Withdrawal: What Doctors Don't KnowApr 22, 2021
Although it should come as no surprise to me at this point, I’m still blown away be the lack of knowledge displayed by doctors and psychiatrists when it comes to the topic of prescription drug withdrawal. They know how to prescribe the medications and are usually quite enthusiastic about doing so (“I think I’ve got something that will help you …”), but when a person hits medication tolerance or otherwise decides that he or she wants to stop taking the medications, suddenly the faces turn blank and confused. (“Excuse me, did you say “stop” the medications. Hm, let me see. That part wasn’t covered in medical school or by the big pharma reps that visited me. How about we get you on something else. I’ve think I’ve got something that will help you …”).
When I was going through antidepressant withdrawal and benzodiazepine withdrawal after stopping Paxil and Xanax years back, I reluctantly visited the doctor’s office on several occasions, and the tenor and content of those visits mostly served to break my heart and frustrate me. Although, looking back, they also jacked me up on anger and made me more determined than ever to get so individually healthy that I wouldn’t need doctors and their refills anymore. Everything can serve a purpose in life.
If you are currently wanting to get off medications or are already experiencing withdrawal from them, then I hope that you find doctors that are more enlightened than the rest of the herd. However, don’t be surprised if your family doctor or psychiatrist doesn’t seem to know much about these topics. Specifically, here are three things about medication cessation and withdrawal that your medical professional might not understand but that you ought to know.
1. The body and mind become accustomed to prescription medications and there will be temporary “blowback” when the medications are removed from the system.
There will be a transition period as the body and mind become reacquainted to life without the antidepressant, benzodiazepine, or other medication.
In coaching sessions, when people tell me that their doctors said they could pretty much stop a medication they’ve been on for years without any resulting withdrawal effects, I feel like punching a wall or laughing. I guess laughing is the healthier option, so I try to do that. It floors me to hear this stuff, but I was told the same thing years back when I stopped the Paxil. The prescribing doctor, despite being faced with my severe and prolonged illness, said to me, “Well, any withdrawal should have been relatively minor and over a long time ago.”
Ok. I guess I didn’t get the memo.
Listen, I’m not saying that if you stop medications your antidepressant withdrawal or benzodiazepine withdrawal will be anywhere near as challenging as mine was. That was an individual situation with individual reasons behind it. But I am saying this: when you cut back or stop medications (any medications, even blood pressure or thyroid or whatever), don’t be surprised if there are some uncomfortable symptoms.
The body and mind become accustomed to anything they ingest every day, and prescription medications such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines are specifically designed to go deeply into our brain chemistry, affecting a broad variety of things including: perceptions of self and others, pain experiences, thought processes and attention, appetite, sleep, enthusiasm, grief responses, shame and guilt responses, energy levels, and more. When we stop taking medications, especially if we’ve been on them for a while, all of the things listed above can be affected, and it can feel as if the world has turned alien and frightening.
The bottom line is this. If people can be educated and expect the possibility of some of these withdrawal symptoms occurring, then the experience won’t seem nearly as frightening. Symptoms can then seem normal, in a sense, and temporary. And the person experiencing them can then get on with the process of enduring, understanding, coping, planning for the future, and moving forward.
2. Withdrawal symptoms can be physical, mental, and emotional.
The complexity of the antidepressant withdrawal or benzodiazepine withdrawal experience can at first seem baffling to the person experiencing it, and therefore it stands to reason that your average doctor or psychiatrist (a person who might be book smart but not wise or thoughtful) might be confused.
Yes, the symptoms of withdrawal might be physical, including things like headaches, nerve pain, digestive issues, head pressure, tight muscles, and burning skin. But at the same time, an individual might be completely overwhelmed by heightened anxiety, deep depression, spiritual fear, or obsessive and negative thinking. Again, these medications tinker with the very chemical foundations of our wellness, stupidly attempting to manipulate what God thoughtfully created.
The solution to actually quieting this complex cluster of symptoms then must not be stupid and simple, but open-minded and holistic. Which brings me to my next point.
3. Healing from medication use and withdrawal must be holistic and patient, and it must involve individual measures of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness.
This system has for decades marketed the notion of quick and complete fixes to people who are suffering through anxiety, depression, grief, overthinking, or other complex life experiences. And when people sign-up for this notion, then the blunt and imprecise tools of antidepressant, benzo, or antipsychotic medications are deployed to sweep across the landscape and flatten out existence. This chemical procedure tosses out the baby with the bathwater, getting rid of the good human experiences along with the bad, and in fact not even getting rid of the “bad”—but simply burying it to resurface later on.
The “medication mindset” that is the doctrine of modern western medicine forgets the Hippocratic Oath to “first do no harm.” The medication mindset tells people they have no control over their own health, but rather insists they must rely on doctor’s offices and big pharma to give them solutions from within a circular logic they’ve created.
And when faced with the inconvenient reality of prescription drug withdrawal, this system—this medication mindset—will usually double down by trying to prescribe more medications, thus digging the hole deeper and deeper.
The system described above is the madness and the darkness, and if you are currently going through pains related to medication use and/or withdrawal after stopping the medications, then perhaps you know the madness and the darkness all too well. But there is another way. There is a path of light. And the light involves becoming patient with oneself and having an open mind moving forward.
The light involves finding true solutions, even if they involve more time and personal effort. The light involves finding less stress and more happiness for yourself. It involves seeing yourself and your current thoughts, emotions, and pains not as disgusting and out-of-the-ordinary crises to be fixed in an instant by any means, but rather as temporary human experiences that are bringing you from one place in life to another—to a better place that is wiser and more stable. To a place that is more enjoyable and peaceful. To a place where you have once again regained ownership of your own health.
Some would use the word “healed” to describe this place, although that term too can be loaded and imprecise, so it is best to simply focus on the picture of this place that we create in our minds and hearts rather than on trying to define the place with our words.
If you are someone who is experiencing prescription drug withdrawal, know that it is not a sign that doom and gloom have come to rule your life forever. Rather, it is a normal and predictable byproduct of starting and stopping modern medications, and it is not permanent. It is a temporary process of adjustment and growth, and it is actually the bridge to the light. It is the bridge to true and independent wellness.
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