Yeah. So Stay Away from Xanax.
For more than half a decade I’ve struggled with my sleep. Being a pastor, 24-7 news-hound, and regularly working a 12 to 18 hour day means that I usually work until it’s bedtime (with a few breaks here and there for family). I teach 4-5 Bible studies during evenings in the week, often more than an hour from home in outlying communities. This lifestyle of work is my preference, desiring to be “poured out like a drink offering” to God, with the hopeful prayer that when I expire from this life I do so on nothing but fumes.
I observe an entire day for the Sabbath, taking time for rest and total cessation from anything besides corporate worship. I try not to even turn on my brain on Sunday, if possible, and wouldn’t dream of looking at the news. Recreation in my life consists of an occasional retreat to my cabin or a few weeks set aside for hunting various creatures in the right season.
However, because of my usual work schedule, I covet my sleep. And most importantly, I do not have the time to lay in bed staring at the ceiling and counting sheep. If I have 8 hours scheduled for sleep, or 6, spending an hour or more trying to fall asleep seems like an inappropriate waste of time.
And so several years ago I told my physician of my sleep issues, who prescribed me a hypnotic sleep medicine which worked fabulously and for me was a medical miracle. I could take a pill and go to sleep, which helped me be the high-functioning person I desire to be during my waking hours. But after long, the medicine stopped working well due to tolerance and so the doctor prescribed to me a little drug known as Xanax.
Like the previous medication, it was fabulous. Without a single word of caution regarding the drug or its dangers, least of all its withdrawal symptoms, the doctor told me to take a few and nod off to restful bliss.
I never took it in the day time and nor did I use it to change my moods or alter my state of mind. Although it is usually prescribed for anxiety, its secondary use is often for sleep, the reason why I was prescribed it. I took two one-milligram tabs and was out like a light in twenty minutes.
Two years went by without a problem. I was thankful for the drug, as it made me less reliant upon the hypnotic sleep agent, which although was affective, meant I had to immediately go to bed or risk being goofy-headed (something that the Scripture repeatedly warns about and is classified under “drunkenness,” the sin of not being in full mental control). There were no similar problems with Xanax, which merely made me drift softly into dreamland and out of my system by wakey-wakey.
Fast-forward to the end of December, between Christmas and New Year.
I woke up one day, thinking I was dying of some mysterious illness. I had recently been diagnosed with gall bladder trouble, which after two canceled surgeries I prayed the Lord would heal by his Providence, which he immediately did (I have been told that gallstones virtually never “heal themselves” and additionally was told that I needed immediate surgery, but God answers prayers and took away that problem).
My symptoms were bizarre. I first felt that I was hypoglycemic, shaking uncontrollably and feeling ravenously hungry. But then, my forearms and lower legs were tingling and felt numb. I could not maintain thoughts or concentrate on my work.
I had strong sensory sensitivity, not being able to withstand lights or loud sounds. I wanted to just lay in the dark, which is what I did.
And then, I began to feel emotional. Songs made me weirdly emotional, which is not something that ordinarily happens as I’m not into music and aren’t easily given to emotion. I thought to myself jokingly, “I think I’m going through menopause.”
And so, I began to WebMD my symptoms.
“It’s not that. It’s not that. It’s not that.”
And then…it struck me. I had gone three days without Xanax, the result of a combination of happenstances, ranging from leaving home without it to just forgetting to take it because – being on vacation between Christmas and New Year – didn’t have a work schedule that required me getting straight to sleep.
I was going through Xanax withdrawal.
I have never – in my life – experienced anything remotely close to that. Had I known from the first day what was happening to my body I would have immediately taken another dose. However, I was three days into a serious withdrawal in what online medical advice websites said takes five days. They also recommend not going ‘cold turkey’ but I figured I already had started and might as well finish.
And so, I stuck to it and decided to rid my life of that little narcotic. In the end, the severe withdrawal symptoms lasted 8 to 9 days and what followed was a month of lethargy onset by a wicked case of insomnia, the consequence of being dependent upon the drug to sleep.
I began to take Melatonin, consulted with my doctor and given a non-addictive hypnotic (Lunestra is garbage, by the way), and took the trusty antihistamine sleep aid. The doctor is now trying something else. Most drastically, and may God help me, I even tried cutting back on the Mt. Dew (it’s the End of Days apparently). Exasperated, the doctor recommended I take a few “shots” of liquor prior to bed, but as Scott Stephens knows (who has been my resident alcohol consultant) I’m not man enough for whiskey and have absolutely not acquired the taste. I’ve tried Sleepy Time Tea, sleep stories, sleep hygiene improvements, etc.
My regiment now more-or-less works, although some nights my sleep is at best 4-5 hours which I don’t totally detest considering a few extra hours in the morning helps get things done.
However, back to Xanax. My doctor prescribed it without a moment’s thought. He scribbled out the prescription without a single word of caution like, “Getting off the stuff is like heroin withdrawal.”
Ultimately, I’m to blame. The lesson learned is to thoroughly research everything you put in your body and don’t assume that a prescription makes a drug less dangerous than something found on the black market.
I’ve watched with extreme sympathy as renowned thinker, Jordan Peterson, has entered rehab after Xanax wrecked his existence. Peterson’s family and doctors claim he was not “psychologically dependent” but “physically dependent,” meaning that his body required it rather than his mind. Due to no fault of his own, Peterson has literally been fighting for his life for over a year with what only took me 8 or so days to defeat. I can’t imagine how unbearable his life is currently.
Kids, just say no to drugs. For real.
“I don’t drink, I don’t chew, I don’t date girls who do” might as well be my life motto. The Royal Ambassador pledge I learned as a kid promised to “keep myself clean and healthy in mind and body.” I would never have considered taking an illicit substance or be irresponsibly flirtatious with alcohol. Until well into my twenties the hardest substance I ever ingested was smoking a little grapevine (a hillbilly tradition) with my Ozarkian peers (don’t try that, it’s basically sucking on bark).
And yet here I was, explaining to the people I worked with and was responsible to, “I know this sounds weird…but I’m going through withdrawal. Leave me alone for a while” as I curled up into the fetal position on the floor.
Learn this lesson: You don’t have to abuse a substance to become addicted to it. Remember that the next time you take an addictive substance. You don’t have to be using some substances “to excess” to develop a dependency.
Also learn this lesson: You don’t have to know you’re dependent upon something in order to be dependent upon it. You won’t find out until you stop taking it.
Also learn this lesson: If a prescription drug causes symptoms FAR WORSE than the ones it treats, don’t take it.
Like, that erectile dysfunction medicine may look good but if there are 30 seconds of disclaimers at the end of the commercial with an auctioneer naming off side-effects like “oily discharge” maybe give it a second thought.
Every year, 70 million (growing at a 9% rate annually) prescriptions are written for Xanax in the U.S., which is basically one in four Americans. More than 124 thousand ER visits are made each year because of its side-effects. It’s estimated that well more than half of those prescribed Xanax become dependent upon it within two weeks, with many suffering withdrawal symptoms after a SINGLE dose.
So…just say no to that garbage. Insomnia isn’t all that bad.
[Contributed by JD Hall]
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