non benzodiazepines home page Non benzodiazepines

Benzos and SSRIs: Partners in crime – Rose’s story

Here my story. I hope someday I will be able to finish my story with the magic “happily ever after”. It doesn’t have this ending yet, but I am through the worst and recovering.

I am the mother of three school age kids. I am a doctor and before my encounter with prescription drugs I had a great but sometimes stressful job in Public Health.

My troubles started when I injured my back. I was in constant pain and my doctor prescribed Codeine and NSAIDS. I never really liked drugs so after a while I started taking the Codeine only in the mornings and relying on heat packs in the evenings at home. I lost my appetite, felt nauseated a lot of the time and started losing weight. My sleep became difficult (at least I thought it was difficult but compared to what happened later it was not a big problem!)

I thought I had depression: I have a family history of depression and so I was programmed to think I could suffer it too. Now, I can see that my symptoms could well have been due to NSAIDS and Codeine dependence with interdose withdrawal. NSAIDS like Voltaren which I was on are well known for causing all kinds of digestive problems. Codeine has a half-life of only 2-3 hours so by bedtime each day I would have been in withdrawal. Trouble sleeping is a Codeine withdrawal symptom.

My back specialist told me to stop Codeine as he was worried how long I’d been taking it. He said it was “mind altering”. I was really quite shocked as I thought Codeine was safe. I had never heard that Codeine could be addictive. I stopped it cold turkey. My sleep got worse and I was feeling weird but still I didn't think of Codeine withdrawal as being a possible cause.

One night I couldn't sleep and was stressing over a big presentation I had to do at work in the morning. My husband called a mental health line. He is now very sorry he did this and says he panicked. He didn't know it was a mental health line. It was just the number the after hours medical centre gave him for someone to talk to. Anyway I ended up with an appointment to see a psychiatrist who put me on Lexapro, Zopiclone and Clonazepam. The psychiatrist never even asked if I had recently changed my pain meds.

I wasn’t very happy to start taking benzos, but the psychiatrist said I would only be on Zopiclone and Clonazepam for a few weeks at most while the SSRI had time to work. He claimed SSRIs are so good it would be like a light going on. He also said that one in three people should be on medication for depression. This seemed a bit extreme but he appeared to be a nice guy and so we trusted him. Unfortunately his predictions about Lexapro were completely wrong.

Instead of feeling better I felt worse, much worse. I got agitated and anxious and couldn't sleep even with the benzos. Anxiety and insomnia are well known side effects of SSRIs. What did the psychiatrist do? You guessed it . . . upped the dose of all three drugs. By now I was in little short of a toxic delirium. My heart beat was irregular, my vision was blurred, I had constant migraine and I was shaking and sweating all over. At times my body seemed frozen and I could not move. I was finding it difficult to speak. I could barely stand and couldn't count to ten. I was incapable of the simplest task.

The psychiatrist's only response was more drugs! He told me that it was far better to over treat than under treat and he would just give me more and more and bigger doses until it worked. I think I had 10 drugs in all, up to 4 at a time over a period of only a few months. Some of the other drugs I was prescribed were Halcion, Temazepam, Imipramine and Quetiapine: all given to help me sleep. I remember one occasion when handing me a script he said, “If someone else saw this script they might think I am trying to kill you.” Yes, this is a verbatim quote!

All my complaints about how much worse the drugs had made me were ignored. I was constantly told that my mental health was the problem. Yes, I was worse than before starting treatment, but that was going to happen anyway and the drugs were helping me. I became suicidal as I believed that I was severely mentally ill and felt as if every one would be better off if I was dead. Because of my upbringing my attitude to mental illness was very negative. My husband could not leave me alone for a minute. In fact I was told that questioning if my problems had been made worse by drugs was evidence of "disordered thinking", which is in effect only one step away from “thought disorder” i.e. psychosis. More than once I was threatened with admission against my will and only avoided it by lying and saying I was feeling better.

Eventually one mental health nurse listened and got an opinion from a pharmacologist at the local hospital who said my problems could be pharmacological. He advised that the Lexapro dose should be dropped down to the standard dose. Once I dropped the Lexapro dose I improved a bit, the suicidal urges stopped and my husband could go back to work. However I experienced severe SSRI withdrawal including all over body tingling, hot sweats and derealisation even though I was still on the standard dose. I would not have survived this without the information supplied in Dr Healy’s article which by then my husband had found.

