The “Benzo-Disease” Is Widespread – And Getting Worse
by Professor Bob Johnson
IGNORANCE OF THE MIND, is no excuse. It’s all too easy to get lost in too many mental machinations – how the mind works, where it comes from, what makes it tick. These are questions we’ll never fully know the answer to. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. The way through is to grasp those bits we can understand and make the most of them – it’s what every doctor and every healthcare worker in the world does, all day long. They don’t know ALL the answers – nobody does – but given enough thought, care, and experience, they, and we, can make a significant difference. And when it comes to psychiatric drugs, we all need to take careful note, and then do something about it, urgently, because otherwise it will continue to get even worse than it is at present.
A PILL FOR EVERY ILL, sounds wonderful – but every pill has side-effects, some very toxic indeed. So we need to take far more care. We love the idea that we can pop a pill and all our troubles will be over – alcohol has been our favourite social ‘tranquiliser’, our go-to sedative, for millennia. Even today, people grab a gin and tonic, at the slightest stress. BUT what if your very own doctor prescribed a G & T, three times a day – what would you think of that? Because it happens. And it happens all too often – watch.
I was once invited to travel to North Wales to give a talk to GP trainees on how they could do better. I told them that too many doctors’ prescriptions amounted to taking alcohol three times a day – it went down well with the ‘students’, but the organisers were horrified, so they didn’t invite me back. That’s the trouble – doctors, and I am one – don’t like to hear of their mistakes, especially when they didn’t know they were doing them. But that doesn’t stop the damage. And the sooner we all wake up, and tell the medical profession to take a good long hard look at itself, the better. And if the doctors don’t do it themselves, we’ll need to raise such a rumpus, they can’t ignore it.
Now when you're dealing with problems of the mind, before you get mired in a whole lot of mud, it’s best to stick to hard, well known and obvious medical facts. This is the key to unpicking the notion that mental problems are beyond explanation. Some are, and some aren’t. Best to stick to the ones we can understand.
So let’s begin with alcohol. This has been around for yonks. It eases social frictions, and affords some sort of (temporary) peace-of-mind – but it comes with an obvious cost, indeed a number of them. Everyone knows that alcohol carries serious medical risks. Not everyone listens, but the facts are indisputable. This indisputability is unusual when discussing mental troubles, but it’s perfectly true.
More people know more about the ‘side-effects’ of alcohol than of any other drug you care to name. And alcohol is a drug – it impacts on your mind, whoever you are. So the thing to look out for is – do doctors recommend it? Could they be prescribing ‘alcohol-substitutes’? Because if they are – they, and we, need to wake up fast, and make doing so illegal.
IN SUM, alcohol is well known to produce four major problems. They are (1) addiction, (2) anti-social behaviour, (3) brain damage, and (4) the DTs.
Now bear in mind that, though we are discussing alcohol, the fact is that nearly all the other drugs which work on the mind, do so in a surprisingly similar way. This happens to be one of the simpler aspects of the human mind. Chemicals which impact on it, via the brain, almost invariably follow identical pathways, remarkably closely. The way the brain copes with alcohol, is exactly the same way it does for far too many ‘psychiatric’ drugs. Benzos especially.
Take the four ‘risks’ alcohol poses, in turn. Bear in mind that the crucial difference between prescribed drugs and alcohol is that the decision to take alcohol, or not, is entirely OURS. Taking alcohol can never come with the authority of the medical profession, because they and we, all know better. A doctor who prescribed habit-forming drugs, including alcohol, would face serious medical reprimands – and rightly so.
Starting with (1) addiction. Again this can get complicated very quickly, so keeping things as simple as possible, let’s just say that addiction happens when it seems like you can’t do without something. It could be any number of things, but alcohol is well known to induce this implacable ‘longing’. ‘Where’s my next drink?’ becomes the overriding question for far too many alcoholics. When alcohol becomes more important than anything else – then you know you're addicted. Bear in mind that if a prescribed drug ever became this important, then something has gone seriously wrong medically. To be rendered unable to face life without your ‘medical fix’, is a disaster for both doctor and patient alike. And again, sadly enough, it happens.
(2) Anti-social behaviour – this hardly needs emphasising. ‘Drunk and disorderly’ is too well known to be doubted. The technical term is ‘disinhibition’. The person afflicted loses all social sense. Violence is commonplace. Many lives, especially of those you live with, can be seriously scarred. What if this were to happen, not because you chose to become drunk – but because you followed orthodox medical advice, like any ordinary citizen should be able to, and battered those you love ‘by mistake’, or under the influence. Again doctors should bear full responsibility, and be prepared to pay extensive compensation – if this ever happened because of a drug, a psychiatric drug, they had recommended and prescribed. Again, this does happen, and it’s time notice was taken of it, such that it became illegal.
