What do Valium, Serapax, Mogadon and Normison all have in common? If you guessed: they are all benzodiazepines:highly addictive and commonly prescribed medications for insomnia you are correct!
According to official figures from NPS MedicineWise round 6million prescriptions for benzodiazepines were dispensed in 2018 although once off-label and hospital scripts are included the true figure is likely to be much higher.
Even though the problems associated with benzodiazepines are well known they are still routinely prescribed without warnings that they are highly addictive and should only be used for short term use.
How do they work?
Benzodiazepines depress the central nervous system and temporarily slow the workings of your brain, briefly masking symptoms of anxiety or insomnia. Taking these medications for even a few days can lead to what’s called ‘tolerance’ where you need a higher dose to achieve the same relief and without the medication your symptoms are worse than before you started taking the medication. It can be a slippery slope to high dosages and complete dependency
The side effects that occur when you stop taking benzodiazepines can be brutal and may include insomnia and anxiety as well as headaches, aching muscles, dizziness, tremors, nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, delusions, hallucination, paranoia and seizures. It is absolutely possible to stop taking benzodiazepines but it must be done gradually and with expert medical supervision.
Sadly benzodiazepines are also one of the most commonly misused pharmaceuticals, with approximately half (48.8%) of all drug-related deaths associated with benzodiazepines according to the Royal Australian College of GP’s(RACGP)
What To Do If You Can’t Sleep
If you’re currently using medication for chronic insomnia, talk to your GP and make a plan. The RACGP recommends the best initial treatment for chronic insomnia is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy so hopefully you leave your GP’s office with a referral to a psychologist not a prescription for pills.
In my practice I have found acupuncture and herbal medicine to be especially effective for insomnia. Herbs are non-addictive and when prescribed accurately, treat the cause as well as the symptoms of insomnia so once normal sleep is restored you no longer need to take them. Generic ‘off-the-shelf’ herbal remedies can sometimes work but given the many different reasons for insomnia, individually prescribed combinations tend to work much better.
Acupuncture is a well-known and evidence-based treatment for stress. I often describe it as ‘training wheels’ for a nervous system that has to re-learn how to switch off and unwind. It might seem counter intuitive that sticking needles in someone would cause them to relax but talk to someone who’s tried it at they’ll tell you how powerfully it can restore an agitated nervous system to a state of calm and ease.
Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stress, anxiety and depression.
Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and well-being so they can live life to the full.
Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of meditatewithwes.com an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist.