There are 12 million prescriptions for 'benzos' — common brand names include Xanax and Restoril — every year.
The drugs, which also include diazepam (formerly marketed as valium and known as 'mother's little helper'), are used to treat severe anxiety and nervousness.
Janet Waterton does not look like a drug addict, but her doctors turned her into one. There are 12 million prescriptions for 'benzos', such as Xanax and Restoril, every year.
They work by depressing a part of the brain responsible for controlling consciousness and have a strong tranquillising and sedating effect.
And they are used as a muscle relaxant to treat pain, which is why Janet, a 62-year-old mother of two married to Edgar, 66, a retired mechanic, was prescribed them.
The problem is the brain soon becomes tolerant to the drug, so patients need higher doses to get the same effect. They are also addictive, so are meant to be prescribed for only two to four weeks.
But the withdrawal effects have been described as worse than coming off heroin and include muscle spasms, panic attacks, nightmares and insomnia.
And side-effects can include depression, insomnia, anxiety and depression.
This leaves patients caught in a trap: they can't come off the drugs, but staying on them leaves them feeling ghastly and often unable to function normally.
Janet spent 13 years on benzodiazepines and, she recalls, the experience was terrible. The drugs made her feel 'like a zombie' and she lost three stone, ending up at just seven stone. 'I looked like a bag of bones,' she says.
She spent most of those years 'rotting in bed — I just wanted to lie there with the curtains shut'.