Anti-Anxiety medications - What to know Before Taking Them
In the 15 years since I was diagnosed with Colitis I have had three, possibly four doctors offer me anti-depressants and/or anti-anxiety medication to deal with some of the issues that come with this disease.
I had always dismissed these offers until two years ago when I had an anxiety attack while we were on vacation. The ER doctor assured me I was not having an IBD flare-up but went on to ask me a number of questions about anxiety I might have associated with the IBD and travel. If you’re like me and the predominant symptom of your IBD was (it no longer is a problem since changing my diet - see previous posts about this) diarrhea with little time to go from urge-to-toilet then you probably understand the anxiety that comes along with travel, whether it be in a car, train, or on an airplane. Not having a bathroom at the ready, or being in control of when you can use the bathroom is bound to make one feel some sort of anxiety.
Anyway, the helfpul ER doctor gave me a an Ativan in the ER and ten more for the road with the directions to see my general practioner upon arriving home. I saw her and she agreed that anti-anxiety medications can be very helpful in situations when anxiety is inevitable or may arise. So she gave me a prescription for 30 pills and told me to take them as prescribed as needed for anxiety.
I did. I took one before getting on a plane to Spain. On another trip I took one on the plane, but once we got to our destination I took one or two on various nights simply because I found they really zonked me out and helped me to sleep well in an unfamiliar place. When we got home from that trip I had a follow-up with my GP and she asked how things were going. I told her, “Great.” And explained that I found the pills really helped me to sleep. She said there was no harm in taking one pill at night if it was helpful.
Before I embarked on taking these little pills nightly I did some research on them, found they were part of the Benzodiazepine family - which includes everything from Valium to Klonopin to Ativan and many, many more drugs. Two years ago when I searched the internet for this drug there was information about it. What it was, how it worked, that it affected the GABA in your brain rather than serotonin and why that was better, and many things I read told me that the medication I was taking was one of the milder types of anti-anxiety medication.
Today if you search the internet for Benzo’s - as they’re called - you get a lot more information that I wish I’d know two years ago. Such as, these drugs are very addictive even at small doses and as hard or nearly as hard to get off of as nicotine, alcohol, and some illegal drugs. Had I known then just how much this stuff messes with your brain and how darn hard and long it would take to stop taking this drug I never, ever would have taken it. I would delved much more deeply, as I have now, into learning to meditate and belly breathe, and a number of other more natural ways to deal with and treat anxiety.
I was taking a very small dose of the drug and even so, I’m now into week nine of s l o w l y decreasing the dose of medication every 2-3 weeks. I am having acupuncture treatments to help the process - much like the treatment they do in prisons when new inmates come in high on whatever and need to come down. I am also practicing meditation learning the art of patience. I have had good days and bad days with this withdrawal. On good days all seems well with the world, on bad days I have felt more anxiety than I ever felt without this medication, shaky, jumpy, angry, fluish, sleepless, and generally miserable.
I am now amazed that these medications are legal. And secondly that they are prescribed with such abandon. Even though I asked my doctor questions about potential adverse effects of the drug or from taking it she gave me no indication that anything serious could transpire. And at the time I didn’t know enough about this family of drugs to ask if they would be hard to stop taking. The thing is, it is possible that if I had only taken them as first prescribed - for times of potential anxiety I might not be in the mess I’m in today. But, that’s the problem with something that makes you feel happy, or sleepy, or content, if a little is good then a little more should be good too. I wish I had known that getting off this stuff would be so darn hard. And according to my acupuncturist and naturopath, who are helping me to be anxiety-med-free, I’m one of the fortunate ones. I was on a low dose. The larger the dose, the harder and longer it takes to get off, if you can. Many people just find it easier to stay on these drugs than to go through the hard road it takes to get off of them.
If all continues to go well, I should be completely off this stuff in a month, and I’ll be glad of it. I’m not yet sleeping as well as I would like but during the day I feel that my head is clearer and I’m thinking better and more productively.
Do your research well before taking any medication, but especially those that mess with your brain.
Elizabeth wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Digestive Health.