transcribed from BBC Radio 4 Face the Facts, July 31, 2011 — Listen Here)
The following resource links are provided as a courtesy to our listeners. They do not constitute an endorsement by Easing Anxiety of the resource or any recommendations or advice provided therein.
Ashton, C. Heather. Benzodiazepines: How They Work and How to Withdraw (aka The Ashton Manual). 2002. Accessed April 13, 2016. http://www.benzo.org.uk/manual/.
Ashton, C. Heather. “The Bridge Project, Bradford: Speech by Professor C Heather Ashton, DM FRCP: Annual Meeting, December 2011.” Benzo.org.uk. Accessed January 27, 2017. https://www.benzo.org.uk/chabradford.htm.
Bachhuber, Marcus A., Sean Hennessy, Chinazo O. Cunningham and Joanna L. Starrels. “Increasing Benzodiazepine Prescriptions and Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1996-2013.” American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) (April 2016). Accessed April 7, 2018. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2016.303061.
Balestra, Katie. “Critics Cite Serious Side Effects of Benzodiazepine Antidepressants.” Washington Post. June 30, 2009. Accessed April 7, 2018. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/29/AR2009062903105.html.
Barrow, Martin. “Scandal of 1 Million Caught in Tranquiliser Trap.” The Times (UK). October 1, 2012. accessed March 1, 2017. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/scandal-of-1m-caught-in-tranquilliser-trap-2glq2f0w5pr.
British Medical Association (BMA). “Supporting Individuals Affected by Prescribed Drugs Associated with Dependence and Withdrawal.” Our Collective Voice. October 6, 2016. Accessed June 14, 2017. https://www.bma.org.uk/collective-voice/policy-and-research/public-and-population-health/prescribed-drugs-dependence-and-withdrawal.
Face the Facts. “Prescribed Addiction.” BBC Radio 4. July 27, 2011. Last aired July 31, 2011. Produced by Kathryn Takatsuki. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b012wxxw.
Foster, D E. “Benzo Free: The World of Anti-Anxiety Drugs and the Reality of Withdrawal.” Erie, Colorado: Denim Mountain Press, 2018.
Fox, Jeremy C. “When Withdrawal is the hardest part.” The Boston Globe. September 8, 2014. Accessed October 10, 2018. https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2014/09/07/when-withdrawal-hardest-part/nyWtjexiyOWSpU1TkloVnK/story.html.
Frances, Allen. “Yes, Benzos Are Bad for You.” Pro Talk: A Rehabs.com Community, June 10, 2016. Accessed October 13, 2016. https://www.rehabs.com/pro-talk-articles/yes-benzos-are-bad-for-you/.
“Global General Anxiety Disorder Market Worth USD 3,775 Million and CAGR 2.4% by 2021.” Zion Market Research. November 18, 2016. Accessed November 19, 2016. http://www.medgadget.com/2016/11/global-general-anxiety-disorder-market-worth-usd-3775-million-and-cagr-2-4-by-2021.html.
IMS Health. Vector One: National (VONA) and Total Patient Tracker (TPT) Database (2013). Extracted April 2014. Quoted in CCHR International. “Total Number of People Taking Psychiatric Drugs in the United States.” Accessed April 3, 2018. https://www.cchrint.org/psychiatric-drugs/people-taking-psychiatric-drugs/.
Stossel, Scott. My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind. New York: Vintage Books, 2013.
Wikipedia. “Diazepam.” Last modified March 29, 2018. Accessed April 7, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diazepam.
The Benzo Free Podcast provides information, support, and community to those who struggle with the long-term effects of anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Valium) and Z-drugs (Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata).
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