Tag Archives: Benzodiazepines

X – #AtoZChallenge on Mental Health

Welcome to the letter X post in the #AtoZChallenge on mental health. I have two words for you today, so this is a short post. Here goes.


I have said this when discussing “survivor” in my letter S post, but many patients have endured traumatic experiences while in psychiatric care. As such, many are happy to be freed from psychiatry. There is a movement called the C/S/X movement. The C stands for “consumer”, ie. those still in psychiatric care. The S stands for “survivor”. Once consumers/survivors have completely freed themselves from psychiatry, many feel comfortable only with the label “ex-patient”, which signifies they are no longer involved with psychiatric care.


Xanax, the brand name for alprazolam, is one of the strongest benzodiazepine tranquilizers. Xanax is commonly used to treat anxiety or panic. Other benzodiazepines are also used as sleeping pills, but I’ve never heard Xanax being used for this purpose.

Benzodiazepines are highly controversial drugs because they are often overused and they can become addictive. In the Netherlands, for this reason, people can only get benzodiazepines covered by insurance if they have epilepsy, an anxiety disorder for which they’ve tried at least two antidepressants, or if they have severe mental illness requiring high doses of benzodiazepines (for chemical restraint). On this last ground, many severely mentally ill people take benzos on a daily basis. Worse yet, people without mental illness can get only one prescription for ten sleeping pills, to be used over the course of ten weeks, and even then they have to pay for them out of pocket. People in the psychiatric hospital almost always take sleeping pills much more frequently and many take them everyday. When patients are in the psychiatric hospital, benzos are paid for by insurance. I wonder whether I’ll get my benzodiazepines covered once I leave the institution. Depends on whether my condition is seen as a severe mental illness requiring high doses of benzodiazepines.

Six Discoveries Made on a Psychiatric Unit

On The Mighty today, there’s an interesting article on little discoveries made at a psych ward. I seriously thought I had invented playing card games as a life saver, but apparently I haven’t. Having spent eight years on one psychiatric unit or another, I can add a few more discoveries to this list.

1. The smoking area is the coziest spot on the ward. I don’t sit in the smoking area nowadays anymore, because I don’t want to associate with my fellow patients that much. On the acute unit though, I spent hours in there as a non-smoker just because it was the best place to have good conversation with patients.

2. Not just picky eaters like me despise the food. We had relatively good food when I was first admitted in 2007, but as budget cuts took over, the quality of the food declined sharply. Now we’re lucky if we have noodles, because they are pretty much the only food that isn’t too bland to be real. If someone with a specil diet or who is a vegetarian is admitted to our unit in the middle of the week, too bad. Food is delivered in bulk quantities, so no-one gets to choose what they want to eat anymore. If you’re a vegetarian or have a special diet, you can only hope that the staff will remember to order your food specifically. By the way, the vegetarian food is the worst of all kinds.

3. “Therapy” means you’re stuck with an adult coloring book. “Work” means going to the industrial arts department. I still don’t understand how people can call day activities their “job”.

4. On most wards, you can’t access the kitchen cupboards with food in them or even get a drink outside of meal times. I am fortunate to always have spent time on wards where you could get food or drink freely, except for coffee, but an increasing number of units are locking patients out of the kitchen or its cupboards. The reason is patients often make a mess. I remember a long time ago this locking of kitchen cupboards being discussed at the intensive care acute unit (not a unit I ever resided at). One nurse rightfully said that the patients on this unit have hardly anything they can control, so why should the times they eat be controlled too? Unfortunately, he didn’t get his way and the cupboards were locked.

5. People manage to argue over the remote even though everyone has a TV in their room and there are three TVs in the day rooms. Seriously, a fund founded by one patient’s parents provides TVs for everyone in their rooms, and still oftentimes the same soap opera is on on each of the three shared TVs.

