Please Explain: Anxiety and Benzodiazepenes

Friday, March 23, 2012

Please Explain is all about the anti-anxiety medications benzodiazepenes. Psychologist Dr. Douglas Mennin and Lisa Miller, contributing editor at New York magazine, whose article “Listening to Xanax” appears in the March 26 issue of the magazine, explain how they work and why they’re addictive.


Dr. Douglas Mennin and Lisa Miller

Comments [49]


I do not think the "judgmental" stands. Leonard is one of the best. It is not fair that one, very possibly, depressed listener who was using drugs, accused Leonard of being "judgmental".

Leonard, I am so glad that you stood up for yourself and you have most listeners stand by you. We treasure you, we appreciate you.

I listen to you everyday- If I miss one show, I listen to podcast.

All the best.

Mar. 26 2012 12:45 PM

Why is Leonard so hostile to his callers? He was also snippy to that poor caller earlier that was just trying to give her correct name. It was not her fault that the wrong name came up on the screen.

Mar. 25 2012 04:50 PM
Bryan from St. Paul

I'm on Leonard's side. His questions are what a lot of people, learning about an issue for the first time, would ask. He wasn't defending himself, but his position as a host. I appreciate the way he digs into a subject. Other famous interviewers ask to talk with a writer because of a book they wrote and then spend the whole time asking them biographical questions. Thanks for staying on subject, Leonard.

Mar. 24 2012 05:03 PM

i am thinking that i have heard a change in leonard. i used to be so impressed with his inquisitive and suggestive questions, seemed like he was curious. but i have to honestly say that lately, i believe his style and attitude have changed. as evidenced by the CURT and defensive and actually, downright NASTY way he treated that one caller. if you want to hear an EXCELLENT interviewer, listen to your colleague tom ashbrook, on "on point"-he usually sets a fair tone along with sounding inquisitive and receptively listening. he is a good role model.

i normally have npr on all day long and much of the i have heard a lot.

Mar. 24 2012 02:35 PM
Mark from Morristown

The caller who suggested Leonard was being judgmental was spot on. Once again, Leonard's attempts to be knowledgeable back-fired and demonstrated his ignorance. Good, prepared interviewers ask good questions -they do not make statements as Leonard so annoyingly does. Second, how many times did the guests have to re-state that they were not physicians qualified to make statements on specific medications before Leonard stopped questioning them on medical issues. Last, though not part of this segment, why is Leonard the only host to mention an author's publishers. On shows with multiple guests with multiple books and multiple publishers, Leonard spends more time re-introducing them after each break than talking to them.

Mar. 24 2012 10:28 AM
Mike Cala from Staten Island NY

I tried to get through to ask the guests about a recent medical journal Article citing a study that Ambien and benzodiazepines significantly raise cancer risks and contribute to increased heart attack. It was only one small study but concerning - citing as little as 18 doses of Ambien raises cancer risk up to 35 percent. Truth?

Mar. 23 2012 02:12 PM
Jennifer from Princeton

I've had anxiety disorder since 1985. I've been in therapy since then and am practically symptom free with no side effects (except a co-pay ;) ) I am very glad I made the decision to avoid meds if I could. I had two healthy children and I feel being on anti anxiety meds long term could've compromised that. It took longer for my acute symptoms to subside with therapy alone but I feel it's been worth it. I've also dealt with the root causes of my anxiety in my therapy, something that meds don't help with at all. My therapy work now focuses on getting the most out of my life, not coping with my anxiety symptoms. In all, my experience in therapy has been life affirming, supportive, and healthy--something I can't really say would be the case with meds. At least for me. Of course I realize that there are people who need meds and I have no judgement on that. But for me therapy worked

Mar. 23 2012 02:09 PM
Ben from Khatmandu

A couple of posters have mentioned it, but I think the main point, pragmatically, is the horrible withdrawl syndrome from benzodiazapenes. A Klonopin withdrawl is as horrible as a Xanax withdrawl, and whether or not you take it as prescribed is irrelevant. A patient should really weigh his or her options before swallowing on a regular basis. It's just not worth it, and it's only a band-aid. I think it's good that we're coming out of an over-medicated era and coming into, seemingly, a time of looking at things holistically, dealing with our problems through practice (for example, meditation), and becoming more mindful in many areas of individual social life.

