Friday, June 10, 2016

Your Great, Great, Grandmother…Hooked on Drugs—by Christine Lindsay

When it comes to drug addiction, we in the 20th and 21st centuries do not have a monopoly on the misuse of drugs. That’s one of the many reasons I love historical fiction. The topics are as apt today as they were in days gone by.

A number of years ago I had the difficult task of helping my elderly mother withdraw from psychotic medications that her over-worked doctor had wrongly prescribed her. It took her new doctor and myself over a year to help her come back to a life that was no longer chained to addiction. Today, she is a vibrant woman, a regular social butterfly at church, but what a nightmare helping her withdraw from a drug she should never have been prescribed in the first place!!!

It's equally feasible that some of your ancestors and mine were addicted to prescribed medications. When it came time to write a novel that dealt with this
Arthur Conan Doyle addicted
to Laudanum
issue, the drug that stood out in history was Laudanum. According to Wikipedia, is “a tincture of opium containing approximately 10% powdered opium, the equivalent of 1% morphine. A brownish red tincture with an extremely bitter taste.

From the time it was first invented in the 1600’s and through the Victorian ages where it gained popularity as the cure all for everything, and even past the
Mary Todd Lincoln, heavy user
of laudanum
arrival of the Food and Drug Act of 1906, doctors regularly prescribed laudanum to patients with an array of ailments. Everything from cholera to vague emotional discomfort from menstruation were treated with the easily accessible laudanum. You didn’t even need a doctor’s note, but could receive this drug over the pharmacy counter.

Due to the most potent ingredient in laudanum—morphine—patients often found themselves in a dependent state and in many cases, addicted. Withdrawal was as difficult for some of our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors, as harsh as what heroin addicts suffer today.

Looking back at history one would think that laudanum should never be used.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
addicted to laudanum.
This is not the case. Opium tincture (laudanum) is still prescribed to patients today for pain relief and especially for extreme diarrhea. I myself was given laudanum after the birth of one of my children when I came down with a bad case of the flu at the same time. My doctor quickly gave me the opium tincture which worked amazingly fast, and got me back to health to take care of my vulnerable newborn.

I did a lot of research into laudanum addiction and withdrawal for my latest novel Sofi’s Bridge. The following excerpts convey many of those facts.


“Mother stayed hidden away within the refuge of her four walls. In her own private asylum from that little amber bottle of laudanum clutched in her hand, and the hazy fog it induced.”


Charles clucked his tongue. “This distress is most unhealthy. Where is your medicine, Roselle?”

She waved to the desk by the window. Perhaps it would be best to take the tincture.

He brought the amber glass bottle to her.

After adding the drops to a glass of water, he supported her as she sipped, as if she were an invalid. Yet, she sighed as soon as the bitter taste hit her tongue. As much as she hated the dullness of mind the laudanum brought, it also brought a strange salve.

“That’s good, Rosie dearest, drink it all.”

She sank against the settee cushions. Yes, it was best this way. A few drops of the laudanum. And only a little while. Only a little while. The dreams would take her...


Neil and Henric reached the homestead and ran into the house to find Sofi’s mother in the large front bedroom. She paced from the window to each wall of the room and back to the window.

Henric took Roselle’s hand.

In a nervous spasm she thrust his hand off, yet was cognitive enough to give him an apologetic look. “Henric...sor—sorry.” Her glassy-eyed gaze shifted away.

Neil stayed in the doorway observing her.

She veered from the window to cross the room and threw a glance at him, but otherwise ignored his presence. “Trina.” She swallowed convulsively and spoke to Henric. “Trina...should not see me this way...” At least she was perceptive enough to understand and protect her daughter.

“Mama, I want to help you.” Trina tried to take her mother in her arms.

Roselle shrank from her.

Henric addressed the girl. “Trina, go to my place, do as your Mama says. It’ll help settle her.” After Trina left, Henric sent Neil a pleading look. “Can you do anything for Rosie?”

“When was her last dose of laudanum?”

“She thinks she took some yesterday morning, but she’s not sure of the passage of time. It may have been earlier.”

Neil counted back. By her symptoms, Mrs. Andersson had probably calculated correctly. It would be best to assume she’d had none of the opium tincture for at least a day and a night, and was in the middle of shaking loose from the drug’s grip.

Roselle rubbed her arms and shivered. A moment later, she sat on the edge of a chair and ran a hand across her sweating brow. She stood and paced again. Her hair fell about her shoulders.

Neil took a step closer. “When did these symptoms begin?”

Henric scratched his head. “At first she slept restlessly, but kept crying out in dreams. She became more and more anxious and nauseated.”

“Mrs. Andersson,” Neil said. “Will you be seated on the bed and let me examine you.”

She drew her fist under her nose. Her teeth chattered. “I need my medicine.” Though she didn’t resist when Neil helped her sit on the bed and took her wrist.
Her pulse ran like a steam engine, as did her breathing. Her pupils dilated, but at least they were equal in dilation, and her body trembled like quicksilver. This exhausted woman was only in the middle of the battle. If her withdrawal symptoms escalated to severe in the next few hours, she ran the risk of seizure, and she’d need a hospital.

Neil rolled up his sleeves and spoke to her maid. “She’ll need a clear broth. Bring a pitcher of water for now. Henric, my instruments are in my bag up in the cabin. Will you get them? After you bring my bag, go to the pharmacist for a bottle of belladonna.”  

Neil chafed his patient’s hands. “It’s all right Mrs. Andersson. Sure, you’ll be feeling better in no time at all.”

Christine Lindsay is the author of multi-award-winning Christian fiction with complex emotional and psychological truth, who always promises a happy ending. Tales of her Irish ancestors who served in the British Cavalry in Colonial India inspired her multi-award-winning series Twilight of the British Raj, Book 1 Shadowed in Silk, Book 2 Captured by Moonlight, and explosive finale Veiled at Midnight.

Christine’s Irish wit and use of setting as a character is evident in her
contemporary romance Londonderry Dreaming and newest release Sofi’s Bridge.

A busy writer and speaker, Christine, and her husband live on the west coast of Canada. Coming August 2016 is the release of her non-fiction book Finding Sarah—Finding Me: A Birthmother’s Story.

Please drop by Christine’s website or follow her on Amazon on Twitter. Subscribe to her quarterly newsletter, and be her friend on Pinterest , Facebook, and  Goodreads


  1. Fascinating post! Thank you for sharing, Christine.

  2. Nice post, Christine! Wasn't Edgar Allan Poe also addicted to laudanum? Or perhaps it was something else. Opium addiction was rampant among wealthy Chinese, as is seen in The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. It probably goes back to the ancients. One could say it's good it isn't so easily obtained today, except that other street drugs, such as crack cocaine, have replaced it. I hope Sofi's mom overcomes her addiction!

  3. Very interesting and eye-opening post. Thanks for sharing.