Withdrawal: What Doctors Don't Know
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.
Impatient, crude, and backward: those are a few of the words I would use to describe our modern western system of medicine, especially when it comes to dealing with problems of mind, emotion, and soul.
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.
Michael Priebe is a writer and wellness coach who has studied psychology, literature, and print journalism. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he graduated with honors, and over the years he has helped people from all over the world understand antidepressant withdrawal and benzodiazepine withdrawal and find healing in their lives. He puts out a variety of spiritually inspiring content at The Lovely Grind, and he blogs about his life at www.michaelpriebewriter.com. He invites you to find out more about his coaching here, and he hopes you'll reach out to him on Facebook and Instagram.
“Michael helped me in a way that no doctor or therapist has been able to! His personal experience combined with his optimistic, constructive input and guidance is priceless. I highly recommend his coaching sessions.”
“I contacted Michael for coaching because he has the ultimate credential of having been through it all himself! I liked his warm, empathetic manner. He is easy to talk to, and I felt as if he were a family member in his warm caring toward me. Michael has a very reassuring way of communicating, and I would highly recommend him.”
Jon - British Columbia, Canada
“I came across Michael’s videos by chance while looking up information on prescription drug withdrawal. I found his YouTube videos to be very informative, honest, and consoling. I was watching one after the other and even converted the sound on the videos to MP3 so that I could listen to his advice while going for walks. That was very soothing for me, and therefore I decided to try his coaching services. Great decision.
"Michael is a great and patient listener, and during our time together I felt that he sincerely cared about my healing progress and had genuine empathy for all those going through withdrawal. He is a positive-minded individual who disseminates hope, and I appreciated the useful, personalized follow-up notes he sent after our session. Most certainly I would recommend his coaching.”
Yasmin - Cairo, Egypt
“No one else is doing what Michael is doing. It truly is a ministry! Michael is willing to make himself vulnerable to help others during their journey in the valley. He is very easy to talk to (I felt like I had known him forever), and I would most definitely recommend his coaching to others.”
Andi, North Carolina
“Michael’s coaching is truly a game-changing experience. I appreciate the level of understanding he brings … tons of knowledge on how to survive the days and get closer to recovery. When you finally get to look someone in the face and know they understand exactly what you’re going through, it can bring a different level of comfort; that is what Michael’s coaching provided me, and without a doubt I would recommend it to everyone going through this.”
“I decided to use Michael’s coaching services because he seemed very genuine and trustworthy. After speaking with him a couple of times, I realized that I am strong enough to overcome certain obstacles, but also realized that I need not rush the process [of becoming medication free]. It was comforting talking to Michael about my withdrawal issues so that I could realize that what I’m going through is common, and it was also useful that Michael took the time to give me feedback in specific areas—like making a schedule and forming realistic expectations for myself. Michael gave me more useful feedback than a lot of mental health counselors I’ve had. Michael has helped me, and I hope he continues to help others. I would definitely recommend his coaching services.”
“I learned a lot from Michael. At first I was so confused by withdrawal (wondering what I was going through and if I would be this way permanently), but Michael helped me to realize that we do heal and that things do get better. I had a lot of worries, but he helped to ease my mind and he gave me positive feedback regarding how to approach each day in this process. Michael has a caring heart, and I would 100 percent recommend his coaching to others going through this.”
Erikka, South Dakota
“It can be frustrating having to deal with [withdrawal] symptoms for months on end and getting next to no support from doctors or anyone in the medical community (people who for the most part are clueless). Simply getting a chance to speak with Michael—someone who has gone through what I have and is able to offer support—was comforting. I also really enjoyed his follow-up notes. They were insightful and helped me to consider things I hadn’t thought of. I very much enjoyed working with Michael, and I would recommend his coaching to anyone who is going through this process and looking for support.”
“Michael is relatable and non-judgemental. I liked his positivity and follow-up notes. He provided good support overall. I believe that if a person really wants to withdrawal from medication, then support like this, from someone who has personal experience, is invaluable, and for that reason I would recommend Michael’s coaching to others going through this process.”
Leanne – Ontario, Canada
"Because of Michael’s own experiences, he knows what serves and what damages. He helped me to control my intake of negative information, he made me more optimistic, and he gave me a sense of the “whole [healing] picture.” Michael is a good listener and his comments are very precise. I would definitely recommend his coaching to others going through withdrawal."
Miguel, Atlanta, GA
"I really enjoyed my coaching sessions with Michael and looked forward to each call. He is very easy to talk to and offers very good advice. Our conversations gave me hope and coping skills, and his follow-up notes and progress plan were very helpful; I reference them often to stay on track. I found it comforting talking to someone who has been through this and really understands the struggle. I now look at withdrawal as something that can be overcome, something that I can heal from. I felt very comfortable talking to Michael, and I would recommend his coaching services to others going through the withdrawal and healing process."
“I decided to try Michael’s coaching because, in his videos, he seemed so honest, relatable, upbeat, hopeful, and knowledgeable. I believe I got more out of Michael’s videos and coaching than I got from years of professional counseling. It is very comforting talking to him because it is like talking to a very knowledgeable, long-time, close friend. I have more hope for the future after talking to Michael, and that helps me to survive the times when I am feeling blue. I would recommend his coaching to those going through the withdrawal and healing process.”
“I really enjoyed the care that Michael put into every contact with me. I appreciate how he shared his own experiences, found out about my overall context, and made direct suggestions; it was so important to believe that I was not losing control of my mind and body and that I could carry on with living while going through the process. It was also helpful to set goals and a plan and check back in on these things. Michael’s coaching is very professional and authentic, and I would highly recommend him to anyone who is going through the withdrawal and healing process.”
Emma, United Kingdom
“I always refer back to what Michael coached me on in the past regarding dealing with such times during the recovery and healing process. I enjoy working with Michael because he takes his time answering each of my questions in detail. Michael has true answers and guidance. It is comforting being coached by someone who understands my symptoms, and also Michael is a very compassionate person. I would definitely recommend his services to a person in need of help during the withdrawal process.”
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CONTACT ME ABOUT COACHING
If you or someone you know is struggling to survive the pain and confusion of prescription drug withdrawal or chronic stress, I would like to offer my coaching services. Stress can suck the joy out of life, and the withdrawal process can be challenging (I know from experience). However, with the proper tools and mindset, these things can be survived and even used for greater growth. If you or someone you care about is trying to quit antidepressant or benzodiazepine medications (or simply trying to reduce stress levels), please click here to email me about coaching options and availability.