The Unknown Risks of Prescription Addiction

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Raena Morgan: Doctor Kohls, can prescription drugs be addicting?

Dr. Gary Kohls: Oh, absolutely.  One of the most addictive drugs is the class of drugs called Benzodiazepines which are the Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, the Xanax.  Terribly addicting.  In fact, doctors aren't supposed to prescribe those for more than a very brief time, just for a brief anxiety, or brief insomnia.  And yet, it probably takes less than a couple weeks for some people to become so dependent on that, that they have withdrawal symptoms when they quit.  They may take it for a couple weeks, then their prescription runs out, now they're having worse anxiety because they're going through withdrawal.  Any time you have a withdrawal symptoms stopping a drug, by definition, that was an addicting drug.  So the valium is just notorious, it's been on the market for 50 years, you know.

Morgan: Right, back in the 50's that was the... the housewife and the valium thing and they were overprescribing valium and they were making cocktails... that would exacerbate it.

Kohls: Yeah.  And there's still people on valium now that can't get off of it.  For 50 years they can't get off of it.  And ah... and so then they come up with the new one, the latest one is Klonopin, they say, 'well this is less addicting'.  Well that's because we don't have any experience, very much experience yet to find out how addicting it actually is.  So, the drug industry kind of hides the bad news.

Morgan:  What about the antidepressants... are they...?

Kohls:  Yes, they're addicting too.  I, my practice is largely helping people get off of their drugs.  People come to me, they've been on drugs for a while, they try to go off themselves, they have terrible withdrawal effects.  They have to go back on it to ameliorate the withdrawal.  And their doctor doesn't know what to do.  Doctors are good at prescribing drugs but not at taking them off.  Nobody wants that responsibility.  My practice has evolved into being the doctor that takes the responsibility for helping people get off.  And it's hard work.  And it's risky but people are suffering.  So I developed a method which is, has been fairly effective.  I've taken hundreds and hundreds of people, help them get off of their medications.  And it's a complicated thing and kind of hazardous.  It's hard work for the patient too because they have to go through withdrawal.

Morgan: So do they wean themselves off, cut the dose?

Kohls: Yeah, it's a slow process of weaning, and there's a lot of factors that are involved, the length of time a person's been on the med, the combinations of med, the dosage strength, how malnourished they are, whether they're smokers, or they're caffeine addicts or...

Morgan: Or even if they drink, right?

Kohls: Alcoholics, yes.  And how malnourished they are is a huge one.  So, it's combination of slow, gradual withdrawal and nutritional support for the brain.

Morgan:  But most people didn't know that these drugs were addicting, right?  You could just take them through a grief period and then stop taking them, but that's not true, correct?

Kohls: Well, it depends. Some people can do that and have very minimal withdrawal symptoms.  If they take them, if they've been on them just a short time or low dose.  I've had many of my patients come back in a week or two after the first visit when I've said 'lets just go real slow', and they come back and say 'I just quite' and it's fine.  So, it depends on a lot of factors, some of which we may not even understand, but it probably depends on the length of time, how many drugs they've been on, what the dosage strengths, how high the dose is, ect.  When people come in and say, I've been on you know, Prozac for 15 years and I've been on Trazodone for 10 and I've been on Effexer for 5, I roll my eyes and say 'I don't know, this is going to be tough and do you really want to go through this?'  And I tell them about the withdrawal symptoms and the nutritional supplements they'll need to take in addition.  And it may be overwhelming for some people.  If people don't have any support, they're all by themselves, they're already on disability because of the drugs, disabled the brain and they can't work sometimes.  And they're heavy smokers and they're heavy Mountain Dew drinkers and they're couch potatoes, they may not have the emotional strength to do this.  They may be doomed.  I try, but if they're isolated and there's no family support, or the family sabotages it or they say 'don't take him off his drugs, you know, when he tries to go off of them he goes crazy.'  He's going through withdrawal, it's not his disease coming back.  The family will often not want that to happen because sometimes they go through withdrawal and wind up back in the hospital.  And that does happen.  But it's the withdrawal from the drug and not their disease that's doing it, in most cases, in my opinion.

Morgan: But they weren't diseased in the first place, in all likelihood.

Kohls:  That's true, they may have been nutritionally deprived, they might have had post traumatic stress disorder, the psychological trauma from all the violence that they may have been subjected to.  Just as an example, one of my areas of expertise is the combat post traumatic stress disorder from Vietnam.  These guys come back just have experienced just gruesome death and violence and the fear of their own death and killing people and killing innocent people and blood and guts and just horrible suffering that they've experienced.  That changes them forever.  And they come back and they have flashbacks and they have nightmares and they... suicidal, depressed and anxious and manicy.  And they get labeled by the VA as paranoid schizophrenia... of unknown cause, rather than post traumatic stress disorder with psychotic features or with flashbacks.  They call them hallucinations so they're automatically schizophrenic.  So then they get on a drug.  They get on a schizophrenia drug or they get hospitalized or committed, or wind up on the street, unable to work, die in the gutter, drinking to assuage the pain.  And so, those aren't mental illnesses, that's what happens to normal people when they're in crisis situations.  But the brain has been neurologically affected by the bad food and the lead from the bullets and the smoke that they inhaled and the diarrhea that they had the depleted uranium in the case of Iran, Iraq veterans.  Those are all toxic substances.  All the shots they get, had mercury in many of them.  So there are mercury traumatized brains too, so they're, the brains are just not... such a mental...

Morgan: So they're not diseased, they're toxic.

Kohls: It's neurologic, often times, yes.  

Morgan: They're very toxic.

Kohls: So it's emotional stress.

Morgan: The emotions are toxic too, right?

Kohls: That's right.  And the emotions are toxic permanently perhaps, or at least long term because when people are under chronic stress, their adrenal glands are pumping out cortisol, which is brain damaging, and adrenaline, which is brain damaging.  And, when you're, we can tolerate that, humans are supposed to have cortisol and adrenaline surges from time to time when we're afraid or when we're running away from danger.  But when it's a 24 hour, seven day a week thing, it harms the brain.  And so, people are under chronic stress as in the war zone or just being a refugee or being a victim of the war or being abused at home.  Any of those chronic traumas alter the brain as well, anatomically and chemically.  So it's not just, we can't, we don't say 'well we don't understand why somebody can't forget... the rape.'  It's, there's something else going on besides the emotional stress or the crisis.  It's a chemical kind of damage that's being done to them.  And that all then results in altered brain cells which need nutrient help and things we mentioned earlier with the omega-3 fatty acids, the amino acids, the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and good food.  And avoidance of more toxins from the food supply, the water or whatever. 

Morgan: OK, thank you very much.

Kohls: You're welcome.



Dr. Gary Kohls discusses the many dangers of many strong but common prescription drugs that lead to addiction. He talks about how hard it is to get off of some of these drugs and what people face that have been on them for a long time.

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