False Friends: Psychiatric Medications and Prescription Drug Dependence
Psychiatric medications, also called psychotropics, are designed to treat mental health disorders. They are prescribed with the intention of assisting us to feel happier, more resilient, and more capable of living fulfilling and meaningful lives.
Psychotropics are typically prescribed when we are given a diagnosis like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, or schizophrenia. Many psychiatric medications are household names: Prozac, Ritalin, Xanax, and Ambien are examples most have heard of by name.
Women with addiction are particularly likely to have been diagnosed at some point in their lives with a mental health condition and placed on one or more prescription medications to treat it.
At Villa Kali Ma, we generally favor an integral, holistic, and non-medicated approach to recovery. If you have not yet been placed on a psychotropic, we will not encourage you to start using them, though we also understand that in some cases very short-term use for stabilization may be beneficial.
We believe that recovery from addiction is not only possible without psychotropics, but preferable when you take the lens of long term health, safety and sustainability.
Our view has been informed by a picture of the true longer term impacts of psychotropic medications that has emerged in the last decade through the publication of several scientific studies, as well as investigative work by journalists, doctors, and medical researchers reassessing and re-analyzing existing clinical data. In light of the information currently available to us, we consider that many psychotropic medications to most likely be a “false friend” for the chemically addicted woman, causing more troubles than they take away.
Psychiatrist Dr. Kelly Brogan, MD and investigative journalist Robert Whitaker are two of the more well-known voices who have spoken up about problems associated with prescription psychiatric medications. In his prize-winning book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, Whitaker takes a closer look at data already in existence and comes to the conclusion that psychotropics have a hand in the rise of medical disability due to mental illness in the United States.
According to Whitaker, a thorough review of data gathered independently as well as data collected in pharmaceutical companies’ clinical studies indicates the following possibility: not only do prescription psych medications not cure the condition they claim to treat, they actually create a host of serious, devastating problems worse than the original condition. Specifically, it looks as though anti-psychotics worsen psychosis over time, (they are also linked to brain shrinkage); anti-depressants increase suicidality; anti-anxiety agents worsen anxiety, and so on.
We have zero judgment towards anyone who has turned to psychiatric medications for help with her suffering, it is not a moral issue but only a question of what really works best. We gently emphasize that psychotropics do not cure, but only temporarily treat the symptoms of the conditions they are prescribed for. The most a woman using psychiatric medications can hope for is that her symptoms disappear while taking the drug. When the drug is stopped, she can expect that the original symptoms will return.
Getting off a psychiatric drug is not always easy. As this study finds, psychotropic drugs may create a “backlash” effect, in which the problem originally treated becomes worse after discontinuation of the medication (due to a type of “oppositional tolerance” that is built up). In “Tardive Dysphoria: the role of long term antidepressant use in inducing chronic depression” the authors likewise explore the connection between antidepressants and an increase in depression on the whole. Finally, anecdotal reports abound detailing the difficulties associated with getting off of psychotropics, as told in the New Yorker piece “The Challenge of Going Off Psychotropics”.
Some prescription psychiatric medications are also addictive, especially the class known as benzodiazepines, which include Xanax and Klonopin, which have been associated with overdose and death. These medications, which are unfortunately rather frequently prescribed to women with anxiety, are famously horrible to withdraw from, and have been correlated with permanent brain damage. Benzodiazepines, alongside the incredibly addictive class of painkillers known as opioids, present huge likelihood of developing prescription drug dependence. Stimulants used for ADHD are also very habit-forming, hence are at high risk of misuse, and like their chemical cousin speed, incur agonizing withdrawals.
Perhaps most importantly, we know that successful alternative therapies exist. Promising results have been documented treating even the severest of psychiatric conditions, such as psychosis, with cognitive therapy, (working with your thoughts). Cognitive therapy is only one of many evidence-based psychotherapy techniques which have been demonstrated to work well with addiction and its underlying concerns and co-occurring conditions (such as PTSD).
The functional medicine approach, in which our mental health troubles are considered treatable with a combination of lifestyle changes, nutrient therapies, exercise, and mindfulness, have an increasingly recognized scientific basis as a way of understanding what mental illness is to begin with, which looks more and more to be quite different than the medical model may have originally believed, as this study also suggests.
As women, our troubles are complex; they are connected to our childhoods, our life stories, our traumas, our ability to make meaning of our experiences, our attitudes, our spirituality, and our bodies. Suffering touches every aspect of our aliveness; we feel it is best treated with holistic, integrated healing approaches that address every aspect of our multidimensional being.–
Specialized Prescription Drug Rehab Programs for Women
We encourage every woman to do her own research, but due to the very real possibility we see that psychotropics cause more harm than good, as well as our own experiences recovering from prescription drug addiction, Villa Kali Ma is committed to an integrative health approach. That means we support the natural knowing within you to grow stronger, we understand your symptoms as messages from the soul and not inconveniences to be medicated away.
Through our prescription drug rehab programs, we help women heal to experience balance, joy and meaning in life, primarily through spirituality, diet and nutrition, yoga and exercise, community recovery groups like AA, and emotional repair achieved through therapy, breathwork, trauma work, and body work. Although our prescription drug rehab programs are integrated with psychiatrists and MDs in treatment, too, and we do understand that it’s important to consider all the tools available in treating mental health and addiction (including questions of timing and making sure that appropriate stability is achieved), we aim to work together with the larger goal of a life independent from any substance.
If you are currently taking prescription medications and also suffer from addiction, please know that we are here, available, committed and capable, to help you find natural prescription drug rehab programs and pathways to recovery that will help rebuild your brain and lead you towards a life free of any kind of chemical substances, prescribed or not. Wherever you stand on this issue, you are warmly invited, and completely welcome here, to have us help you find your own way to a profound, glowing wellness that comes from deep within you.