I, Danyaal Raza, am a victim of the disease that is Addiction to Prescription medication/drugs, so I’d appreciate it if everyone reads as it’s taken a lot for me to open up. Parents, kids, and everyone, please read and understand. I’m doing this out of my comfort zone, for my fellow Muslim kids, Brown kids, or anyone who struggles with life, to give you a voice. So that maybe I can give confidence to other people to open up, to try and break this stigma of mental health and addiction. Because you see, addiction and mental illness go hand in hand. The problem isn’t the drugs/medications, the real issue is the root problem that people use drugs to solve or just cope with.
I know there will be people who will look down on me for this, they will try to bring shame to my family, spread rumors, and say things to try and hurt us. I speak on behalf of my family when I say with ALL disrespect, if you are one of those people or if you don’t even want to try to understand my struggle with prescription medication, and want to stay ignorant, WE don’t want you in our lives and you can leave us, we are strong together. I’m lucky to have parents that support me through this, are accepting and open-minded.
A week or two ago I wrote an article about drug addiction. That article was really from my personal struggle with Addiction to Prescription Medication, specifically Benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medication), that most people don’t know about, because it is scary to talk about it when you are a Muslim or even from a strict cultural background. It all came from my heart and experience, the whole “The Bridge of Recovery” analogy was from my heart. The anonymous story at the beginning wasn’t mine, it was of someone else who had a similar experience as mine, but even more extreme. They were kind enough to let me share their story. I created the whole personification and story, but it was their experience from which I created the story in that format.
I went to the doctor as I was suffering from severe anxiety, so I was prescribed Lorazepam (a benzodiazepine). Many of you would know what Xanax is, it’s from the same family of drug/medication as Lorazepam. I took it for the first time and after around 40 mins felt this huge feeling of relief from my rapid negative thoughts, and extreme happiness. I thought to myself, “This is the feeling I’ve wanted all my life, and I want this all the time. My void has been filled.” What I didn’t realize was how addictive and harmful this medication was. After the effect wore off after around 8 hours, I felt worse than before, the anxiety had come back harder. So I took another one the next day. And then it turned into a daily thing. There were days I would try not to take it, but those days felt like hell because of the rebound anxiety. So I felt like I couldn’t cope without the pills. Keyword here is COPE. I wasn’t doing this for fun, but to cope.
As time went on, my tolerance increased, which meant I needed to take more of the pills to get the same effect as before, so I increased my dose. This continued for a while. I felt trapped, I couldn’t see life beyond those pills, I needed them to survive, the pills had become my life. I was deeply stuck in the mud, completely trapped. The pills had gotten such a tight grip on my mind. I was severely addicted, but too scared to speak up. I longed for the innocent child in me to come back, that beautiful boy who hadn’t seen the world yet. Everything was falling apart, but the pills were like the glue keeping my life together, but once that glue was gone, it fell to pieces.
Eventually, I hit the breaking point and had to be admitted to the hospital. From there I went to live at a respite center for a week where I started my recovery through a detox program where they will slowly taper me off the benzos over the next few months. I somehow survived this disease and got out. But recovery is where the real challenge starts. Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome can last months or even years. Withdrawal symptoms include severe anxiety, delusional thinking, detachment from reality, depersonalization, memory loss, panic attacks, heart palpitations and chest tightness, fatigue, muscle stiffness and aches, paranoia, confusion, headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, restlessness, irritability, and many more. These symptoms are daily but flare up when the dose for detox is reduced every 4 weeks. And these will last with me for most of this year.
I have been clean for 3 months and 4 days now, and it has been hell. But it has made me more self-aware and open-minded. Staying clean is tough because cravings happen all the time, it’s as if the drug is calling you directly to your brain and saying “take a pill, everything will be alright”, and it’s extremely tempting. But I haven’t given in to that, I’ve faced the withdrawals head-on.
Many people think that a medication prescribed by a doctor can’t be addictive or harmful, but that’s far from the truth. Benzodiazepines, Opiates, and Amphetamines (ADHD medication, like Adderall), are very addictive and can cause a lot of damage to you, especially your brain.
Really these prescription medications are a more accepted and legal type of common street drugs. A large number of people get their drugs from the street, a lot of these hard street drugs are just stronger versions of prescription medication. People even buy prescription medication off the streets. And their addiction to these drugs is as valid, if not more valid than mine. Because a lot of these people don’t have the support or resources to get out of this disease.
Addiction is a disease and it can happen to anyone from any background and religion. In a way it is similar to cancer, it can come back. The only difference is that taking drugs is ultimately a choice, but sometimes people see no other way to cope with their problems and it doesn’t seem like a choice, but the only option. For some it wasn’t even a choice, they were deceived. I was deceived. This can make an addict feel guilty, thoughts like “I did this to myself, I’m to blame for all this mess.” And even though I was deceived, I still feel guilty for the mess I have become because I always think “I could’ve stopped, I could’ve reached out.” But the pills had such a strong grip on my mind, that I couldn’t reach out.
I like to think that me surviving this disease has a meaning behind it, to give a voice to the voiceless. I hope that me speaking up will give people more confidence to speak about their own issues to their loved ones. Many people silently suffer and are afraid to speak up because of this stigma. But staying silent will only make the problem grow.
And to parents, although your child might be smiling and eyes shining, that doesn’t mean they’re happy, they could be masking a lot of pain behind that smile and eyes. So check up on your kids from time to time.
It will get better, you just have to take that first step which is the most difficult one. You have to go through discomfort to reach comfort.
That’s my true story, it was tough to tell it, but a huge relief, like a boulder has been lifted from my chest. That will happen for you too. People think speaking up is a weakness, but that’s completely false, speaking up makes you brave and strong.