We take more psychiatric meds than ever - and in many cases we feel we benefit from them. Are we really better off?


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, July 13, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Five personal reasons for not taking psychiatric drugs

Many people report great benefits from taking a variety of drugs for a range of psychological conditions. Indeed, I sometimes wonder whether every single human being could benefit from relying on one or more psychiatric medications - myself included.

Disclosure: Although I currently take no such drugs, a girlfriend once gave me some of her Concerta - a long-acting stimulant drug for ADD. I loved it! It improved my mood, and allowed me to concentrate better when interacting with others. I ate less. I could use these effects of the drug.

Should I have continued taking the drug (getting my own prescription)? Should we all be taking such medications?

Here are five reasons not to:

1. We fool ourselves. It may be that prescription consumers are wrong that the drug helps them. We have all seen people who report that a drug has remedied something for them - while we are feeling they are just the same as they have always been! We are very unreliable sources for evaluating everything - even our own moods - since people often report feeling better when being given either inert placebos, or drugs that do something, but not what the consumer expects or wants.

2. Drugs wear off. This is not a minor consideration. In general, people feel and do worse when their blood (and nervous system) concentrations of a drug decline, and people are thrust back onto their natural resources. Of course, in addiction, this is called "withdrawal." In the long-term, all drugs show tolerance effects - that is, their impact declines with repetitive use. That's the way we work. Thus psychopharmacologists are constantly readjusting the drug doses they administer patients.

3. Dependence. Lindsay Lohan (poor girl) seemed almost like the punch line to a joke when she expressed surprise that anyone was concerned about her level of prescription drug reliance - she is taking Dilaudid (a pain killer), Adderall (an amphetamine for ADD whose stimulant effects are similar to the Concerta I took), Zoloft and Trazadone (antidepressants). When questioned about this cocktail of substances, Lohan said that she had been taking them as long as she could remember! Implied: what's your problem?

4. Can people improve themselves? Does reliance on a drug to do things for you short-circuit any chance you have of improving on your own? For example, can you learn to concentrate better, perhaps by walking before sitting down to work, or other means? On top of this, people mature - for example, most people concentrate better with age, in which case drugs might cover up such naturally occurring improvements. But are such natural mechanisms preferable to chemical assistance? If not, then it doesn't matter if we rely on drugs. Lindsay and many other people - many of them holding medical degrees - believe this to be true.

5. What about your "self"? Is there such a thing as the real you - and should we value that something? Another way to put this might be, "the good comes with the bad." That is, the very habits that you feel constrain, derail, or detract from your performance might make you who you are, and better in some areas - quick reactions, for example, can be good in some situations, just the way that actively questioning people and situations is sometimes superior to patiently - passively - waiting to see how things develop. Different drugs encourage different sides of your personality - some people (Lindsay) are taking drugs on both sides of the balancing scale (a depressant painkiller and an amphetamine stimulant).

I come to this question with a primary background in overreliance on drugs - addiction. In my Life Process Program, and among addicts I have known, I have seen people discard long cornucopias of prescriptions - and their lives and moods improved. Even when they had downturns, they were often incredibly grateful that they were now able to face situations on their own, their personalities and natural moods in tact. One such woman is Amy Lee Coy, for whose new book about curing her own addictions - From Death Do I Part - I recently wrote the Foreword. Ms. Coy first quit a long list of prescribed mood meds before quitting drinking and smoking.

In other words, people first welcome drugs, then welcome being free of them.

And, anyway, that's one less thing to remember doing in the morning.