Posted on Jun 29, 2023, 6 p.m.
According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus published in the journal PLOS One, the use and discontinuation of benzodiazepines are associated with nervous system injury and negative life effects that persist even after discontinued use.
Millions of people have been taking benzos like Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin for decades as a way to treat anxiety. These drugs were thought to be safe and effective at temporarily fighting off anxiety, but recent studies suggest that benzodiazepine drugs are linked to a variety concerning side effects.
This was a collaborative study between researchers from CU Anschutz, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and several patient-led advocacy organizations aimed at educating the public about the harms of benzodiazepines. Additionally, many members of the research team have had first-hand experience with benzodiazepines.
To better characterize BIND (Benzodiazepine-induced neurological dysfunction), data was analyzed from previously published studies of former Benzo users investigating symptoms and adverse life effects attributed to use. This study involved 1,207 benzodiazepine users from support groups as well as health and wellness sites, and 63.2% of the respondents reported taking benzos, 24.4% were in the process of tapering use, and 11.3% had fully discontinued use. 98.6% of the respondents had a prescription for benzodiazepines, and 91% took them mostly as prescribed.
The survey findings highlight a situation that is barely being discussed; mental health: countless people have been prescribed these types of drugs for decades. Now when people want to stop taking Benzos they face major withdrawal symptoms, rebound anxiety that is potentially worse than their initial stress/anxiety, and as an added bonus a variety of additional side effects like insomnia, depression, memory issues, nervous system injury, not feeling “normal”, and even suicidal thoughts.
“Despite the fact that benzodiazepines have been widely prescribed for decades, this survey presents significant new evidence that a subset of patients experience long-term neurological complications,” said Alexis Ritvo, M.D, M.P.H., an assistant professor in psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and medical director of the nonprofit Alliance for Benzodiazepine Best Practices.“This should change how we think about benzodiazepines and how they are prescribed.”
“Patients have been reporting long-term effects from benzodiazepines for over 60 years. I am one of those patients. Even though I took my medication as prescribed, I still experience symptoms on a daily basis at four years off benzodiazepines. Our survey and the new term BIND give a voice to the patient experience and point to the need for further investigations,” said Christy Huff, M.D., one of the paper’s coauthors and a cardiologist and director of Benzodiazepine Information Coalition.
According to the researchers, symptoms were long-lasting, with 76.6% of all affirmative responses to symptom questions reporting duration to be months or more than a year. In over half of the respondents, the following 10 symptoms persisted for over a year: low energy, difficulty focusing, memory loss, anxiety, insomnia, sensitivity to light and sounds, digestive problems, symptoms triggered by food and drink, muscle weakness, and body pain.
Notably, the above-mentioned symptoms were often reported as being new and distinct from the original symptoms for which benzodiazepines were prescribed to treat. Additionally, the majority of respondents reported having prolonged negative impacts in all areas including significantly damaged relationships, job loss, increased medical costs, and alarmingly, 54.4% of the respondents reported having suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide.
Benzodiazepine-induced neurological dysfunction (BIND) is believed to be a result of brain changes occurring after exposure to benzodiazepines, and while the risk factors are not known, it is thought to affect roughly 1 in 5 long-term users. More research is needed to further define the condition precisely and develop treatment options.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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