15 March 2017

Dominic’s Story

My addiction to benzodiazepines started when I was 14. I am now 56, and still the drug has me in its grip.

My mother was a Valium addict and there were always bottles full of 5mg tablets knocking around the house. Ours was a large, chaotic family and we children used to steal her pills, or sometimes she would give us one just to keep us quiet.  This is when I got my first taste of the ‘warm duvet’ feeling that benzos give.

Later on in my early 20s, I started training as a psychiatric nurse. At the time it was normal practice to pilfer medication as no one was counting them in and out. Benzos seemed like the most innocuous drug going – almost not even a real drug. I used to take them just to ease the come down from other recreational substances  – speed, LSD, mushrooms  – or just to knock me out after night shifts. By then I had a habit, but I didn’t consider myself an addict. Life carried on, as it does – I had kids, worked different jobs, lived the family life. But Benzos were always in the background.

Then the internet arrived. All of a sudden I could obtain pills online, and I started ordering packs of 100 or 200 tablets at a time from India, China or wherever was selling cheapest. I started taking 10mg a day, just to wind down in the evening. I still didn’t consider myself an addict, so a few months later when I ran out of pills, I didn’t worry too much. But before I knew what was happening, I found myself in the horrific depths of full blown benzo withdrawal.

It arrives gradually after 24 or so hours without the drug, usually with a bad night’s sleep and terrible nightmares.  Then the anxiety which has been kept at bay for so long floods the body and mind.  A sense of sheer panic and terror, combined with nausea, restlessness, shaking, sweating, vomiting.  It is impossible to eat without gagging.  A feeling of sheer desperation to somehow run from these symptoms is screaming in your mind, but there is nowhere to run.  You try to damp it down with alcohol – this works well for a while, but the relief is only temporary.  The feelings become so frightening that suicide or extreme self-harm seem like reasonable options.  Gradually the GABA receptors in the brain repair themselves and blessed normality starts to return. Every time, I vow never to repeat the experience.

Last year I started purchasing ‘analogues’ – novel benzo or benzo-like substances – online, in an attempt to seek relief from the severe tinnitus I had developed.  Or that was my excuse.  These substances were in another league in terms of strength and addictive qualities. I ended up overdosing deliberately in an attempt to die after a week of going ‘cold turkey’ following four months of continual use.

It was at this point that my children – now grown up – started to realise what a mess I had gotten myself into.  They saw me at my lowest, when I was going through withdrawal. I felt ashamed I had let everyone down, myself my children, my doctor, my friends. These feelings of shame are typical in many addicts, I guess.

By then I knew I needed help. After years on benzos the mind gets scrambled, to the point where I had no idea what were normal emotions and what were just the effects of using and withdrawing. Without support, you feel like you are falling down the rabbit hole, navigating a world of paranoia and mental trickery alone. So I started attending a tranquiliser group in Bristol. For a couple of hours once a week, I would be surrounded by people who knew exactly what I was going through. They were a diverse lot of people, from those who had only ever got their drugs through their GPs, to the chaotic users who bought only from street dealers. But all of their stories were familiar. And we all needed each other’s help.

This was the beginning of the long road of recovery. It has taken me decades to get here, but I can now see benzodiazepines for what they are – a false promise. They promise to take away your anxiety, and end up magnifying it tenfold. They promise to make life easier, but drag you to death’s door. Understanding this is the first step. But there are many steps to come.

 

If you have any concerns about a possible benzodiazepine addiction, we advise you to call us. We will guide you and your closest ones through the difficult process of recovery.

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