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Questions raised about tranquillisers, anti-depressants, and addiction

23 August 2013


From the Revd David Williams

Sir, - Simon Parke (Comment, 16 August) has some useful and interesting things to say about tranquilliser addiction. What he does not seem to allow for sufficiently is the idiosyncratic nature of our response to these drugs and our ability, like Jean in his anecdote, to make a judgement about the value of their prolonged or intermittent use, and to manage our with- drawal.

For more than ten years, I was prescribed one of the infamous benzodiazepines (Ativan) as treatment for serious anxiety and panic attacks that seized me when taking services and preaching. It was a GP in the 1970s who advised me of their efficacy. I freely agreed to the treatment, and chose to continue with it. I myself requested the repeat prescriptions. Although I was later warned that I might become dangerously addicted, I never exceeded the specified dose. Before coming off them, I had voluntarily reduced my intake by gradual withdrawal.

By then, the medical profession had become so reluctant to prescribe my tablets that I became increasingly embarrassed and even ashamed of my minimal need of them. Repeat prescriptions were no longer issued. Instead, I had to see the doctor and, sometimes it felt, plead for a renewal of my supply.

The pressure to come off this treatment had become so intense that, in spite of advice that the process of withdrawal could be as difficult as withdrawal from heroin, I ceased treatment with no obvious adverse side-effects.

Nevertheless, the demands of sudden and complete termination exposed my underlying emotional vulnerability, and I suffered the first of two serious breakdowns, which, in spite of a course of psychotherapy, led to my retirement from work as a clergyman, aged 57.

I firmly believe that my years of active ministry could have been prolonged if only I had been trusted as a mature and responsible adult to manage and control my own treatment timetable. Since my retirement, anti-depressant medication has been quite freely dispensed to me and others like Jean. We have found them useful for a time, and come off them when we were ready. Perhaps there is here a lesson to be learned.

153 Crompton Way
Bolton, Lancashire BL2 2SQ


From the Revd Dr Rebecca Winfrey

Sir, - As a doctor, I am concerned about the implication in Simon Parke's column on the evils of "tranquillisers" that anti-depressants are addictive.

Drugs such as the sleeping tablet Valium are indeed addictive, but these are a different group of drugs from anti-depressants. Though I agree with Mr Parke that psychological therapies are very important (and need to be more readily available), many severely depressed patients are able to engage with talking therapies only once anti-depressants have begun to lift their mood a little.

When the time is right, the dose can be gradually reduced to nothing. Warning people to avoid anti-depressants by telling them that they are addictive is not helpful.

Manor Farmhouse
Manor Farm Lane, Castor
Peterborough PE5 7BW

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