March 1, 2014

Top 5 Things to Know About Accidental Addiction. ~ Ruschelle Smiroldo-Khanna

Photo: veo_

I am not an addict. I don’t feel like one. How did I get here?

I must have asked myself this a million times. This was one hellish year…one that many people, other than my husband, never knew that I experienced. I don’t remember the exact moment that I realized I was addicted to Klonopin.

I remember the night I had a seizure.

I remember the drastic weight loss and slurred speech. I remember trips to the emergency room and the inability to go to my job. I remember feeling horrified. I think that’s all I need to remember.

I have been an addictions therapist and administrator for ten years. One might ask how it is possible that someone working in addictions could become “accidentally” addicted to sleep medications prescribed by their doctor. I asked myself that question over and over throughout the process of tapering off of those medications. The reality was that when it came to my desperation to sleep, I really had tried everything. I was so tired, stressed and disoriented, that I turned to a physician for answers. That was the worst decision of my life.

But it wasn’t the decision to see a physician that was the problem. It was which physician. You see, my mistake was choosing a physician who believed in the outdated model of prescribing benzodiazepines [psychoactive drugs] like Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin to cure any symptoms that resembled an anxious state.

Fast forward three years later. I am self-healed and happy. I have learned a few very powerful lessons. The most important was that I am responsible for my health. No one knows my body better than I do.

My story is all too common. Every year, millions of Americans are prescribed medications for anxiety and sleep only to discover they are physically dependent. The majority of these are women. Many don’t know where to turn if they want to stop. Worse, many are told they will never be capable of living a life without them.

This is false.

The truth is that there is a growing interest in the fields of psychotherapy, functional medicine, and naturopathy to cure chronic mental health conditions—including anxiety. Medications which were always intended to be used in the short term are not necessary for common conditions such as insomnia. In the process of speaking to these professionals, one will be much more likely to find quality information about living a pharmaceutical-free life.

My year-long taper away from benzodiazepines was frightening and, at times, overwhelming. But that process does not have to be. As a patient and a provider, I want to share my tips for staying sane while regaining health:

1. Patience is key.  

Tapering from medications is a slow process. Basic nutritional deficiencies need to be addressed before the process even begins. Finding a great nutritionist, physician, and therapist will make the process much smoother.

2. Knowledge is power.

The only catch is that one might not find this at his or her primary care or psychiatric office. One will need to seek out preventive and functional physicians as well as psychotherapists who specialize in this area. Support groups  can offer a ton of information. There are even groups on Facebook that can be beneficial.

3. Life Can Be Normal.

All those weird side effects like dizziness, slurred speech, twitches, and brain fog can go away with time.  Remember, your body has gone through a pretty big shock and it will take time to get back to full function.

4. Pamper Your Body.

Now is the time to try all sorts of natural body treatments one might not otherwise try. There are so many to choose from, including acupuncture, cupping, Reiki, massage, and gentle exercises like yoga and tai chi. Remember that you are completely worth it.

5. Breathe Deep and Practice Forgiveness.

As your body starts to heal, there will be plenty of time to work through any anger and frustration about being sick. By practicing breathing techniques integrated with forgiveness, stress is reduced, allowing healing to take place more quickly.


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Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons

Photo: elephant archives


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Ruschelle Smiroldo-Khanna