Ted had been a patient of mine since the early days when my clinic first opened. During that time, Ted had weathered several health crises, but we had always managed to find and fix the problem. When Ted confided in me that he thought he had a drinking problem, I helped him find a counselor to get the treatment he needed.
Eventually, Ted stopped drinking altogether. But then he began having problems sleeping, something fairly common among individuals who give up alcohol. Ted had good results using natural sleep aids, but then during a trip out of town, he fell and wrenched his back. The muscle spasms were so bad that he went to a local clinic and was given Valium as a muscle relaxant. Ted found that the Valium not only eased his back pain, but also helped him sleep. When he was back in town, Ted came to me to get the prescription refilled, but I refused. Knowing that Ted had an addictive personality from his alcohol experience, I explained that benzodiazepines are highly addictive and one of the most abused prescription drugs available, and he should not be taking them.
Although Ted agreed to give up the Valium, I later discovered that he had gone to a new doctor and gotten the prescription from him. This all came to light when Ted’s daughter, Amy, brought him in, fearing that he had Alzheimer’s disease. “He can’t remember what he did last week,” Amy explained, “or even yesterday. His memory is just gone and I’m really afraid he can’t live alone any longer.”
During the discussion of Ted’s symptoms, I learned about the second doctor prescribing Valium. As I suspected, the drug was the cause of his short-term memory problems, which gradually disappeared once he was off it for good. In its place, I recommended Ted try slow-release melatonin, which worked well for him. As Ted summed up later, “If I have to, I can live with an occasional restless night, so be it — as long as I can remember my grandchildren’s names. I had no idea medicine could mess someone up so badly. But now that I’ve seen the consequences, I’ll ask about side effects before I take anything. My family was ready to put me in a home, but I’m happy to say, that’s not going to happen for a long while yet.”