Accidental Addicts

Abuse of mood-altering prescription drugs by mature women can often go untreated. Why? Too many are ashamed to seek help or mistake their addiction for another ailment.

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Published in More Magazine in May 2010

When Joan Gadsby's four-year-old son, Derek, died of a brain tumour, her family doctor did what a lot of physicians do when faced with patients confounded by intense grief and agonizingly sleepless nights. He prescribed sleeping pills and tranquilizers.

Months later, when her marriage fell apart because of the strain caused by her seek help or mistake son's death, the psychiatrist she and her husband had been seeing their addiction for prescribed even more drugs: first Dalmane for sleep, then Librium, a tranquilizer to take during the day.

As the first anniversary of Derek's death approached, Gadsby became increasingly distressed and turned once again to her family doctor for help. He prescribed Stelazine, an anti-psychotic.

Over the ensuing years, a "pharmacopia" of new medications was added to the chemical mix when the old ones stopped working: Serax, Restoril, Ativan and Valium, among others.

And so began a 23-year addiction to a dangerous cocktail of mood-altering drugs, the majority known as benzodiazepines, prescribed to reduce anxiety and induce sleep. These drugs act on the central nervous system by slowing brain activity, resulting in a sense of calm and improved rest.

However, they are also highly addictive and come with a host of serious side effects, none of which Gadsby, now 69, had ever been warned about.

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