Decreasing dependence on anxiety medication

Published 7:00 am Saturday, June 9, 2018

With the drug epidemic on the rise across the United States, several clinics are working to decrease people’s dependence on controlled anxiety medication.

Family Nurse Practitioner Joe Taylor said he started working with patients to decrease their dependence on benzos last year after the Center for Disease Control sent out a message to health institutes around the country urging them to stop prescribing benzos and to help current users decrease their dependence on the drug.

Taylor said benzos are medications prescribed to those with extreme anxiety and include medications such as Xanax. He said these medications trigger the same part of the brain that alcohol does, and help people keep their anxiety under control

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

He said two main issues have arisen since practitioners began prescribing benzos regularly. First, if they are used in combination with narcotic medication, it increases the pain relieving effects of the narcotics. Taylor said this leads to people becoming increasingly addicted to narcotics and the combination of the two types of drugs can lead to a fatal overdose.

Secondly, like consistent alcohol use, if benzos are used regularly the body eventually adjusts to the effects and starts needing more of the substance to function. Taylor said this has led some doctors to raise their patients’ dosages to 6 mg per day. The recommended therapeutic dose is only 1 mg per day, he said. Benzos are also only meant to be used up to six weeks at a time, but Taylor said since many patients become dependent on them, they are sometimes prescribed for months of use at a time.

Also similar to alcohol, if patients stop taking their prescribed doses of benzos without a transition period, they could experience severe withdrawal symptoms including seizures.

To help those addicted to benzos stop taking them, Taylor said he tries to wean them off of the medication by giving lower and lower doses over the course of one to four months. He said he may also prescribe Gabapentin – a non-controlled seizure medicine that has a similar affect on the brain – to trick the brain into thinking that it is still receiving the chemicals. Taylor said he has had great success so far. He said of the 50 people he has helped over the past year, only two couldn’t get off of their medication.

Taylor stressed that it is important for patients to come off of benzos slowly, since many turn to alcohol to fill that void if they quit suddenly.

Taylor said some patients with severe anxiety may need to remain on the medication, but only if there is clear and detailed documentation that other remedies have been tried and that they cannot cope with their anxiety without stronger medication.

To those who currently take benzos regularly, Taylor recommended contacting a primary care doctor to find a referral to a practitioner who has been trained to help people come off of this type of medication. To undergo this treatment, Taylor said it is best to find a practitioner who has some kind of psychiatric training to help.

For more information or for a consultation, Pearl River Family Clinic can be reached at 601-403-8284.