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Two Stories from the Tranquilliser Withdrawal Support Group
Bury St Edmunds, West Suffolk.

Alma Hoff's Story

Upon the death of my mother, when I was aged 55, I was in a state of depression and my doctor prescribed that I should increase my intake of lorazepam from 3mg/day (prescribed some years earlier during my menopause) to 7.5mg/day. I did not know that they were addictive and I believe that the doctor did not know that either at that time. I have since learnt that lorazepam is 10 times stronger than diazepam.

I became worried that I was becoming addicted when I noticed that if I missed taking a tablet, I could not hold a conversation or think coherently. My personality was changing and I felt that the tablets were only suppressing my symptoms and that I was dependent on them. At this time I was feeling desperate for help. I asked my doctor if I could somehow get rid of this dependency. He told me that there was no need as I could continue taking this prescription for the rest of my life. On learning of the help available from experts at Tranquilliser Withdrawal Support in Bury St Edmunds, I was fortunate enough to contact Jeanne Geatches via the Helpline.

Jeanne explained about the group therapy sessions at the Bury St Edmunds centre but, I was unable to attend these because I live too far away. Thus I could not have the benefit of hearing first hand the problems of other people who were reducing. Jeanne was very understanding and said that it was still possible to withdraw successfully even though I lived too far away to attend the Support Group. It could be done by weekly support via the Helpline. This would give me the encouragement that was needed to reduce the intake very gradually. This I did, thanks to the ongoing weekly contact, so I was able to continue making regular reductions of 1/8th mg every fourth week (as arranged with Jeanne).

During the first two weeks of each monthly reduction I experienced various problems including dizziness, depression, anxiety and tired eyes. Jeanne told me this was quite likely to be expected and that these reactions were not unusual. This reassurance and explanation helped me enormously.

The weekly telephone support continues and after two years I have reduced the intake by 50% without suffering withdrawal problems which I could not cope with. It all seemed such a long journey at the beginning, but time goes by and I am so very pleased that I am on the way to a complete recovery from this most unpleasant addiction. I could not have done it without the constant supportive help and reassurance from Jeanne at Tranquilliser Withdrawal Support.

Mrs Alma Hoff (now aged 72)

A Testimonial to our Support Group
by a Member of TWS Group

Sometime in 1970/71 I went to my Doctor to explain about the problem I had been experiencing with sleeping. He sent me home with a prescription for a drug called Mogadon (nitrazepam). This turned out to be a drug with which I shared almost half of my entire life.

My GP, who I hardly knew at that time of my life, seemed a very understanding and reassuring doctor, and later on he was to become a Consultant Psychiatrist at the local Hospital. I held nothing back, when I explained that I was a young married father of two beautiful children, but only being 15 months apart, and with my wife suffering from postnatal depression, things were getting more and more on top of me.

It didn't help me either in the fact that I was working three jobs, one being a driver for a wine merchant full time, another was wine-waiting at outside functions from 7:30 pm till sometimes 2:00 am, and the other was helping my parents to run an extremely busy town public house on four nights and two middays a week.

So, being weighed down with all this stress, and insomnia rearing its ugly head, I was over the moon when I discovered that this magic medicine really put me out for the count.

I took the medication, two tablets a night, every night religiously, wherever I was, and best of all, the prescriptions were always there at the end of a phone call, and I was fortunate to stay out of the GP's way for many years.

In about 1985 the new GP (whom I had not yet met) called me in for a review and queried this repeat prescription. I convinced him I still needed the medicine and his words were, "I would rather still have you on them and sane, than coming off them, and tearing your hair out". I don't think he had spoken a truer word, but at the same time cut me back to 1 tablets a night.

I soldiered on with life for the next 11 years, but not without any symptoms of many different disorders. Throat troubles came first after a bad bout of flu and then burning back pains. These lasted for about a year and I saw no less than five consultants for both illnesses.

Although I was given results of 'normal' after scans, blood tests etc, I very nearly convinced myself all along that I had cancer and I now think it was the start of some sort of anxious depression.

It now seemed that as soon as one thing had passed, another immediately sprang up to take its place, the next symptom was more frightening than the others - it was a non-stop stomach cramp.

I visited my doctor on no less than twelve occasions for this particular bunch of symptoms and of course again, according to my personal diagnosis it was cancer.

I had worried so much about this stomach thing that I even made enquiries about a private gastroscopy. The waiting list was around six months, but as it worked out I got in for a cancellation after three months. They also took a biopsy and the result was 'normal'. What a relief!!

