Addicts in the making

Legal drug addiction is the biggest cancer in our society today.

There is a clear correlation between the prescribing of benzo-diazepines in pregnancy and the explosion in the numbers of children with attention deficit disorders (WDDTY, vol 8 no 4), and addiction to alcohol (a similar substance) and drugs. These problems were virtually unheard of some 30 years ago.

Home Office statistics show that the number of deaths per year linked to benzodiazepines exceed those for all the five illegal 'Class A' narcotic drugs put together. They also cause far worse brain damage (Am J Psychiatry, 1980; 137: 828-30).

Pregnant mothers who are regular 'benzo' users may have a 24 fold increase in perinatal death (Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand, 1992; 71: 492-3). Illegal Class A drugs are clearly a picnic compared wth the benzo-diazepines.

Some 50,000 benzo babies a year have been born in the UK since 1960, when tranquillisers were first introduced, making a possible total of two million British children potentially brain damaged in pregnancy by these drugs.

Perhaps the worst permanent sideeffect of these drugs in pregnancy, however, is that so many of the affected children go on to become uncontrollable alcoholics and drug addicts. This is hardly surprising as benzos themselves are so addictive.

Benzo babies are born drug addicts, screaming with withdrawal symptoms (The Sunday Telegraph, 21 September 1997). Their entire system has been adapted to the presence of the drug during pregnancy. In adults, addiction is usually reversible, but it may be irreversible in a fetus. These children may remain in a lifelong state of painful withdrawal unless they keep taking a drug.

A recent Tranx organisation survey showed that over 90 per cent of benzo babies develop attention deficit disorder (ADD) and hyperactivity problems, and some 70 per cent go on to suffer from problems of chemical dependency. Research shows a clear link between benzos and ADD (J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 1993; 34: 295-305) as well as between ADD and drug abuse (Hosp Commun Psychiatry, 1994; 45: 421-35). This is nothing new. The link between hyperactivity/ ADD and alcoholism has been well established for years (J Nerv Ment Dis, 1975; 160: 349-53).

Low serotonin levels, also caused by tranquilliser damage (Am J Psychiatry, 1977; 134: 665-9), is another cause of drug addiction. Studies by Karol Kumpfer have shown that depressed people usually hit the bottle or take drugs to boost their 'happiness hormone', even though this may only be a short lived fix (Kumpfer KL, in Youth at High Risk for Substance Abuse, Brown BS, Mills AR, eds, DHHS publication no (ADM) 87-1537, Washington, DC: National Institute of Drug Abuse, 1987, pp 1-71).

Depleted opiate levels, damaged by tranquillisers in pregnancy (Eur J Pharmacol, 1983; 96: 141-4) are now also recognised as a major cause of alcoholism (Arch Gen Psychiatry, 1998; 55: 1114).

It has taken researchers years to realise that problems of chemical dependency are not necessarily inherited and genetic. Recent studies now show that alcohol taken in pregnancy can create a 'latent dependency' in the fetus (J Stud Alcohol, 1998; 59: 292-304). Cigarettes smoked by a mother during pregnancy can 'prime' a child's brain and predispose it to nicotine addiction later in life (Am J Public Health, 1994; 84: 1407-13). Tranquillisers in pregnancy clearly have similar effects.

In addiction, children are great copy cats; they see their parents frantically diving for their prescribed 'fix' and they want to do the same (J Abnormal Psychol, 1972; 79: 153-60). With over one million UK adults still hooked on benzodiazepine and another million permanently disabled by years of protracted withdrawals, these children will also suffer a lifetime of parental deprivation and poverty, which is yet another well known factor driving them into the arms of drugs (Kumpfer KL, DeMarsh J, Children and Chemical Abuse, Haworth Press, 1986).

Research by Glenn Livezey also shows that tranquillisers in pregnancy can destroy nearly 50 per cent of the fetus's benzodiazepine receptors, the body's calming mechanism. Therefore, for the rest of his life, that child will suffer uncontrollable panic attacks and anxiety at the slightest stress, as his calming mechanisms will have been permanently damaged (Neurobehav Toxicol Teretol, 1986; 8: 433-40). Anxiety and the inability to cope are well known factors predisposing people to drugs. Benzo-damaged children lose out in every way they turn.

As Vernon Coleman says in his book, Life Without Tranquillisers (Corgi, 1986), "Thousands of GPs have become drug pushers and hundreds of thousands of their patients have become junkies". Prescribed psycho active drugs, with their millions of addicts, are the major cause of our booming drug taking culture.

No mother would take these toxic drugs in pregnancy if she knew of the potential devastating effects. Drug addiction costs our country billions in crime, lost production, welfare dependency and health costs, quite apart from the individual tragedy to the families concerned.

Unless something is done to protect the public from inappropriate prescribing, thousands more brain damaged British children will continue to swell the exploding epidemic of academic no hopers and drug addicts.

!AMargaret Bell

A free two day conference entitled 'Beating the Benzos' will take place on 1-2 November 2000 at the Fairfield Hotel in Croydon, London (1 Lansdowne Road, CR9 2BN).

Attendance will be by ticket only, so please don't just show up at the door. For more details, contact Reg Peart on 01202 311 689 (evenings only).