I Was Addicted Tp Sleeping Pills
Fairlady|August 2017

An addiction to prescription pills stole 10 years, friends, jobs and home.

Aly Verbaan

Four car accidents, three jobs, two disastrous decisions and a family intervention is what it took for Bella* to admit she needed help. Last year, after 10 years of battling an addiction to prescription sleeping pills, she checked herself into rehab in desperation, accompanied by suicidal ideation. A decade of enslavement to a smorgasbord of benzodiazepines and sedatives had rendered her a wreck. Friends wondered how she had managed to stay alive at all, given the number of falls and car accidents she’d had.

In 2005, at the age of 32, Bella was an investigative journalist. Life was good, except she was suffering from debilitating insomnia: her brain would just not switch off. She was referred her to a psychiatrist, who prescribed a cocktail of sleeping pills, anti-anxiolytics and tranquillisers. What Bella now knows, but which neither her GP nor psychiatrist raised, is that these drugs are highly addictive and highly reactive with alcohol.

Within the year she was enslaved.She had recently been diagnosed with longstanding Bipolar 2 and was desperate to overcome the rapid-cycling, incapacitating illness. Initially, the medication seemed to be working, but then the effectiveness wore off, and she again found herself tossing and turning, unable to switch off. The inevitable increase in dosages followed. By the end of 2010, she was up to a box of 30 Zopivane a night.

She tried to go off the Zopivane, but after months of severe sleep deprivation and accompanying panic attacks, she asked her GP for another prescription for a sleeping pill. He gave her one: three Zolpidem per night, on a six-monthly repeat basis.

She got some sleep by trebling the dose to nine, but to make up for the balance of the month, she had to consult other doctors to obtain prescriptions from them as well.

Within another year, she had developed such a tolerance to sleeping pills that she couldn’t sleep at all, no matter how many she took. And that was only the beginning of her real battle.

‘I kept hoping something would just knock me out so I could sleep and get back to work. I didn’t have the luxury of taking time off to go ‘cold turkey’ or develop a normal sleeping pattern, something I’d last had so long ago I couldn’t even remember what it felt like,’ says Bella. But what she experienced included common and dangerous side-effects, like sleep-driving. ‘Instead of putting you to sleep, the pills merely erase your short-term memory. You do and say things you have no recollection of, and the evidence of the sleep-eating and sleep-driving piles up in the kitchen and at the panel beater’s.’

Over time, Bella’s bizarre behaviour alienated friends and family. She lost jobs, and made appalling decisions that had serious long-term repercussions.

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