Mar. 23 2012 02:04 PM

I am really dissappointed with the guests... After reading the comments, and having done a lot of research on these meds, they are either poorly informed, selectively blind and deaf, or bias... I apologize, if this is too harsh. After all, they are only helping anxious people.

Mar. 23 2012 02:03 PM
emrah from nyc

one more comment before going to work.
These guests are really for the "birds" I suspect this is about publicity to sell magazines. Many a musicians are prescribed betablockers and xanax to help them perform. Is a violinist that is almost not able to perform and does with the ais of betablockers and anxiety a "bad person"?

Mar. 23 2012 01:58 PM

Comments that do not follow WNYC comment guidelines will be taken down.

Mar. 23 2012 01:58 PM
maria from ny

Boy, the guest that says anxiety moves her through the day amazes me. My whole life has been ruined by being too scared to do anything. What on earth is she talking about--it sounds more like energy than anxiety.

Mar. 23 2012 01:58 PM
John A.

People overreacting to Leonard's questions - suggest - to me a sensitivity that may indicate an addiction.

Mar. 23 2012 01:56 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Is there any way to test or predict which patients will have severe reactions like those Nadine & the caller she responded to did?

Mar. 23 2012 01:56 PM
Erica from Westchester county

Alternative to drugs & im living proof, got off xanax
& clonapin, i went to the panic & anxiety ctr
@ white plains hospital in white plains, ny , westchester county
Im not "cured" but coping much better with
My anxiety & panic. I highly recommend
This center & their programs.

Mar. 23 2012 01:56 PM
Brad from LI

One of you guest mics is creating a loud booming background noise. It did yesterday too.

Mar. 23 2012 01:55 PM

SSRIs work brilliantly for anxiety disorders in my experience, and they are much, much safer.

Mar. 23 2012 01:55 PM
Nadine from Brooklyn, NY

Leonard says of the most recent caller "Not everyone has that reaction," but I have. I took Xanax for depression after 9/11, and it left me feeling exactly how the caller described. Suicidal, bereft, and in an institution for a week.

Mar. 23 2012 01:53 PM
Andrea Sansom

It's my understanding that Xanax, when used in high doses or over extended periods of time, is a substance that one can not only become inured to but, as the body adjusts to the drug, can cause the symptoms, anxiety, disorientation, it's supposed to treat. It was my experience that it was extremely toxic to my system and when I quit suddenly I experienced three days of disorientation and, once it was out of my system, my anxiety and thinking was much improved. I quit suddenly because taking Xanax was certainly causing me to feel more anxiety which I found unbearable. I would not take this drug lightly nor will I ever take it again. That it can make matters worse needs to be emphasized.

Mar. 23 2012 01:53 PM
Ter from NJ

Please address menopause and the intensification of anxiety.

Mar. 23 2012 01:52 PM
Mary from Bronx, NY

@Bruce, @hank, @Jen: Leonard just likes to hear himself talk!

Mar. 23 2012 01:51 PM
Sera from Ridgewood, NJ

@Gladys: What happened was that the pharmaceutical industry started making LOADS OF CASH hand over fist through print and TV advertising to push medications that are for things that should not be medicated.

Mar. 23 2012 01:50 PM
Sam from NJ

I was shocked by your reaction to Erica's comments and your overall tone. It likely took her courage to make the call. Your reaction sounded very defensive, unnecessarily so. I think it was unfortunate.

Mar. 23 2012 01:50 PM
Michael bitter from Long island city

I've been on kolonopin for three years. I currently take .5mg. I've tried to get off the meds but with very little success. I need to get off the drugs ASAP because my wife and I would like to try and have a baby and I would like to be drug free for the process. Any tips for kicking kolonopin?


