Over the course of my recovery, I have researched high and low for a possible connection to those of us who seem to suffer for years after coming off benzos. Up until finding the work of Dr. Daniel Amen, I was unable to connect any of the dots. However, after hearing a great deal of his work and realizing what most doctors appear to be missing, I feel I have found the most plausible explanation that any doctor has been able to pull together and who has any significant research that makes sense.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Dr. Amen's work, he is a ten time New York Times best seller with regards to his SPECT Scan studies over the course of the last couple of decades. A SPECT scan is a nuclear medicine study that looks at blood flow and activity. It appears to be a much more accurate scan of the brain that can actually read what areas of the brain are either over firing or under firing. After reviewing much of his work these scans are a much clearer picture of what can happen after even minor head trauma that MRI's and CT scans seem to be missing. I know I have had multiple MRI's and CT scans, and none of them have revealed anything significant. There was a significant change in my function after the fracture I sustained from one of my first benzo blackouts.
Dr. Amen has also narrowed down seven different types of ADHD as well as several types of anxiety that appear to be associated with his studies. The two types of ADHD in particular that caught my attention were a type called hyper focused ADHD and trauma induced. People with hyper focused ADHD are able to hyper focus on things that give them a lot of pleasure and have difficulties with activities they aren't interested in. My explanation will most likely be an overly simplified version of what he can explain in more detail.
Both the hyper focused ADHD and trauma induced have under active frontal lobe function. They have trouble with staying interested in relationships long term. They are sensitive to touch, light and sound and have trouble with organization. They have trouble with being on time, lower heart rates, blood flow, sweat gland activity and are conflict driven. They have impulse control issues and tend to say things before giving them forethought. They are restless and hyperactive. The harder they try to concentrate, the worse things get because the frontal lobe shuts down. There also seems to be some evidence to support the fact that people with this kind of ADHD seem to have more a more active HPA axis and tend to over produce cortisol compared to other parts of the population.
As I was listening to this information, and started having an ah ha moment about all of the same symptoms I have had for years that have become more pronounced as I have gotten older and after coming off benzos, I realized there was a huge piece of the puzzle that this doctor could have. I just never had anyone explain these symptoms to me, and there was never any doctor that ever understood any of these issues in a way they were able to effectively diagnose me.
Head trauma can also induce this type of ADHD, and I had several injuries that were never connected to my change in behavior after I had them. The first head trauma was when I cold cocked myself from running into a tree playing touch football in a neighbors back yard. Because I got up and "shook it off," there was never any indication right away that this had triggered any of my problems. Shortly after the touch football incident, I got hit in the head with a 5 pound coffee can and had to have stitches in my head. Again, because I didn't have any signs of obvious behavior changes, it was never addressed. Then the third and hardest blow to my head was when I fell on the ice skating and knocked my front teeth out. I believe this was the most significant trauma because I was almost at adolescence, and facial trauma causes the most frontal lobe disruption. There was also very little understood about any form of ADHD or head trauma when I was a kid, so nothing was ever addressed when my behavior radically changed as a teenager.
I have been working with a number of clients who clearly have had head trauma that could be triggering this type of frontal lobe involvement. They are experiencing so many of the same problems that many of us have gone through, and I am hoping to make some kind of connection with the Amen Clinics to see if there is a way we can set up SPECT Scans for a number of these people. I think this might hold key information as to what is going on in the brains of those of us struggling with brutal recoveries for months and years after being off the benzos. Somehow, I suspect the benzos may mask some of the issues from the head injuries and ADHD, as well as scrambling the already stressed signals we have from the other issues. So essentially it all turns into PTSD on steroids.
Dr. Amen works a lot with diet and supplements to correct brain injuries with many NFL players, and uses targeted medications only if he feels it is absolutely necessary, but it's based on conclusive test results that have been studied over the last couple of decades. He also spoke somewhat extensively about his findings on benzodiazepines in the SPECT Scans. He no longer prescribes them because of what the scans were showing in many of the test results.
I couldn't afford to have the scan myself, so I have at least been trying to follow most of the dietary recommendations along with targeted supplements he uses. I appeared to be working as long as I could keep my stress level down, but financial stress which is so huge for many of us really has made it difficult to determine how much better I would be doing under less challenging circumstances in my life right now.
For now anyway, I feel that there is some sort of significant evidence in all this information that is worth at least considering if this could possibly be the link that separates so many of us from the people who appear to walk away unscathed by benzodiazepine use.