Rethinking Anxiety Treatments: Are Current Mental Health Therapies a Cause Early-onset Dementia?

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Guest Spotlight: Nicole Lamberson, PA (Film: Medicating Normal)

It may be a good idea to disrupt your thinking about how we manage anxiety and other mental health issues because the statistics in this are of healthcare are SHOCKING.

It might be news to you that many of the medications commonly prescribed for these issueS (anxiety, depression, ADHD) can lead to serious long-term issues with the nervous system and brain function. Although we do have a good deal of research demonstrating the negative impact of these drugs, we are yet to fully appreciate the long term brain health risks.

There is a quiet pandemic of over-prescribing when it comes to psychiatric medications and my biggest concern is that we are prescribing these medications to younger and younger patients whose brains are not yet fully developed.

Let’s look at a few statistics:

  • Did you know that almost 10% of CHILDREN are being prescribed antipsychotic medications, ⅓ of all kids ages 12-18 are on antidepressants and about 43% of young adults ages 19-21 are on them???
  • Did you know that that antidepressant prescriptions have increased 35% in the last 6 years and that 8.6 million patients are currently on them?
  • Did you know that 19% of the population has been diagnosed with anxiety and have been prescribed medications for it?
  • Did you know that most most prescribing providers have not been trained to safely withdraw a patient from these medications, and that risks of rapid uncontrolled withdrawal can lead to severe and life-threatening symptoms??

On a recent podcast, I discussed this quiet, but expansive, mental health crisis with my guest, Nicole Lamberson, is a Physician Assistant who practiced in an Urgent Care and Occupational Medicine setting until severe illness from benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome left her unable to work.

In 2005, she was prescribed xanax for “work-related stress”. Over the course of five years, she developed many classic symptoms of benzodiazepine tolerance—including inter-dose withdrawal—which multiple psychiatrists misdiagnosed as so-called “mental illness.”

This resulted in prescribed polypharmacy to “treat” the troubling symptoms of tolerance. She was placed on two benzodiazepines prescribed simultaneously, a Z-drug, a stimulant, an antidepressant, and an antipsychotic. In late 2010, after discovering a magazine article authored by a journalist experiencing similar symptoms from his prescribed benzodiazepine, Nicole was prompted to research further and made the connection between her own troubling symptoms and the medication. This was followed by her immediate decision to withdraw.

In hopes of receiving professional support to safely withdraw from the myriad of medications she was on, she entered a “detox” center, but unfortunately, she was negligently removed from her medications in a cold-turkey approach instead of the recommended and safer slow-taper approach. This approach, unfortunately, is the most common technique used and this is simply due to poor education of the providers managing these situations.

For Nicole, the sudden withdrawal from her medications ultimately resulted in a severe and protracted withdrawal syndrome that persists to date. Since then, she has used the painfully-acquired knowledge on this topic to work on a number of initiatives and for organizations that help others in a similar circumstance.

She co-founded The Withdrawal Project, a “living library” of wisdom about the most responsible, risk-reducing ways of tapering off and healing from the effects of psychiatric drugs. She serves on the Medical Advisory Board of Benzodiazepine Information Coalition, is a founding member of the Benzodiazepine Action Work Group of the Colorado Consortium, and is an associate at the International Institute for Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal.

Nicole is also the head of marketing, distribution, and outreach for the documentary Medicating Normal (as seen on PBS). This position has given her opportunities to host education on a related Facebook Live series where she was able to gain further knowledge from interviewing experts and survivors of psychiatric drug withdrawal.

Nicole currently serves on the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s patient panel that is advising on the development of a clinical practice guideline on the safe tapering of benzodiazepines for the FDA.

For more information, check out the podcast episode:

What do you do if you are trying to recovery from benzodiazepines (and other psychiatric medications)?

First, seek help. Search out the resources listed below to identify practitioners who can guide you through safe withdrawal.

Educate yourself about this condition and stop thinking that you are crazy. You aren’t. It isn’t all in your head.

As it pertains to holistic brain health support- find a compassionate practitioner who understands the complexity of benzodiazepines and how they alter neurophysiology. This alteration can lead to heightened sensitivity to even the smallest doses of NATURAL herbs and supplements. I find that homeopathic support, quantum biofeedback and careful, SLOW micronutrient supplementation to be tolerated well in most cases.

When possible, seek functional neurology support to help identify the areas of the brain and brain pathways that have been altered the most by the medications. A functional neurologist will do targeted “physical therapy of the brain.” In most cases, this is a week-long intensive therapy with ongoing home exercises and follow ups. Please see resources listed below for recommended clinics and practitioners. Look for upcoming podcast episodes to understand the field of functional neurology.

The best approach should be multimodal- first withdraw from you prescriptions appropriately, with the help of a knowledgeable practitioner. Then, begin work with holistic health practitioner who has education in pharmacology (preferable training in holistic health and allopathic/traditional medicine). Then, introduce neural retraining through the help of a functional neurologist. Your functional neurologist should be open to communication with your holistic health practitioner and they should work closely to ensure your best outcome.

It takes a team to recover from the most challenging health issues. Walking this path alone is impossible, so be sure that you also surround yourself with strong, supportive, loving family and friends. It is ok to place healthy boundaries around relationships that distract from your goal of healing.

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