Edward Drummond, M.D., a psychiatrist, teaches his patients how
to overcome such chronic anxiety disorders as excessive worrying, irrational
fears and panic attacks without the use of tranquilizers. It is an
unusual practice for a medical doctor, and there is a story behind it.
In his medical practice, he found that most patients with such psychiatric disorders as depression, schizophrenia, or manic-depressive disorders derived significant benefits from medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. However, there was one group of people who didn't seem to get better with medication alone.
That was the group of patients who were suffering from chronic anxiety.
Chronic anxiety is that which has persisted for a period of six months
or longer. Dr. Drummond observed that people who suffered from chronic
anxiety disorders and who took a "benzo" (benzodiazepins) such as Valium,
Xanax, Ativan or Klonopin, got no significant relief from this treatment,
and, over a period of time actually got worse.
In his book, Overcoming Anxiety Without Tranquilizers, Drummond says, "I have come to see that benzodiazepins have profoundly negative effects on a person's life, and that the only way to help a patient overcome chronic anxiety is to help him or her get off his medication." Drummond feels that medications such as Valium, Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin are habit forming and can impair memory and motor coordination.
This doctor wants to do more for his patients than just treat their symptoms. He wants them to learn to manage their anxiety in ways that would strengthen their sense of themselves and bolster their confidence and self-esteem.
Patients who must take benzos to face such everyday situations as meeting others or going to a store lose self-confidence over time. It is hard for them to believe in themselves in the face to such a problem.
I have worked with many patients who, for years, took benzos for panic attacks. Due to their fear of panic attacks, they increasingly avoided getting out of the house. They were not totally confined to their homes; they were able to get out with the aid of benzoes. But having become dependent on the benzos, they began each day with feelings of dread. Medication fostered dependency, diminished self-confidence, and taught no new skills to tackle the situations around them. Life became too narrow and unsatisfying.
They developed new fears, adding to their ever-growing list of situations that caused severe discomfort and needed to be avoided. Each situation in their outer world became "dangerous." Thus, while previously they sensed danger from just a few sources, now they perceived danger all around them.
One reason (apart from the side effect of the medication) that some chronic anxiety patients have trouble sleeping is the vast number of people and situations they must fear. They are surrounded by "dangers." To borrow an analogy from the song about Old McDonald's farm, how can one sleep if one has an enemy here, an enemy there, and an enemy everywhere? The fact is that there is no short cut and no easy way out. The dragons have to be slain one by one.
People can learn to extricate their lives from the clutches of anxiety. They should seek the help of a therapist who can teach them effective and powerful methods to approach rather than avoid that which makes them anxious. They should force themselves out of the house and into the public situations. They should learn ways to calm their fears.
Pills may be used to manage illnesses, but not to manage life itself.
People, and not pills, should be in control of their lives. Drummond
says, "Although it's only too easy to prescribe benzos, unfortunately they
are no cure-they are prescriptions for disaster."
Drummond, therefore, teaches his patients new skills. He prepares them for several weeks before reducing their daily dosage. He reduces the dosage very gradually. For example, he would cut a patient's dose by ten percent in the first month. As the patient learns new ways to master the anxiety rather than reaching for the pill, the doctor, each month, would make another small cut in the patient's daily dosage.
As the patient involves himself or herself in new situations and new activities, his or her preoccupation with anxiety and the pill also decreases. Finally, as the patient develops greater self-confidence and finds life more satisfying, he or she can accomplish the goal of living a medicine-free life.
Return to Self Help
Copyright 1996, Mind