Tamzin White has already been through more hurt in her 18 years than most people could expect in a lifetime.

However, the brave North West Regional College student, who lost her mother to alcohol addiction earlier this year, is harnessing the spirit of her late mum to campaign for a detox centre to be established in her native Derry city.

The inspirational teen spoke to the Sunday World about her mother’s demons and how she’s pledged to help those who are struggling with substance abuse issues.

Tamzin, who helps her father look after her younger sisters Farrah (11) and Lola-May (8), explained how her mother’s problems arose: “My mummy, Louise, passed away on January 16. Back in 2015 she began drinking heavily; that’s really the first time we noticed it was an addiction. Then in 2019 she started to dabble with drugs – drugs like cocaine and speed.

“I said to her at the time, ‘you’re going down a bad path with drugs, it’s going to keep bringing you back to drink’. I said the drugs would put her in an early grave. But she never listened to me. That’s addiction for you.

“Before her addiction, my mum would have been a weekend drinker. She would have gone with my dad and friends on nights out. Nobody ever really expected this from her. Then in 2015 she just started drinking that wee bit more.

“When my mummy died, she’d been on a bender for 11 days. It was the alcohol which killed her in the end. You hear the stories about people who drink a half bottle of spirits to get drunk, but my mum was drinking a ten-glass bottle – even a litre bottle – at a time just to escape reality.

“She died in the living room. My cousins walked in and found her. Initially they thought she’d fallen into a sleep coma, which happens with people who drink like that, but when they went to perform CPR on her they realised my mummy had passed away.”

Tamzin also spoke of how her mother had been deeply affected by the death of her brothers and a nephew.

“I think one of the biggest things which led to her addiction was that my mummy didn’t know how to deal with the loss of her brothers, my uncle Dee Dee (David), my uncle Budgie (Eamon), my uncle Tick (Robert) and her nephew, Andrew, Robert’s son, who took his own life at just 19. Addiction contributed to all of their deaths.”

Explaining how she is campaigning for detox services to be established, and what the difference is between detox and rehab, Tamzin said detox provides respite and care for people who have abused substances or have drank or taken too much in the short term, providing the necessary care for people to rid their bodies of the substances they have ingested.

“Detox is different from rehab. In a detox centre, you can actually go in while you are on drink or drugs. It helps the user get off drink or drugs in the first place, the first step, in a safe environment. Rehab, on the other hand, focuses more on the recovery from substance abuse and rebuilding.

“I believe my mummy’s life could have been saved had there been a detox centre in the city.”

Tamzin said Louise never stopped being a doting mother to her three girls.

“I had a really good relationship with my mummy, and she told me about the drugs in confidence. We had that kind of bond where we could have literally said anything to each other.

“One day I was out driving with my mum, and she turned around and said ‘I’m going up here to get a bag of coke’. I was shocked. When she started taking coke, she did turn into a different person.”

“The idea of a Derry detox centre came to me when I was online and I was looking at a Facebook post of all of my relatives who have died through addiction. I had this overwhelming feeling that I should be doing something.”

“My mummy is beside me all the way, she is my drive.

“She tells me what to do and how to do it. She is always with me. After she died I actually fell really far behind with my tech work, but with her, I’ve worked really hard to catch up.”

With Tamzin and her sisters living with their father, she reflected on the mother she knew and whom she loved deeply, even in Louise’s darkest hours.

“My mummy wasn’t a full-time alcoholic. She went periods of time without drinking. At one stage she didn’t drink for a full year.

“Addiction or not, she was the best mummy ever. Even when she was drinking, she was a really doting mummy. We lived and breathed for her as well.”

So far, Tamzin, who submitted a petition to Stormont with over 9,000 signatures in regards to getting a detox unit established, has experienced overwhelming support from politicians, and is due to meet Health Minister Robin Swann early next month.

“Karen Mullan (Sinn Féin MLA, Foyle) and Emmet Doyle (Aontú councillor, Derry City) have been a great help to me. I’ve also been keeping in contact with Tommy Canning from the Northlands rehab centre in the city.

“I’m going to meet Robin Swann on May 7. Emmet Doyle, Karen Mullan and Mark Durkan are coming to support me.”

For more information on Tamzin’s campaign, visit her Facebook page, Derry Demands a Detox Unit.


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