(3) Brain damage – in the Paris metro, they used to put up glass cages with cirrhotic livers in them, to warn passengers that alcohol pickles the liver. Of course we use alcohol in the kitchen for precisely the same reason – it alters the chemicals involved, and the items thus pickled last longer. So why is it a surprise that this drug has a similar impact on our very own brain tissue? It does. It can be proved to. And so, worse for all of us, do too many psychiatric drugs. For many years now, it has been well known from brainscan work, that some psychiatric drugs actually shrink brain tissue1 – your brain gets smaller when you take these pernicious, but prescribed, drugs – wow. Indeed a study of Swedish conscripts2 showed that those who had been prescribed so-called ‘anti-psychotics’ as teenagers developed dementia sooner than those who weren’t. The records followed them for ~37 years. Doctors making dementia worse? How can this be tolerated? Dementia is increasing all the time – some see it as our next, and worst, ‘epidemic’. Here’s a known causative factor that’s been ignored for far too long. Time for concerted action – now.
Finally, (4) the DTs. Pink elephants are traditionally what drunkards see when their supply is cut off. Known as the DTs, short for Delirium Tremens, or ‘shaking deliriums’, it is closely similar to ‘going cold turkey’. The brain has got used to a certain level of chemical assault, and it reacts, badly, when the supply stops. I join an emailing list of some 350 psychiatrists from around the world, and they give heart-rending accounts of how difficult some people find coming off, not alcohol, but doctor-prescribed pills. Some of these drugs have a chemical action which seems to seek out the weakest spot. Coming off them requires extraordinary care and skill. Play it wrong, or too quickly – and the symptoms that afflict you are vastly worse than the original disease. This is doctors making matters worse – a whole bunch of symptoms come into being, when you actually try and stop swallowing the very tablets that the doctor has advised you to take. Never stop psychiatric drugs abruptly. What a dreadful thing to have to say. But it’s today’s medical fact of life. And it will continue until we get the medical profession to wake up to what it is doing. Alcohol three times a day might even give you fewer side-effects than this.
BUT WHAT IF THESE HARMFUL DRUGS DON’T HELP? Study their effects over 20 years, and you find they don’t. Look at the graph below3. The red are those duly taking their prescribed medication – those not, are in the green. You end up far worse, if you do what the doctor says – wow, indeed.
IN CONCLUSION – Am I the only one trying to whistle-blow here? Indeed not. The Myth Of The Chemical Cure is a book published in 2007, fully 16 years ago, by Dr Joanna MonCrieff, a well established university lecturer in psychiatry. She concludes (last page) – ‘It helps to lift the veil of medical jargon, exposing our ‘miracle cures’ as psychoactive chemicals, which distort normal brain function by producing a state of intoxication’. Here the overlap between psychiatrists’ drugs and alcohol comes home to roost. How long do we have to wait? The whole issue has been competently discussed by the celebrated science journalist, Robert Whitaker – his 2015 book says it all: Psychiatry Under the Influence: Institutional Corruption, Social Injury, and Prescriptions for Reform4. This was written in conjunction with the Harvard Center for Ethics. It has had zero impact on established psychiatry. You begin to wonder what will. What we’re talking about here is the tip of a toxic ice-berg. The ‘Benzo- Disease’ is widespread – and getting worse – time for action, time for laws, time we shifted this medical incubus. And if not us, who?
1 Moncrieff, J. (2007). The myth of the chemical cure: A critique of psychiatric drug treatment. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
2 Nordström, P., Nordström, A., Eriksson, M., Wahlund, L., & Gustafson, Y. (2013). Risk factors in late adolescence for young-onset dementia in men, a nationwide cohort study. JAMA Intern. Med., 173(17), 1612-1618. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.9079.
3 Harrow, M., Jobe, T. H., & Faull, R. N. (2014). Does Treatment of Schizophrenia with Antipsychotic Medications Eliminate or Reduce Psychosis? A 20-Year Multi-Follow-Up Study. Psychological Medicine, 1-10.
4 Whitaker, R., & Cosgrove, L. (Contributor). (2015). Psychiatry under the influence: Institutional corruption, social injury, and prescriptions for reform. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dr. Bob Johnson is a consultant psychiatrist, currently on the UK GMC specialty register, with a special interest and expertise in the long term effects of trauma, and how to remedy them. He initially trained in the Therapeutic Community Approach, followed by two years in a New York State hospital. For 20 years, he was a Family Doctor in Tameside, Lancashire, UK, exploring family structures and uncovering the dire impact trauma has on cognition. Then, as a prison psychiatrist in Parkhurst Prison, UK, from 1991 to 1996. He worked with 50 murderers, entailing up to 2000 hours of unaccompanied consultations, with some 700 hours videotaped, working out with them why they killed. He is currently publishing a series of philosophy papers, clarifying the philosophical basis for this, with particular reference to psychiatric reform, social stability, and planetary health. His book, Friendless Childhoods Explain War, is coming out in July 2023 by Waterside Press UK.