6. Every doctor has their favorite prescription medication. I am still surprised the psychiatrist at the resocialization unit didn’t prescribe Ritalin to me, because he prescribed it to practically everyone. Benzodiazepines, of course, ar handed out like candy, except to me, because I told the psychiatrist I have a family history of benzodiazepine addiction and personal experience of its withdrawal. I am 100% confident that most of the other patients on benzos are effectively addicted, but apparently they’re too unwell to ever get off their pills anyway. Did you know that “severe psychiatric illness which requires high doses of benzodiazepines” (ie. chemical restraint) is one of only a few grounds to get the drugs covered by insurance. The other three are epilepsy, anxiety disorders when a person has tried at least two antidepressants unsuccessfully, and last but not least, palliative sedation in end-of-life care.

What My Mental Illness Feels Like #Write31Days

31 Days of Mental Health

Welcome to day 29 in the #Write31Days challenge on mental health. Phew, we’re almost done. I truly find it a challenge and unfortunately don’t find it particularly rewarding.

Today, I’ll give you a glimpse into my unquiet mind by describing what it feels like tohave my mental illness. I have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by self-regulation difficulties. It also overlaps with other disorders.

Once, years before I had been diagnosed with any mental illness at all, I read a description on a Dutch site of the “borderline feeling”. It described a starting point at which you are feeling fine, or at least appearing as though you are fine. Then, a minor annoyance occurs. You start feeling frustrated, angry, infuriated. Then you feel sad, depressed, depserate. Fear and then panic also comes in. Finally, all feelings tumble over each other and create a big emotional whirlwind. That’s what the experience of BPD is like.

I can illustrate this with an example. This afternoon, I was feeling slightly on edge because it was time to make afternoon coffee and no-one was available to assist me. Then, when I noticed the nurses were flipping through some seemingly unrelated photos at the nurse’s station, I completely lost it. They had told me they were busy and now they were just chattering! I can’t even remember how the situation progressed, but within minutes I was banging my head, screaming and then ran off. When I came back to the unit (I had the sense of rationality to find my way back myself), I accused the nurses of faking being busy and ignoring me. They had truly ignored me (or been oblivious to me at least) when i stood at the nurse’s station and I still cannot be sure what thing was keeping them so busy. That being said, I couldn’t politely ask them whether they truly didn’t have time to help me make coffee.

We had a group discussion, in which I was again relatively calm. Then we had dinner, after which I went on the computer for a bit. I still was feeling slightly on edge but not over the edge. I wanted to talk to the nurse, so made use of my daily talk time to discuss my tension. However, I couldn’t get it out clearly what I was feeling and why. At that point, all emotions started coming together and I became angry and depressed and fearful at the same time. I went outside, accompanied by the nurse, to blow off some steam.

Usually, this feeling I had in the evining for me is triggered by some flashbacks or relivings of past “trauma”. I put that between scare quotes because the events I am reliving can be relatively minor. However, they can cause distress nonetheless.

During such episodes I also often feel dissociated. I used to completely regress into a child mode, but now I just feel as though I’m small and start speaking or babbling incoherently but don’t fully act like a child.

When an episode is severe, I may resort to self-destructive behaviors such as binge eating or self-injury. Usually, these behaviors temporarily relieve the tension but obviously they aren’t the solution. I often relapse soon after I engaged in destructive behaviors. With PRN tranquilizers, especially benzodiazepines, the same used to be true: they temporarily calmed me down, but when they wore off, I was increasingly agitated. Research shows that borderlines often become more agitated and may become aggressive when given benzodiazepines, because benzodiazepines reduce their anxiety and thereby their impulse inhibition. I do not personally experience this.

Benzodiazepine Use: Benefits and Risks

A few days ago, I was sent an E-mail requesting I post an infographic on my blog about the dangers of benzodiazepines. The infographic was created by a dual diagnosis recovery center for people with a mental illness and co-occurring addiction. Because it is very much focused on the U.S. situation, I cannot repost the infographic here without further comment. I don’t do that anyway. Instead, I’m also sharing my knowledge of and experience with benzodiazepines, their benefits and risks.