Mar. 23 2012 01:49 PM
Gary from Port Washington NY

Leonard, kudos for you in responding to the suggestion that you were not neutral in your discussion. For my money, you are the best person on the radio. You are always so well prepared, ask insightful questions and are always fair to your guest and topics. I got annoyed at the claim before you professionally responded. In the 100 things that are important in New York, you are near the top on my list. I schedule my day to listen to you because there is no one who is better. Thank you for your great talent and work.

Mar. 23 2012 01:48 PM
Baron Vaughn from Manhattan

It seems your commenter is still ashamed to say what she has just mentioned others are ashamed to say: We're on drugs. The last comment about this being reality and life in New York being really hard (for the socioeconomic profile that can afford psychologists)and that people "use" alcohol with no negative feelings (wrong: "using" alcohol is different from drinking it) - all seemed a fairly weak copout. It's not as deep as Puritanism or Calvinism. Just say "I want an easy way out and drugs do it." Don't ply with excuses. Howerver, I think the problem with that is Newtonian, not Calvinian. You may find that the equal and opposite reaction to this convenience is the set of problems you avoid talking about here.

Mar. 23 2012 01:48 PM


Poor Erika! You were so quick to defend yourself by saying that your job is to ask questions you missed an opportunity to listen to a concerned listener. Your defensive tone shut her down. Made me think, hmmm, she may have hit a nerve with him.

Mar. 23 2012 01:48 PM
Amy from Manhattan

To the caller objecting to Leonard's questions: These are concerns people have about this class of drugs, & by asking about them, Leonard is giving the guests the chance to address them. The answer might explain why a concern is baseless, or why an assumption is wrong, or why the situation is more complicated than people may realize.

Mar. 23 2012 01:47 PM
Jiwon Choi from brooklyn 11215

Mr. Lopate, you just made me anxious with your terse and testy response to a listener who was just trying to express herself on what she perceives is your negative tone on benzodiazepene users.

Mar. 23 2012 01:47 PM
emrah from nyc

Beeta blockers, while not intended to treat anxiety, do play a part in treating anxiety, particularly when the sympathetic nervous system is activated. In combonation with drugs like xanax can reduce the morbidity for heart disease, particularly people with stablished CAD.

Mar. 23 2012 01:46 PM
Bob Jones from UWS

Re: the caller from Philadelphia's on-air comment that Leonard sounded "judgmental". Leonard's reaction was classic defensive posturing...I resent his condescending nature on topics that he is no authority, as well as his fawning and preening over celebrities like Terence Davies and Rachel Weisz--how about a little "show prep"?

Mar. 23 2012 01:46 PM

I'm horrified by the attitude about pills - what ever happened to sadness if you experience a loss be it a person or a job or a home? YOu're supposed to feel terrible, slowly understand and eventually recover. Some exceptions exist for sure but this is a mass attempt at killing any natural reaction to having any normal experience - joy, sadness, anger, whatever. The drug companies are pushing zombies and these guests are not helping people accept the ups and downs that happen.

Mar. 23 2012 01:44 PM

Leonard the title to the show was explaining whether you are aware of it or no,t your questions were judgemental not explorative.

Mar. 23 2012 01:44 PM

Leonard, try not to be so defensive to a listener sharing her experience. I can't believe you kept it going by saying "contrary to Erica's desires," you'll be back with discussion of the dangers of benzos.

Mar. 23 2012 01:43 PM
Howard Sachs from NYC

Leonard asked a question regarding whether the "benzo" in benzodiazapine meant that there was benzene in the formulation but the guests did not answer. Benzodiazpines don't contain benzene per se. They are complex molecules that are derived in part from the benzene molecule but don't have the properties of the benzene.

Mar. 23 2012 01:43 PM
Jen from Brooklyn

Leonard, it's not necessary to be so mean to a caller that challenges you. Erica raised a legitimate question. You can disagree with her without being so defensive. It doesn't become you.

