Almost a year ago, I came across several articles about the rising use and misuse of benzodiazepines, particularly among teenagers. Benzodiazepines, sometimes called “benzos” for short, are a class of anti-anxiety medications, Xanax being the most popular one to misuse since it is very fast-acting. Prior to reading this I had read a couple of articles about people getting addicted to benzos, which resulted in their anxiety getting much worse than it had been before taking the pills.

Sone one-in-four American women have been on a benzo at some point in their life, and one-in-five people have had some kind of anxiety disorder. But this isn’t just in the last few years; Americans have had a long history of loving, over-using, and getting addicted to tranquilizers.

We live in one of the freest and richest countries in the world. Modern conveniences and educational opportunities abound. Even though the “poor will always be with us” overall poverty around the world, including in the US, had decreased. Violent crime and burglary has been declining steadily since the 1990s (contrary to the sense our 24/7 news cycle would give us), and crime levels now are close to what they were in the 1970s. So, why is everyone so anxious?

This article is an exploration of the idea that maybe we aren’t the ones with the problem. Even though modernity was made by man, it is not necessarily made for man. Any mentally healthy person living in our modern world would respond with anxiety. Rather than taking pills to change ourselves, perhaps we should consider that our selves are fine; it’s our cultural milieu that’s the problem.

I have been a fan of The New Atlantis for many years. Their articles are thought-provoking critiques on technology and society that invite the reader to take a look at things like Facebook or artificial intelligence or GMOs from a different perspective. Often their articles provide a much-needed historical context to “hot” topics that helps us understand what is going on today. My article “Our Uneasy Tranquility” (by subscription) provides a historical look at America’s love affair with tranquilizers and how pharmaceutical companies made a lot of money by medicating the “worried well.” I describe the neurochemistry of these medications, and I look at some cultural and political factors that contribute to this sense of anxiety.

“The Uneasy Tranquility of Anxiety Pills” (Print Edition Title)

“Our Uneasy Tranquility” (Online Edition Title)

Ref: Heather Zeiger, “Our Uneasy Tranquility,” The New Atlantis, Number 58, Spring 2019, pp. 15-27.