The psychiatrist I was seeing denied withdrawal was even possible since I was still taking Lexapro and very soon after that (about a week) said he couldn't look after me any more. I was "atypical" and he had no more ideas. He hoped someone else would be able to help me.  At least he did seem genuinely sorry for the state I had been left in. He offered to refer me to another psychiatrist but by now my husband and I had lost all faith in psychiatrists and we said no thanks that we would go back to our family doctor.

I decided to stop all the drugs and with a very rapid taper and on my own over about two weeks I did. I experienced severe withdrawal symptoms including diarrhoea, abdominal pains, hot sweats, hypoglycaemia, panic attacks, muscle jerks and of course terrible insomnia and fatigue. In the first few weeks my total sleep hours in a week were often less than 14. I would go 3 nights without any sleep at all. Twice I collapsed on the side of road when out walking. Even so I felt better in withdrawal than while taking the drugs and had a better level of functioning!

After about 3 months off drugs my family doctor sent me to see another psychiatrist for a one off review as I still experiencing severe insomnia and struggling to get through the days. He (the new psychiatrist) seemed to think all my problems were anxiety. He ignored benzo and SSRI withdrawal as possible causes for my ongoing sleeplessness and poor level of functioning. The one good thing that came out of this appointment it was that he said I did not have depression and let my doctor know this. Also good was that he did not suggest any more drug treatment.

I tried many insomnia cures over the first few months (about 40) all of which were ineffective. I also went to another doctor who does hypnotherapy to try and treat my insomnia but it didn't work and in the end he said I should go back on Zopiclone. My own doctor thought so too as she was adamant I could not be withdrawal after 5 months, and said she would prescribe as many Zopiclone tablets as I wanted. I could just phone for a script and she would let all the nurses know not to question me. My husband travels for work and so in desperation I did try a Zopiclone tablet one night: it just did nothing. I slept less than 2 hours and spent the next day crying.

This was a valuable turning point for me. My tolerance to Zopiclone proved I was still in withdrawal. Tolerance and withdrawal are both reflections of drug caused changes in your brain. I saw that my doctor and the psychiatrist I had recently seen did not know the true length of Zopiclone/Clonazepam withdrawal. I decided to find out for myself and come across Dr Ashton's paper on protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms, with insomnia listed as up to 12 months. Another addiction expert Dr Seven Melemis says 2 years. This gave me hope. I knew that my problems were not the result of mental illness but of drug withdrawal and that I would improve with time. I have come to accept that nothing but time will cure me. Even fear is part of the journey and I have to accept it and survive one night and one day at a time.

Since then I have been in recovery. It is now 3 months since I took any Zopiclone and 10 months out from Lexapro. I still have insomnia with lots of myoclonic jerks, sometimes up to 15 times a night, but I have now started to dream again which I feel is a sign of recovery.

The SSRI has damaged the nerves in my feet which are painful, often swell, sweat and go red. It is a peripheral neuropathy and I don't know if it will get better or not. My hands too are affected but to a lesser degree.

I sometimes blame myself for not knowing better as a health worker, but the truth is I had been fed a constant diet of pro drug propaganda. I was completely unaware of what SSRIs can do.

I have lost my job but I do still have my home and family and my back is ok now too. I am often very very tired but once I am well I would love to travel to see Dr Healy, Dr Ashton, Dr Melemis and Dr Breggin to thank them for saving my life by providing truth about these drugs.

Still not sleeping but glad to be alive,


It is now 20 months since my rapid withdrawal. Slowly and with many ups and downs I have continued to heal. My insomnia is intermittent rather than constant now and I expect to heal more and more as time goes by. The myoclonic jerks are all but gone. My husband and I have continued to learn about the fraudulent promotion and the toxic nature of most psychiatric drugs and we are active in efforts to publicise the dangers. I can be contacted at

  Home Forum Withdrawal Benzo Names Contact Us  
Disclaimer Stories Books AATA Sitemap