The Sunday Leader

Failure Drugs Par Excellence

By Dr. Marcel de Roos
Psychologist

In non-Western countries like India and Sri Lanka Valium (or Diazepam) and its genetic variants are cheap and easily available over (and under) the counter. Despite the fact that these drugs are considered as last choice medicine and only recommended for strict short-term usage, the widespread prescription by doctors continues. They belong to the so-called group of benzodiazepines. These are psychoactive drugs, all of which have five effects: promotion of sleep, relief of anxiety, muscle relaxation, anticonvulsant, and it impairs short term memory (e.g. before an operation). They are used to treat insomnia and anxiety, for instance. For more information please read the so called Ashton Manual (see below).
Valium for example became available in the 1960s and at first was considered a big success. For instance many housewives took them in order to try to cope with a busy life raising children, household chores and a demanding husband. Which prompted The Rolling Stones to make an ironical song about it called “Mother’s little helper”. But gradually long term usage (longer than two, three weeks) of benzodiazepines became associated with harmful consequences. This consisted of adverse psychological and physical adverse effects like depression, emotional blunting, memory impairment, tolerance, physical dependence and serious withdrawal effects. Valium is considered to be one of the most dangerous drugs because of its easy availability, its high risk of addiction and its gruesome long-term withdrawal effects. There is also a serious questioning of the effectiveness of the drugs itself. In fact, nowadays the medical community considers the benzodiazepines as a huge pharmaceutical mistake because of the many adverse effects (see for example the recent meta literature analysis “Benzodiazepines revisited – will we ever learn?” in Addiction, 2011; 106: 2086-2109).
It usually starts with prescribed pills from the GP or from the specialist. The complaints are tension or anxiety, a feeling of emptiness or having trouble falling asleep. The well-intentioned but ill-informed doctor typically prescribes anxiety-reducing drugs and sleeping pills. The recommended dose usually helps only for a couple of weeks and then the dosage has to be increased. But this doesn’t solve the problems at home or at work which are the real cause of this situation. In the USA there are millions of people who take these tranquilisers for more than a year, and there are quite a number of people who take them longer than ten or even twenty years. They obtain them with a repeat prescription from the doctor or by ordering them on the internet.
The prolonged usage of Valium gets one into a sort of slumber condition. Because of the decreased concentration and liveliness users typically make a somewhat dazed impression. Well known effects of addiction to this medicine are loss of reality, isolation, dysfunction at work and in the family and impairment of the cognitive functions. The chronic usage of anxiety reducing medication and sleeping pills, in particular from the group of benzodiazepines, causes an extra problem. Usually there is a build up of tolerance which means that to get the same effect of the pills you have to increase the quantity. The body becomes addicted and craves for a higher dosage to get the sought after “high”. By increasing the dosage and by continuing the usage of the pills, the mental and physical dependency on these medications increases too. When one stops taking these tablets this dependence expresses itself by severe withdrawal symptoms, such as feelings of high anxiety or fear, depression or possible seizures. Just the sensation of these unpleasant feelings plus the awareness of the suppressed real problems are reasons enough to continue taking these pills.
The alarming scientific reports from independent researchers about the questionable effectiveness, the (serious) side-effects of these pills and possible long term negative effects on our brains are frantically denied by the drug companies. It is shocking to realise the extent of the power and the different ways of influencing that the pharmaceutical companies have. On Youtube (www.youtube.com), please type  “Making a Killing: The Untold Story of Psychotropic Drugging” or “The Marketing of Madness”. Although a bit bombastic, these two documentaries give you a chilling account of what is really going on in the pharmaceutical business world. When long term users of Valium or other benzodiazepines want to stop they should do so by tapering it off and with the help of a medical doctor. But unfortunately many doctors are not aware of the various pitfalls. The following three websites give you adequate information:
www.theroadback.org
www.benzo.org.uk (with the so called “Ashton Manual” for information about tapering off)
www.benzobuddies.org

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