I came from a high-profile professional family which was also an alcoholic home. My mother was a rage-aholic–alcoholic from as far back as I can remember. Alcoholism and dysfunction can be traced back on my mother’s side for at least three generations. Like any alcoholic family, we four children all played roles that scholars of the “adult child” phenomenon have described. My eldest sister was the caretaker, ultra-responsible; my brother the lost child who spent hours in his room. My sister Evelyn was the rebel. I, being the youngest, was the “mascot”- the charmer and socialite giving evidence to the illusion that all was well in our home despite the horrors that took place behind closed doors.
Evelyn, the “black sheep,” wasn’t afraid to fight and speak out against the dysfunction and abuse that was taking place in our home. Like many rebels in the alcoholic home, Evelyn became my parents’ focus of what was going wrong. She became the problem, and Evelyn was subjected to more and more abuse. The more she spoke the truth and tried to get help for all of us, the worse things got for her at home.
Evelyn paid a heavy price for her rebellion. She was ostracized by the family, and not only were my parents uncomfortable with her speaking out but also the rest of us didn’t know who to side with. We’d been well-trained to keep the family secret.
Evelyn’s drug and alcohol use became problematic for her in her teens. Evelyn became a chronic pot-user at 14 and later a binge alcoholic. At the age of 32, Evelyn sought treatment for her alcoholism and began a program of recovery. After treatment, Evelyn left her husband and did much soul-searching, discovering a truth she never had the courage to live, that she was a lesbian. Evelyn found companionship and compatibility with a female partner and they left the city to begin a small business in a small town quite a distance from the city.
During a period of 6-7 years, Evelyn maintained her sobriety but did not have a community of recovery in the small town. There were no AA meetings to attend and Evelyn was not involved in counseling or any other form of psychological, spiritual or recovery fellowship. Evelyn began to get very depressed as her business failed and the relationship became flat. During this period she sought medical help and was told that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder applied to her symptoms. She was prescribed medications both for this disorder and for anxiety.
When emotional difficulties arose as a result of the end of her relationship, Evelyn began over-using prescription medications to cope with her feelings. The benzodiazepine “Clonazepam” became Evelyn’s only tool for coping, given that she was not engaged in any other form of self-care. Evelyn was taking up to 4 times the prescribed dose and was more and more slurred, incoherent and less able to function normally. The drug affected her memory and coordination and she was unable to return to work in the nursing profession, where she previously had been very successful for years.
Eventually, Evelyn made a serious suicide attempt, at which time she was put in the psychiatric unit of her local hospital. The psychiatrists revised her diagnosis to “borderline bipolar disorder” but added a mood stabilizer to the medications she was already taking. Predictably, Evelyn hit bottom again and made another suicide attempt. This time, she was offered care at a recovery treatment facility to deal with her prescription-drug addiction.
Detoxification and recovery from a benzodiazepine addiction is extremely difficult. Recent evidence has suggested that the side-effects of withdrawal are so grave that the addict should taper doses slowly over the period of a year to avoid very grave physical and psychological side effects.
Today Evelyn is doing better, but the tendency to solve emotional problems with pharmaceutical drugs still remains. She continues to use prescription medication for a mood disorder
Drug addiction is not always about illicit substances. Often the neighborhood doctor can be the involuntary dealer. Dr. Ray Baker (founder and director of Healthquest and an influential practitioner of addiction medicine) has been quoted as saying, at the Western Addiction Conference in 2006, “any doctor prescribing benzodiazapines to a known alcoholic should be sued for malpractice.”