Mar. 23 2012 01:42 PM
Steve from Long Island, NY

My family was travelling with a friend who "needed" this medication in order to get through flying. When we arrived at the airport we allowed our friend to drive. He fell asleep on the highway and fortunately I was able to wake him up in time. He was never able to acknowledge the fact that he wasn't capable of driving and didn't even recall falling asleep. A drunk person would at least have had some perspective. This is one scary drug. I knew he had taken a medication but thought it was more like an anti-depressant.

Mar. 23 2012 01:39 PM
Larry from Williamsburg

It should be discussed more clearly that benzodiazepines work the same way as alcohol. Drinking a glass of wine to relax is the same as taking a benzodiazepine as far as the brain is concerned. As a society, we are OK if it comes in a glass and not as a pill.

Mar. 23 2012 01:38 PM
Tom from Middletown, NJ

The best anti-anxiety drug is cannabis.

Mar. 23 2012 01:38 PM
Stephanie from rockville centre ny

This type of medication causes rebound in which there is no longer the original anxiety per se but that the brain is accustomed to the medication and causes "anxiety" to get the drug more and more. As a psychotherapist, more psychiatrists need to do follow up and get patients off these drugs as quickly as possible and manage the real anxiety behaviorally.

Mar. 23 2012 01:38 PM

All the young mom's i know are on Adderall. Who exactly is on Xanax? I'm looking forward to weaning when my baby is 15 months so I can try some pharmaceutical relief for the first time. Vitamins and exercise don't cut it when you barely get 4 hours sleep and wake to a literally screaming alarm clock every morning!

Mar. 23 2012 01:37 PM
John A. not from Beverly Hills here, Dudes.

Aren't these drugs of the class where taking or giving them without a prescription - is a crime?

Mar. 23 2012 01:35 PM
Emrah from nyc

Real Drs know how valuable these medicines are. The literature shows how safe and effective they are, hence the potential for abuse like everything else in this country. This is also of this puritanical attitude in this country that we shoul stand up and be "men" and take care of these things on our own. Xanax will not cure anxiety but well prescribed will be very effective. People who abuse these drugs will abuse anything.
Dr E Suhal

Mar. 23 2012 01:32 PM
Sera from Ridgewood, NJ

These are extremely dangerous and highly addictive pharmaceuticals that are being sold (pushed) on consumers as a commodity by the pharma industry. It is very easy to get addicted to Xanax by taking the benzo class of drugs for longer than a few weeks.

I know people who have ended up in institutions after unknowingly taking Xanax for much longer than a few weeks (years, even) without being told by any medical professional (including the prescriber) that they were addictive.

Just like the caller who called in earlier saying she thought they were muscle relaxants is exactly a CASE IN POINT. One increases dosages because they stop working, just like any addictive drug.

Mar. 23 2012 01:32 PM
John from New York

Your guests should discuss the rebound effect of benzodiazapines - when the anxiety returns even more severely after the medication wears off. Sometimes even within one dose.

Mar. 23 2012 01:32 PM
cree from greenpoint, ny

Does GABA actually need to break through the brain wall barrier to work ? or can one take it and get relief by ingesting it ?

Mar. 23 2012 01:29 PM
Susana MacLean from Westfield, NJ

Please explain the difference in purpose and effectiveness between the drugs you are describing, and longer lasting anti-anxiety, anti OCD meds like Luvox (fluvoxamine).

Mar. 23 2012 01:29 PM
Edward from NJ

Can the guests comment on beta-blockers as an alternative treatment for anxiety in performance situations?

Mar. 23 2012 01:27 PM
Gilbert from NYC

What people do not realize is that benzodiazepenes like Ativan and Xanax as well as non-benzodiazepenes like Ambien and Lunesta effect sleep architecture by preventing entry into deep sleep. A polysomonogram of a person on these drugs will show lots of light stage two sleep and REM but little restorative deep sleep like stage three and four. This may partly explain early death due to consuming these drugs. Insurance companies for the last 40 years have known about the dangers relating to consumption of these drugs and that is why they ask if you take these types of drugs before they accept you.

Mar. 23 2012 01:22 PM

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