DISSMISSIVE INVALIDATION

One of the greatest injustices for those who have been sickened and damaged by benzodiazepines taken as prescribed is having to deal with dismissive attitudes from many medical professionals. Upon looking to their prescribing doctors (or other doctors and specialists) for help with the increasing mental and physical health issues caused by the drugs, patients are often shrugged off and made to feel crazy. Some patients are fortunate to find doctors who are educated in this area and are able to help and validate them, but sadly, we find this is not the norm.

To provide a glimpse of what many patients are experiencing in the medical world, we asked them to share with us some of the insensitive, dismissive, false and downright harmful statements made to them by medical professionals. These statements were said to them when they were very sick, fragile and desperate due to the damaging effects of their benzodiazepine prescriptions. As they were attempting to ask questions, receive validation and assistance, or present information to their doctors regarding the dangers and adverse effects of benzodiazepines and withdrawal, the following are some of the actual statements they report being met with:

*Note: W-BAD acknowledges that not all medical professionals are so “unprofessional.” Supportive healthcare providers who validate their patients are crucial to success in BWS.

DOCTOR COMMENTS TO PATIENTS SUFFERING FROM BENZODIAZEPINE-INDUCED ILLNESS:

“It’s your mental illness.”

“No, the medication is treating that problem.”

“This is a worsening of your mental illness and/or a separate neurological condition.”

“Benzodiazepines don’t have side effects.”

“Up your dose if you feel worse.”

“Your mother taught you to have anxiety, so you will always have it too.”

“It can’t be the sleeping tablets as they’d be out of your system by now.” (Said only three weeks into withdrawal leading patient to reinstate the benzodiazepine)

“The drugs are out of your system – it must be something else.”

“It’s just anxiety.”

“You can’t possibly be experiencing the things you say you are experiencing.”

“You couldn’t have become dependent on Xanax in just 3-4 weeks – this is all your anxiety.” “You can just stop the medication.”

“This is because you are mentally ill and need the drugs – that is why stopping them made you worse.”

The doctor, while holding up a plastic brain model and touching pencil to a random part of the model, told patient they had a “chemical imbalance *right there*”

“It’s rare to have problems with benzodiazepines.”

When telling doctor that it’s no wonder she was depressed because she was on a central nervous system depressant, doctor said, “They don’t always cause depression.”

“You’re an addict.”

While in severe withdrawal, patient being told they are experiencing a “relapse.”

“I don’t know what to do with you.”

“It must be your pre-existing anxiety.”

“You are on such a low dose, you can stop them without any problem.”

A patient presented printed off information regarding benzodiazepines. Doctor promptly threw the information back at patient and told her it was absolutely “bizarre” what she was trying to tell him.

“You seem to have more anxiety – maybe we should increase the dose.”

“When you’re ready, you’ll get the help you need.” (While handing patient a name of a psychiatric facility)

“You worry about the worry – just take the meds. Years from now if you can’t take it, there will be a new medication available – a better one. So stop worrying and go take your Xanax.”

“You don’t have an ‘addictive personality,’ so these drugs won’t cause issues or withdrawal for you.”

“You’re on such a ‘low dose’ – you shouldn’t be having any problems with these drugs.”

“Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” (When presenting researched information to doctor)

“Don’t read about the side effects or research this drug. It will just cause you more anxiety.”

“The side effects are extremely rare – they just report them for legal reasons. Don’t worry about it and take your medication.”

“Benzodiazepine withdrawal cannot last longer than four weeks.”

“It’s because of your personality.”

“These drugs are not addictive.”

“I’ve seen many people like you before and they got stuck in life somewhere and you are just hyperventilating.”

“Do you have a family history of mental illness?”

“I know it’s hard, but you just have to get off.”

“That’s pseudoscience.” (In reference to the Ashton Manual) *Note from the editor: there is an overwhelming amount of valid evidence documented by government-funded benzodiazepine research scientists describing the existence of BWS. Most doctors are unaware of this, and BWS in its protracted form does not yet have a specific diagnosis code.

“Well, if you know so much, what do you need us stupid doctors for?”

“I don’t know how to help you – that’s what pain clinics are for.”

“Some women just can’t handle being stay-at-home mothers.”

“Just cut by 2mg and start Prozac.”

“Why get off (the drug)? Just leave well enough alone.”

“You just need to get on an antidepressant.”

“There’s absolutely no way the meds could be making you feel these symptoms.”

“You’re making this up.”

“It’s all in your head.”

“It’s because of your agitated depression.”

“You are probably bipolar and need to be on something stronger, like lithium or an antipsychotic.”

“It’s life stress.”

“It’s somatization due to the effects of childhood trauma (PTSD) and dependent personality traits.”

“You’re not trying hard enough.”

“You’re such a time-consuming patient.”

“You must be sensitive.”

“You’re a hypochondriac.”

“If you’re having withdrawal, you are abusing the meds.”

“You have a fixation about these drugs making you unwell.”

“You can’t accept it isn’t the drugs.”

“There is no way coming off these drugs can make you so ill.”

“These drugs are out of your system in 28 days and there are no residual effects.”

“Withdrawal only lasts two weeks.”

“The problem is not your anxiety, it’s depression that causes anxiety. Once we address the depression, there will be no more anxiety.”

“Let’s try some Prozac!”

“Don’t cry. I can’t handle it!”

“Finding the right drugs and dosages that work for a person is like taking a dart and throwing it and whatever the dart lands on, you try that.”