The Hidden Dangers of Benzos
All rights reserved. Attribution: first posted on DualDiagnosis.Org

Benzodiazepines are a class of tranquilizing medications, among which are diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan). While they can legally be prescribed for a range of conditions – insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, seizures, etc. -, the Dutch insurance system limits coverage for benzodiazepines to four conditions:

  • Maintenance treatment of epilepsy or as-needed treatment of an epileptic seizure.

  • Treatment of anxiety disorders, when treatment with at least two antidepressants has failed.

  • Treatment of multiple psychiatric conditions that require use of high doses of benzodiazepines.

  • Palliative sedation during end-of-life care.

Physicians who prescribe benzodiazepines for these conditions, need to add the code B2 to the prescription.

I have used benzodiazepines on several occasions. First, in 2006, I was prescribed a benzodiazepine sleeping pill. It was at the time still covered, but no longer would under the current insurance regulations. However, from 2007 on, I’ve used several benzodiazepines for PRN use for irritability. Whether this falls under the multiple psychiatric conditions rule, I do not know, since I am in an institution so medications are covered anyway.

In 2010, I was on Ativan daily for three months. I was on a moderate dose of 3mg/day. After these three months, I told my psychiatrist I felt I no longer needed the Ativan. He changed the prescription to as-needed and I quit taking the benzodiazepine cold turkey. That truly wasn’t a wise choice. A few days from quitting, I was trembling and shaking. At first, I thought it was the antidepressant I’d started taking three weeks prior, but I eventually realized I was probably experiencing Ativan withdrawal. I spoke to my psychiatrist, who put me on a taper schedule that took several months. Ultimately, I spent almost as long trying to taper the Ativan as I’d been on it.

I honestly never found relief from benzodiazepines. Usually, I slept for a few hours then was irritable again. Then again, it seems that with irritability, the goal is to knock you out, not to really make you feel better. I also learned recently that benzodiazepines should really not be prescribed to people with borderline personality disorder, as the anti-anxiety effect causes borderline patients to be disinhibited and potentially become aggressive. I don’t think I ever experienced this myself.

I tend to develop tolerance to benzodiazepines really quickly. With the sleeping pill I took in 2006, I was given ten tablets that I used up over a six-week period. No daily use at all. Still, the last few pills didn’t really work at all. Please realize that, if you got used to one benzodiazepine, you’ll likely develop tolerance to the next pretty soon too. In November and December of 2007, I was on three different benzodiazepines, with about ten benzo-free days in early December. The first, I got used to within five days but kept taking for a month anyway. Then I had the ten days when I was off benzos – but on a stronger tranquilizer that is really an antipsychotic. Then I started taking nitrazepam (Mogadon), one of the more expensive benzos out there. It worked for about two weeks, but I did use the neuroleptic as adjuvant treatment. By the time I’d gotten used to the Mogadon, my doctor thought it would be time for something other than a benzo, but the psychiatrist disagreed and put me on diazepam. That didn’t work and I quit all tranquilizers at the end of December.

I have not been on any benzodiazepines for about a year now. I took Ativan as-needed until the summer of 2013, but it hardly worked so I now take promethazine (Phenergan), a low-potency neuroleptic. I do not want to be on benzos anytime soon again. Then again, I don’t suffer from epilepsy or a significant anxiety disorder and my irritability is kept relatively under control by a daily antipsychotic and PRN Phenergan.

When I ran the above infographic by some fellow bloggers to determine whether it was genuine, some people told me they did great on benzos. If you’ve suffered from severe anxiety for a time and antidepressants have not worked, I can totally see why you’d try benzodiazepines. If you have epilepsy, something has got to drag you out of a seizure. Therefore, even though I have personally not had luck with benzos, I don’t want to say that benzodiazepines are necessarily bad. I like the Dutch insurance policy, making sure that people won’t reach for benzos too soon but those who need them, can get them.