Prior to this last problem was the start of many prescriptions of antidepressants, the first being Prothiaden. I took these for two months and felt no different whatsoever. The next was Seroxat, which I took for one month. My GP then changed this to Prozac, but I wasn't sleeping too well at all, so he swapped me to temazepam (as a sleeper). However after six weeks things were not going well at all.

He stopped my Prozac because side effects were upsetting me badly and he was now asking me to see him every week. He put me on Gamanil.

The next few weeks / months were very grey, misty even though it was the middle of Summer '98, my Doctor went on Holiday and the biggest mistake I ever made - I wasn't thinking straight - and I STOPPED my NITRAZEPAM dead!!!

Within a couple of weeks I was experiencing the most horrendous symptoms I had so far encountered. In desperation I tried to see my doctor, but because he was away, I was given an appointment with a doctor I least liked at the surgery.

At that time I was taking Melleril (a Major Tranquilliser) at two a night with another new sleeping tablet called Zimovane. This doctor told me to increase the Melleril to two, three times a day. I was then in one hell of a state, and spoke continuously of benzodiazepine withdrawal. You see by then, I had been to the library and bookshops and learnt as much as I could absorb under the circumstances. And the doctor spoke of withdrawal, (which was more than my own doctor had up to date), he also mentioned possible side effects of the other drugs I was taking and to seriously try to keep off benzodiazepines.

This doctor also started me on another antidepressant called Cipramil, and over the next four / six weeks I found I was suffering various side-effects ie with a pricking, creeping sensation under the skin, dizziness, to the point that I thought I was going to blackout, severe anxiety, nightmares, flu like symptoms, feelings of aggression, tight throat, confusion, loss of memory (especially short term), saying words the wrong way round, excessive sweating, tight chest and feeling of metal hoop around forehead, ultra-sensitive to sun light, sound, smell of burning newspapers, persistent ringing in ears, sinuses burning, electrical type disturbances all over eyes and eye sockets with distorted vision, bladder pain, upper back and back of arms freezing cold, neck tension, pins and needles in limbs, diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating and distension, weak feeling, lack of motivation, severe fatigue.

I have just counted more than 81 visits to the doctors surgery from February 1996 till Jan 2000 and also six hospital appointments, and when I look back I can only cringe with horror at the vast amount of medical hours that has been spent on me, all concerned with the taking and withdrawing of nitrazepam. It was during this time that I contacted Tranquilliser Withdrawal Support for additional help because I needed support and reassurance.

My drug list is not yet finished - may I continue?

The zopiclone I was taking for sleep, although they were effective, were exaggerating the side effects of nitrazepam withdrawal, so the doctor told me to discontinue and to start on Stilnoct (zolpidem). I took these for about three months but although effective at first, they became less so, and this is where Melleril came in, two at night to mix with Stilnoct.

I had been off antidepressants now for about nine months as most of them had too many bad effects, but I was getting increasingly agitated and the doctor said to try Sertraline. I had now tried so much stuff, I suppose I was living in hopes that one day I was going to hit on something good.

But by 20th April 1999 just 5 days after starting Sertraline, a bout of shakes, tremors, and giddiness has almost bought me to my knees. I phoned the doctor and he said to stop at once and see him at the end of the week (it was already Wednesday!)

The doctor had tried in the past twelve months to get me an appointment with a consultant. He'd written to him twice, and eventually he agreed to see me. He spent about 45 minutes trying to get to the bottom of my symptoms, and eventually agreed with me that I was experiencing nitrazepam withdrawal, quite severely as well. About 80% of my problems was this, also mixed with some anxiety and some depression brought on by withdrawal. He suggested venlafaxine (Effexor) as did my GP a week earlier.

It is now the end of February 2000 and I've been taking venlafaxine now for almost 9 months. It has produced very few side effects, and without a doubt is the best I have tried so far. As always I have read up on this drug, as I did on every other drug I have taken, and although it is relatively new, I am not sure about any long term side effects. In fact, as long as I feel ok at the moment, and I do, I tend not to worry about the future.

Winding up on this story, I must not forget to extend my most grateful thanks to Tranquilliser Withdrawal Support Group, for without them, this story would never have been written.

I have been going to the Group now for approximately 17 months and, particularly in the early months, it gave me something to get out of the house for.

I have felt a lot more motivated in the past few months and much more confident with myself. The insomnia is repaired but I always will have my doubts as to whether it is permanent or not.

My doctor explained to me that I would always need to take something to sleep. Also a Pharmacist told me I would never sleep naturally again without some sort of help.

I somehow think they may be right, but until then I can always live in hope that some kind of alternative will come my way, and I will accept to give it a go.

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