Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed medications designed to treat the symptoms of anxiety disorders. They can be very effective at preventing and/or minimizing panic attacks, anxiety attacks, nervousness, restlessness, and other anxiety-related symptoms. However, they do not function well for long-term use, and no patient taking benzodiazepines should suddenly stop taking the medication without consulting a physician. These issues exist because benzodiazepines are addictive and lose efficacy the longer a patient uses them.
Luckily, benzodiazepine alternatives exist*, and anyone struggling with anxiety should explore these potential replacements. Alternative to Meds Center (ATMC) believes in helping patients reduce their dependencies on drugs by exploring holistic therapies and alternatives to potentially dangerous medications.
Benzodiazepines: Uses, Risks, Alternatives
Benzodiazepines, also called benzos or tranquilizers, act on the central nervous system to quell the symptoms typically associated with anxiety disorders. They effectively quiet the mind, relax the body, and encourage better rest by reducing stress. However, benzodiazepines are the most widely abused prescription medications after opioid medications.
All benzodiazepine medications carry a risk of addiction, but these drugs do not maintain efficacy as long as some other drugs. Eventually, this erosion of effectiveness and the patient’s tolerance can together easily pave the way to addiction. Additionally, when a person suddenly stops taking a benzodiazepine prescription the results may include a sudden and intense resurgence of prior symptoms.
For example, if a person took benzodiazepines to stop having anxiety attacks and decides to stop taking the drug after several months with no attacks, the person may experience very severe anxiety attacks a few days after the last dose. Anyone taking a benzo prescription should never stop taking the drug without consulting the prescribing doctor; he or she will likely recommend a cessation plan to slowly taper the patient’s benzo consumption until he or she can stop taking the medication entirely without risking a severe resurgence of prior symptoms.
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Benzo alternatives help patients struggling with anxiety avoid the most dangerous aspect of benzodiazepine medication: addiction. Medical researchers have acknowledged the very high potential of addiction benzos present since the late 1980s, so most prescribing doctors provide their prescriptions with cessation in mind**.
Benzodiazepine addiction increases the risk of developing dementia later in life by about 50%.
95% of U.S. hospital admissions for benzodiazepine-related complications reported additional substances in patients’ systems.
More than 20 million Americans over the age of 12 have misused benzodiazepines.
Like any other addictive drug, benzo addiction will almost invariably lead to tolerance, and the person with the benzo addiction will need larger doses to feel the desired effects. Some turn to alternative delivery methods for more potent doses, such as crushing pills and snorting the powder instead of taking them orally as intended.
Benzo overdose can cause severe weakness, confusion, convulsions, seizures, respiratory failure, coma, or even death. They may also cause a slowed heart rate or heart failure. Ultimately, anyone taking a benzodiazepine prescription should prepare to eventually need an alternative anxiety treatment. These drugs are not safe for long-term use.
Alternative Anxiety Treatments
ATMC believes in helping patients overcome their addictions without simply replacing one addiction with another. For example, it is not uncommon for heroin users to develop addictions to methadone. At ATMC, we rely on holistic therapies and treatments to help our patients overcome addiction and fight the symptoms of anxiety disorders***.
Using expressive visual art can be a very constructive way to overcome anxiety disorder symptoms and avoid benzodiazepine addiction. ATMC provides the materials and instructions for patients to incorporate art therapy into their individual treatment plans.
ATMC caregivers and therapists use a variety of environmental medicine techniques to better understand each patient on an individual level. Environmental medicine requires analyzing a patient’s unique genetic profile to identify immune system irregularities, DNA damage, and hormonal imbalances that may be behind anxiety symptoms.
A neurotoxin is any substance that damages nerve cells. Some over excite nerve cells to death and others interfere with mood expression. Various substances can cause neurotoxic symptoms, and ATMC’s neurotoxin treatment program focuses on removing these substances safely for each individual patient.
Various neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin heavily influence mood and play roles in anxiety disorders. ATMC administers nontoxic amino acid precursors to effectively replace low neurotransmitter levels and help the body overcome neurotransmitter deficiencies.
The basis of orthomolecular medicine is preventing and treating diseases by supplying a patient with naturally-occurring substances that normally exist within the human body. This means no foreign substances and no drugs, only replacement of vital substances that naturally occur within human physiology.
Acupuncture has a long history as a part of traditional Chinese medicine dating back thousands of years. The practice involves placing sterilized acupuncture needles on various pressure points on the body to stimulate neurohormonal responses. In ancient China, practitioners believed the needles released the body’s natural flow of “qi,” or spiritual energy. Proper qi flow is essential to good health in traditional Chinese medicine.
Today, most medical professionals do not recommend acupuncture as a primary treatment, but they will not discourage patients from trying it if other treatments fail or if the patient insists on non-pharmaceutical, noninvasive treatment. Many people who undergo acupuncture report feelings of euphoria and lower pain sensations, and the relaxing effects of acupuncture can be tremendously beneficial to those struggling with anxiety.
Other Alternatives To Benzodiazepines
In addition to the holistic therapies provided at ATMC, we also use a variety of holistic therapies and treatments tailored to each patient. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, can help a patient better understand his or her anxiety symptoms and analyze the root cause of his or her anxiety, if one exists. Some people develop anxiety disorders in response to trauma while others have natural anxiety disorders due to brain chemical imbalances. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help deduce the most effective treatment for such a patient and help avoid potentially dangerous benzodiazepine use.
Many people who develop benzodiazepine addictions do not realize they are addicted until it is too late. They may attempt to stop taking benzos only to experience a sudden strong resurgence of anxiety symptoms, encouraging them to start taking benzos again. A person in this situation may accidentally take too much out of panic or desire to curb symptoms as quickly as possible. Benzos can cause potentially fatal overdoses, so sudden cessation followed by large doses of benzos is an extremely dangerous pattern.
Benzodiazepine medications may be effective at treating anxiety symptoms in the short term, but they are largely unapproved for long-term use. A person taking benzos should only do so for relief from acute symptoms and look for additional treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy to address the underlying cause of his or her anxiety symptoms. ATMC does not believe in replacing one addiction with another. We use various holistic treatments to help patients on their recovery journeys, and we understand the severity of a benzo addiction. Considering the extreme risks presented by benzodiazepine medications, anyone taking these medications should expect to stop at some point in the near future, and alternative treatments can help make the transition off of benzos much easier.
This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.
Dr. Samuel Lee
Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente. He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.
Diane is an avid supporter and researcher of natural mental health strategies. Diane received her medical writing and science communication certification through Stanford University and has published over 3 million words on the topics of holistic health, addiction, recovery, and alternative medicine. She has proudly worked with the Alternative to Meds Center since its inception and is grateful for the opportunity to help the founding members develop this world-class center that has helped so many thousands regain natural mental health.
Medical Disclaimer: Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.