Become a member of Allies in Recovery and we’ll teach you how to intervene, communicate and guide your loved one toward treatment.Become a member of Allies in Recovery today.

The Benzo Question and My Own Experience

Feng Shui Coastline

Lynne72 has concerns about her Loved One’s prescription use of benzodiazepines. There seems to be mixed information about the harmful nature of these drugs. What evidence points to the use of benzos in a positive light? 

My son recently told me that the psychiatrist that he is currently seeing has said the the bad effects of klonopin have been debunked if they are taken as prescribed. A psychiatric nurse practitioner whom I know has said that she does not recommend Benzos for a young person but has also said that many psychiatrists do not believe that when taken as prescribed they are harmful.
I acknowledged to my son that there was perhaps validity in what he was saying, however I am looking for any article that debunks the danger of this drug. Especially after seeing the CNN special "Are Benzos the Next Killer?"
Could anyone point me to an article that shows klonopin in a positive light?
We are talking about a 10 year usage with a couple of incidents of overuse.

Your son has been taking benzodiazepines for 10 years and wants to continue. His psychiatrist doesn’t see a problem. There have been a “couple” incidents over those 10 years when your son took more than was prescribed but for the most part your son takes this drug safely. 

Here is an article that weighs both sides of the benzodiazepine argument. As is typical in this field, there aren’t black and white answers. Outcomes can vary, and careful consideration on a case-by-case basis is emphasized. 

Benzodiazepines help with anxiety and insomnia. (Some of us will remember valium, an early example of a benzodiazepine.) Benzodiazepines are easily addictive and more dangerous when used to boost or extend the high of alcohol or opioids. A high number of deadly opioid overdoses involve the combination of an opioid and a benzodiazepine. People who mix their drugs like this run the risk of more serious respiratory depression than if they had taken only one of the drugs, hence the increased risk of death.

Benzodiazepines are difficult to withdraw from. The symptoms are very uncomfortable: anxiety, restlessness, sleeplessness. Withdrawals can also cause life-threatening seizures, which is why withdrawal needs to be carefully titrated and medically monitored, typically in a detoxification program. 

I understand your son’s hesitancy to come off the benzodiazepines and his psychiatrist’s reluctance to take him off. These drugs work well for anxiety and there aren’t a lot of medical alternatives. 

Long-term use of benzodiazepines is not well understood. The main concerns are problems with memory. In my own experience, I have successfully taken a small dose of a benzo for over 12 years, without abuse or the need to increase the dose. I do so under the care of an excellent psychiatrist. 

So on the positive side, I can tell you benzodiazepines have done more for my recovery than anything else I have ever tried medically. Shortly after starting to take them, my world changed. I felt calmer and safer than I ever had. I could feel the sun on my face. My husband said I had become the person I was always meant to be. I was less irritable, more patient, more open to being in the world. I have complex PTSD and had 14 years of recovery when I started. This is important to note – I was attending peer support meetings, meditating as best I could, exercising, and seeing a therapist regularly. These were all very critical and helpful, but they weren’t sufficient to keep me from anxiety attacks that had me glued to the end of the bed, unable to launch my day. 

To this day, I take half the smallest dose and I sleep well. By the way, while benzos are clearly a drug of abuse, I am not alone in taking them in recovery as prescribed over a long period of time. If you took a poll in an AA meeting you would find others who are doing the same as I do. Unlike other drugs I have “sampled” I don’t find that my tolerance builds and that I need more and more to get the same results. The psychiatrist I work with knew this could be the case and was willing to take a chance with me. 

Whether I was born with anxiety or became anxious as a result of trauma is irrelevant.  Navigating it has brought me down some rough paths. Alcohol and opioids worked for a while to settle that internal shaking, the persistent fear, and the feeling that my chest was going to explode… but the consequences of those drugs were also quickly ruining my life. 

I will always need to carefully watch what I do to maintain my recovery: peer supports, therapy, psychiatry…. and those are just some of the essentials. Psychiatry for many of us will continue to be a key component in our ability to maintain recovery and to live a more quality life. 

Perhaps this will help to fill out some more of the background as you consider your son’s situation. Should he choose to stay on the prescription, careful monitoring by his psychiatrist is clearly of great importance. But as a stand-alone for someone with addiction, it becomes a slippery slope. He needs to seek out and engage with a constellation of supports including peer recovery groups and other activities that help advance his recovery work. I hope this is helpful for you both. Thanks for writing in with this important question. 



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. Thank you for this perspective and for the link to the article, it is very helpful. He is under the care of a new psychiatrist and my hope is that this will be addressed in the near future. She has put him on vivitrol and also a new medicine called Enlyte which is really a methyl folate in its purest form. (He has been tested and apparently his body has difficulty producing dopamine- this new product is supposed to help with that). He has told me that for now they are not addressing the Klonopin.
    He has also recently closed up completely about what he is doing on the weekends, saying that he has a right to his privacy. So I am left to wonder if an hourly meeting a week and these steps that he has taken are really sufficient.
    Unfortunately I have been having a more and more difficult time with all of this and I am watching myself being adversely affected by his behavior. I am trying so hard to be loving when I speak with him yet even when I say that it is difficult for me on the weekends not knowing if he is gambling etc., he becomes extremely upset with me. And so I am left with a very superficial relationship at this point. He has said that he can’t worry about anyone else, only himself. I am wondering at what point might one suspend the relationship for their own well being. The secrecy around all of his addictions has been going on for a long time and it was only 3 months ago that and incident occurred and I learned of the severity of his problems. It seems to be where he is comfortable. He wants to control all of the perimeters of the relationship.

    1. Your son is actively using drugs and may also be gambling. He has a few well-worn tools for keeping you at bay when he wants and for keeping you roped in when he wants. In active addiction, those closest become pawns. Everything else is secondary to maintaining and protecting the need to use or gamble. So yes, controlling the perimeters is paramount when in active using mode.

      As family members, we can’t take this personally. Easily said, I know… In your case, I would pull back from reaching into these questions about his life.

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to Lynne72 here: