Our Great Escape: The Rise of Benzodiazepine Use

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

When I present to industry professionals about the growing benzodiazepine epidemic, the slide above, featuring pharmaceutical ads from the 1960’s, always elicits self-conscious laughter from the crowd. How benzos have been marketed to women and the images of antiquated gender roles are certainly jarring, but the ad copy — promising relief from anxiety and tension, and the “ability to cope with day-to-day problems” — still rings true; if not in the way the drugs are advertised, then certainly in the way they are prescribed and used.

We live in an age where worry, stress, and discomfort aren’t viewed as a normal part of the human experience, but as problems with medical solutions.

Stressed about upcoming layoffs, a sick family member, or a cross-country move? There’s a pill for that.

In “Listening to Xanax”, a New York Magazine article from 2012, the writer describes the way friends in her social circle have taken to consoling one another by sharing pills rather than hugs or advice:

“To friends worried about enduring a family holiday, she doles out a pill; to colleagues fearful of flying, she’ll commiserate before offering a cure. ‘I can’t fly without half a Xanax,” she’ll say. ‘Want some?’”

It’s an apt description of a cultural unwillingness to sit with pain — our own, and that of others — that has consequences, many of which are shouted daily from the national headlines: a worsening opioid crisis, endemic physician burnout rates, entire generations opting for a digital world rather than the uncertainties of the real one…

For me, this cultural aversion to discomfort reinforces my belief in the need to increase our tolerance of emotional pain, rather than avoid it. We have found True Life’s integrative approach to be profoundly helpful in this way. The holistic modalities that are part of mental health treatment at True Life — yoga, fitness, nutrition, acupuncture, massage, and mindfulness meditation — not only give patients real-time relief, but also lifelong tools for self-soothing and self-regulation. Our holistic providers have immense skill in helping patients to understand how implementing these self-regulating modalities can increase their tolerance for, or reduce their experience of, pain.

Because healing isn’t just about eliminating pain, it’s also about reducing suffering by learning how to better manage the pain that is an inevitable part of human life.

How do you sit with pain? How do you think we, as a society, sit with pain? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Thank you for letting me share some of mine.




Leading psychiatrist in integrative mental health care and addiction medicine. Medical Director and Founder of True Life Center in San Diego, Calif.

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Dr. Krista Roybal

Dr. Krista Roybal

Leading psychiatrist in integrative mental health care and addiction medicine. Medical Director and Founder of True Life Center in San Diego, Calif.

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