Alcohol, Benzo Withdrawal, and GABA Receptors
I first was given benzodiazepines when I was 17 years old (I'm 38 now) after I couldn't breathe to save my life. The doctors said I had an anxiety attack and gave me benzo's. So what are benzodiazepines? They are sedatives and you may have heard of them as Xanax, Ativan, Lorazepam, Valium, Klonopin (pick your poison) etc..... I was supposed to take them whenever I felt anxiety coming on.. They worked just like magic.
Benzo's worked so well I was on them for the next 21 years. So, what's the point? Well, the doctors (I have been to more dr.'s than I have fingers and toes) told me that they could be addictive and to never abuse them. I never did. I never took more than the recommended dose. They say right on the pill bottle that they are to be used to treat ANXIETY..
So, what do the doctors NOT tell you? Well, your body builds up a tolerance to benzo's and once you reach your tolerance point, you have to increase the dose if you want relief from anxiety. If you don't take more and more they will GIVE you more life damaging symptoms than you could ever imagine.
For the past 20 years I have suffered from shortness of breath, racing heart, paranoia, anti social tendencies, insomnia, amongst many other side effects. I just thought that I was an outcast from society. Well, why didn't I stop taking them? Well, whenever I would take a pill those horrible those symptoms would go away. I always thought that I just had severe anxiety, which I did and DO. What I didn't know is that the very pills that would make my symptoms go away was also CAUSING them.
What does this have to do with alcoholism? Funny you should ask. In the past couple of months I have been having such severe anxiety that my little magic benzo's would no longer work. I either had to take double the dosage or suffer horrific side effects. I have reached my current dosage tolerance and am in constant withdrawal. If I would go to the doctor he/she would say that it's anxiety and they would recommend upping the dosage to make the anxiety go away. So, I'm supposed to up my dosage, AGAIN. Why didn't ONE doctor in 21 years ever tell me that it was the benzo's that was causing my severe anxiety? After going to the ER a dozen times thinking I was having a heart attack why didn't ONE doctor tell me it was from the benzos? While I racked up immense medical bills not one of them told me a thing about withdrawal or the symptoms.
Oh yeah, got off track, what does this have to do with alcoholism? After being on benzos (my magic pill for anxiety) for over two decades I found out that if you drink alcohol, those horrible symptoms also go away. While you are drinking and eventually get drunk you have total relief from the dreaded anxiety that you fear. I self medicated my symptoms with alcohol for many, many years. It helped me breathe, it helped me not have social anxiety, my heart wouldn't race, and I could sleep. I'm not saying benzo's caused my alcoholism, but they sure as hell did play a major part.
The title of the blog says something about "GABA Receptors". What does this have to do with alcohol or benzos?
Last week after doing some research on the internet about alcohol withdrawal (when I could barely function while in withdrawal) I found out that alcohol attaches to your GABA receptors in your brain the same way that benzos do. So what is GABA? I'm sure as hell no expert, and just researched this last week, so I urge you do your own research, but I'll try to sum it up in laymen's terms.
You have heard of the "fight or flight" response right? Well, GABA receptors control that "calm" feeling. When you take benzo's (or alcohol) everyday your GABA receptors in your brain gets used to the benzo's or alcohol doing the job. Your GABA receptor stops working. Your "fight or flight" is no longer working. The "calm" no longer works. What you have left is "fight" response. The central nervous system excitability, anxiety, etc... This is what gives heavy drinkers alcohol withdrawal symptoms that can actually be deadly. This is also what gives you benzo withdrawals. Doctors don't tell you this. They will just put you on every anti-depressant known to man, OR up your benzo dosage. "Ching Ching, monthly doctor visit".
Alcohol withdrawal only lasts a few days, yet it can be life threatening. Benzo withdrawals can last a couple of years, and even longer if you have been taking it for a long time. They say that the withdrawals are worse than heroin! I have taken it for 21 years!! Withdrawal from benzo's can kill you.. Maybe my doctor should have told me that! Yes, I have heard they are addictive, but I never ever ever abused them! I never used them as a recreational drug. They simply took away my anxiety (even though it was the benzo's that caused my anxiety). Where'as alcohol leaves your body relatively quickly, benzo's stay in your brain for a longgggg time, and your GABA receptors have to reteach themselves how to function again so your "fight or flight response" will work again. This process can take a many months, or even years.
If you only took an aspirin when you got a headache would you ever think that you were abusing a drug? That's how I felt when I took lorazepam (the benzo I've been on for 21 years). I only took it to take away anxiety, like a tylenol pill takes away a headache.
I'm going to cut this short (ha ha), but I wanted to put this info out there to any alcoholic who also is prescribed benzos. NEVER take them together, and if you haven't been on benzo's for a long time, stop NOW! I promise you that you will regret it if you don't. I now have to slowly taper off the drug, and endure horrible withdrawal. Quitting cold turkey can cause seizure and death. As you taper off the benzo over time withdrawal symptoms may increase to horrific levels.
P.S. I found out this information simply by searching Google using terms like "benzo withdrawal" and "GABA receptors and benzo/alcohol withdrawal", etc.... www.benzobuddies.org is a forum where people suffering from benzo withdrawal like me talk about their horrible symptoms. I strongly recommend checking it out.
P.S.S. "Hey Doctors! Thanks for the heads up and warning, ASSHOLES!"
P.S.S.S. I haven't drank in five days :) Haven't started tapering off the benzos yet. Horrible tolerance symptoms though