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Iím currently reading a book about the effects of psychotropic medications called Your Drug May Be Your Problem, which I picked up in the bookstore on Sunday. Iíve been on antidepressants for years Ė five and a half years to be exact, and Iíve always taken them without question Ė the doctors always seemed to know what was best, and so I did what they said. But after meeting people with different views on medication, and maturing emotionally over the years, Iíve begun to wonder Ė how do they affect me? Why am I taking medication without really knowing anything about them?
The book, I will admit, is very slanted. It vehemently denies any positive effect of medications, and staunchly denounces the idea of taking any sort of psychiatric medication for whatever reason. I donít exactly agree with this philosophy, because I do believe medication helps me people Ė to what degree is another matter. The authors, however, take a black-and-white stance and insist that medication is unhelpful and just causes more trouble than itís worth. Iíve heard many people talk about how medication is useless, but they never seem to come up with a better solution. Yes, counseling is an option, but for some people, they can remain in therapy for years and never improve.
The book agrees that sometimes there may be a chemical imbalance in the brain, which is often a stance that pharmaceutical companies take when advertising their drugs. However, the authors claim that psychotropic drugs themselves alter the chemical balance of the brain, therefore causing more problems and not actually fixing the original problem.
For instance, the authors cite the fact that when in testing, medications are first tested on healthy animals, and they classify the medication by the type of side effects the animals experience. After going through the animal trials, they give healthy humans the medication, and again classify the medication by the type of side effects the subjects experience. Finally, the researchers will give the medication in a clinical trial to patients, and once again, they will classify the medication by the side effects. Each type of medication has different side effects; stimulants, for instance, make patients experience irritability, hyperactivity, insomnia, seizures, nervousness, confusion, mania, and depression. Using these facts, the authors assert that the medications do not actually ďsolveĒ a chemical imbalance, but simply create a new one that overrides the previous existing one.
Indeed, I believe medications can often cause more problems than theyíre worth. For instance, when I was on Wellbutrin, I experienced a manic-like state, which is a common side effect. I had to be promptly taken off, and on other medications, Iíve had significant weight gain and lethargy. However, if the medications always aggravate the situation, as the book seems to imply, why would people take the medications in the first place?
Additionally, the authors state that there are many serious side effects of medications, such as
The book counters that by stating 75% of the medicationís effect is the placebo effect, in which the patient places faith in the drug and the simple thought that the medication will help them makes them feel better. The other 25% is the active placebo effect, where the existence of side effects makes the patient feel like the medication is working.
This is a legitimate argument, for the placebo effect has been seen many times in medication trials, so I donít have any facts to counter that. However, I think some medications really do work, and saying itís all in our head is a bit extreme.
Pharmaceutical companies claim the medications calm the patient down if the patient is experiencing, say, for instance, psychosis. However, the authors argue, this is at a price, for the medications will block the dopamine and subdue the patient at the cost of blunted emotions and numerous other side effects. Due to the dopamine in the brain being inhibited by an antipsychotic, the brain must compensate for the deficit by creating more dopamine than usual. When the patient is taken off the medications, the brain has a surplus amount of dopamine production.
Iíve heard this before as well, and this effect occurs in other medications, such as antacid medications. If a person has constant acid reflux, for instance, they might take Tums. Tums is an antacid that represses the production of stomach acids. In order to compensate for the lack of acids, the stomach produces even more to produce a normal level. While that may be fine while the patient is on the medication, once the medication is tapered off, the stomach is still used to producing too much acid.
Even with the evidence that the book puts forth to prove medications are bad, I still have a hard time accepting that no psychotropic medications are helpful. How do they explain the suppression of psychotic episodes in schizophrenics? Counseling, while helpful, has its limits. It canít stop hallucinations. Medications canít be a black-and-white situation; there must be a gray area somewhere. I personally believe medications can be helpful, but for short periods of time. I donít believe in staying on medications for decades, because then the brain really does become dependent on them. Medications, like illegal drugs, can be addictive and after a certain period of time, the brain is unable to function without them.