Food and Behaviour Research

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The rest service for benzodiazepine and sleeping tablet dependence

L. Fernandes (2018)    Mad in America Foundation

Web URL: View the full article here

Abstract:

REST is a support service for people who are physically dependent on benzodiazepines and sleeping tablets. It has just three staff members and runs on a budget of less than £50,000 annually, and it supports about 145 people a year. I’m one of those.

I have no memory of contacting REST when I was in cold-turkey withdrawal from a range of benzodiazepine drugs roughly three years ago. The benzos have wiped much of my memory from that time.

For the previous 4 years, I had been prescribed diazepam, clonazepam, and zolpidem by a private doctor. But the doctor never helped me, so I decided to stop seeing him — and my prescriptions stopped, too.

For months, I hardly slept a wink. Every day I walked the streets of London in a futile effort to tire myself out. I felt trapped and anxious, pacing about in limbo, unable to work, see friends or face the world.

At first, I didn’t understand I was in benzo withdrawal — I thought it was something wrong with me. But I guess I must have been googling for help because somehow, I found out about REST. It was close to where I lived.

For the past three years, they’ve watched me change, heal and grow. Whenever I feel discouraged, they remind me how far I’ve come.

The group members understand what benzodiazepine withdrawal feels like. I think they understand me better than anyone else.

I’ve attended the group regularly ever since. Some members have been coming for longer than I have, others are more recent arrivals. Every time someone new comes along, group members listen to their story and ask gentle questions. How long have they been on benzos? Why did they start taking them? What is their life like now? We each tell of our own experiences in the hope they might help. How fast or slow are we tapering? What has helped us, and what has made things harder? What emotions do we struggle with? Usually, there are lots of similarities between our stories.

I decided to go back on diazepam (ending my period of ‘cold-turkey’ withdrawal) and taper off slowly. For this, I needed a prescription — so I needed the help of my GP. But after my ordeal, I was terrified of doctors…

I planned for my taper to take a year. In the end, it took 18 months. Throughout this, I had regular support from REST’s group members and, thanks to REST, a reliable prescription from my GP.

Now I’m 18 months off benzos, but I still attend REST regularly to process the anger and grief I feel about what I went through, and to support those who are still tapering.

For a more detailed picture of the situation in the UK for benzodiazepine support services, including REST, I recommend Beverley Thorpe’s recent article.

You can also learn more about REST’s situation and benzodiazepine prescribing in the UK in Harry Shapiro’s article on the Drugwise website.