“Well, good luck with that!” *Laughter* (Upon patient telling doctor they were sure the benzodiazepine was making them worse and wanted to come off the drug)

“There’s nothing else we can do for you – you have mental problems and should just admit yourself to the psych ward.”

“We know it’s not the drug.”

“Maybe you’re just having a nervous breakdown.”

“We have never seen anybody go through these types of withdrawal on such a ‘small amount’ – it’s all anxiety.”

“You are sick, in your head.”

“Only 1% of benzodiazepine users have complaints.”

“It’s not possible you’re having withdrawals because you’re still on a benzo.” (Patient was in tolerance withdrawal)

“You need to go to rehab.”

“You have to take these for the rest of your life for the worst anxiety I have ever seen.”

“How does it feel to be a drug addict?”

“So, your best friend’s name is Valium?”

“You have some unresolved childhood issues and a chemical imbalance that needs to be addressed.”

“This kind of stuff (mental illness) runs in your family and obviously you are no exception.”

“You’re too focused on your bodily sensations.”

“Your PTSD is getting worse even if you say it’s not.”

“Anxiety and depression cause aches, pains and physical illness – that’s all this is.”

“Some women just can’t handle trauma and you need more drugs.”

“Your PTSD has now caused depression, fatigue, etc”

“You have to take these drugs the rest of your life.”

“You have to go to detox.”

“The worst that can happen is rebound anxiety for a couple days.”

“You just want something else to have caused your problems.”

“You’re having problems because the underlying issues you had developed are presenting after you remove the drug.”

“If that was true, you’d be in the hospital.”

“You are making this up to get attention.”

“You should not be feeling the effects of a 4 mg Xanax cold turkey after two weeks.”

“You must be bipolar.”

Patient: “I want off this stuff – it’s not working.” Doctor: “No, It’s probably still helping. You can take Seroquel, a drug to help with sleep since the Klonlopin isn’t helping with sleep. It’s probably helping your mood.”

“Withdrawal doesn’t last that long.”

“You need to take Prozac for the anxiety issues you’re having.”

“You should seek cognitive training to deal with your inability to think straight.”

“Benzodiazepines don’t do that.”

“Hallucinations? You saw the devil???? Maybe you’ve become bipolar. I’m going to send you for some psychological testing.” (Benzodiazepines/withdrawal can cause hallucinations)

“You will be okay once you talk to someone.”

“Medications don’t cause dependency.”

“Don’t read about these drugs on the Internet – you can’t believe what they say on the Internet.”

“I’ll give you Lexapro up to the maximum dose and hope it will help.”

“I’ll give you Effexor up to the maximum dose and hope it will help.”

“It’s a problem with your pituitary.”

“Benzos are not known to cause the degree of side effects or withdrawal you are describing.”

“You’re just having a mid-life crisis.”

Upon patient becoming suicidal and harming self (not uncommon side effects of these drugs), doctor asked, “What on earth possessed you?”


What seems to cloud the issue is that some people who take this dangerous class of drug, either do not recognize or do not report major issues and may have little to no problems stopping the benzodiazepine. This does not make the drug any safer or less risky to take. But it does seem to make it very easy for doctors to dismiss the risks as well as the actual patients who are legitimately experiencing severe physical dependence and damage from “therapeutic doses” of benzodiazepines they have taken exactly as prescribed.

The fact remains, these drugs are creating varying, increasing physical health issues and severe mental decline in an alarming percentage of patients. This is a widespread, ever-growing problem that needs serious attention. The issue has been swept under the rug for way too long, but now, more than ever, education and awareness are imperative among medical professionals in order for patients to receive the validation and assistance they need to regain their health. Being harmed by the drugs is bad enough, but then being dismissed and ignored by trusted medical professionals on top of it makes the entire situation even more complex and devastating. Adding further insult to injury, many responsible patients who are taking their benzodiazepine exactly as prescribed, suffering from adverse effects, inter-dose and tolerance withdrawal and neurotoxicity, are being labeled addicts and accused of abusing their prescription.

Negligent, dismissive attitudes from medical professionals often lead these patients away from addressing the serious root problem (the benzodiazepine) and down an even more destructive path laden with increasing dosages and additional diagnoses and medications. In some cases, patients may even end up with hospital or psychiatric ward stays, becoming disabled and losing years of their lives. Tragically, this pervasive lack of education regarding this class of drug has even been responsible for death among responsible patients. Yes, it is this serious.

Those who realize what is going on and are trying to get off of the benzodiazepines and heal are too often left to fend for themselves. They feel alone and hopeless as they try to cope with severe illness, consistently dealing with invalidation and even combative attitudes coming from their doctors. Despite the ample research and evidence available, many doctors remain unaware, resist seeking education on the matter and continue to deny these problems exist.

This is why spreading awareness and education is so critical. Professionals should be able to both recognize the problem and support their patient in managing it.

Patients need to be aware that, in many ways, they will have to be their own advocate. Uninformed or “controlling” doctors need more education regarding benzodiazepines so they are able to recognize and identify the signs and potential problems coming from the drugs, how to safely taper patients off of them, as well as how to give the appropriate validation and support needed for what is sometimes a very long, grueling process. They also need to be aware that, even once a patient comes off the benzodiazepine, it can take time, sometimes many months and even years, for the patient to recover from the neurological dysfunction and damage caused by the drug.

In this short (0:47) clip, benzodiazepine activist Heather addresses the medical community in regards to this dismissive invalidation that iatrogenic benzodiazepine victims experience:

Click on CC for captions in English.

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