False Friends: Psychiatric Medications and Prescription Drug Dependence
Psychiatric medications, also called psychotropics, are designed for mental health. They are supposed to make us feel happier, more resilient, 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 psychotropics are household names: Prozac, Ritalin, Xanax, and Ambien are just a few in the long list of available “happy pills”. Many women with addiction have been diagnosed at some point in their lives with a mental health condition and placed on medication to treat it.
It is a standard practice in many rehabilitation facilities to encourage medication compliance as a way of stabilizing women and giving them a better chance at recovery. Therapists are typically educated to believe that this is the best standard of care available.
At Villa Kali Ma we see it like this: in some cases, short-term use of psychotropics for the purposes of stabilization, in cases where a woman’s life is in immediate danger, may be recommended, but generally speaking, we favor the most organic, integral, non-medicated approach to recovery. If you have not yet been placed on a psychotropic, we will not encourage you to get on one now. In this article we will attempt to share why.
Across the board, psychotropics do not cure, but only temporarily suppress the symptoms of the conditions they are prescribed for. In other words, the most a woman can hope for is that her symptoms disappear while taking the drug. The moment the drug is stopped, she can expect that the original symptoms will occur, and most likely, come back with a vengeance.
If that sounds a little bit like addiction, you are not wrong. Some prescription psychiatric medications are in fact well-known to be addictive, especially the class known as benzodiazepines, which include Xanax and Klonopin. 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 addiction to prescriptions. Stimulants used for ADHD are also very habit-forming and involve agonizing withdrawals.
Even those medications not typically thought of as addictive, (because they do not manifest tolerance as quickly as the above mentioned drugs), such as anti-depressants and anti-psychotics, nevertheless create a condition of chemical dependence in the exact same way that substances like cocaine and alcohol do – by altering brain chemistry so that the brain comes to expect, and changes itself to work around, the presence of the chemical.
Due to changes in neurotransmitter functioning caused by the drug, the brain goes into a dysfunctional, imbalanced state when a psychotropic is stopped. Like addictive substances, psychotropic medications create a lasting disturbance in brain chemistry which deeply impairs a person’s ability to experience feelings of wellbeing long after the substance is removed.
Stories of misdiagnosis and ill-fitting medications inducing psychotic breaks and turning someone into “a zombie” abound, and it is common knowledge that the science behind these medications is so inexact that a new psychotropic is typically introduced in a “let’s try this one, at this dose, and see what happens”. Many women have had to cycle through ever-shifting arrangements of drug cocktails only to arrive at something that sort of works, but sooner or later stops working, resulting in another go at adjusting medications. In general, women placed on psych meds can expect a need to increase dosage over time to achieve the same effect, and may end up getting placed on a second, third, or fourth psychotropic to address the side-effects of the first one.
If this method could at least be said to improve a woman’s mental health, it would be one thing, and there is absolutely no value judgment attached to a woman in pain turning to whatever resources she may have at her disposal to try to feel better. But disturbingly, as more clinicians investigate long-term outcomes data (not just the short-term clinical trial period of a few weeks required for FDA approval, but also the overall development of a person’s lifespan, including measures like number of hospitalizations, relapses, need to go on disability, brain damage, and suicidality), it appears that psychotropics have serious problems that we at Villa Kali Ma feel all women should be aware of.
Psychiatrist Dr. Kelly Brogan, MD and investigative journalist Robert Whitaker are two of the more well-known voices who have spoken up about the problems with prescription psychiatric medications and helped spread awareness that all is not as it seems in our paradigm of mental health. In his prize-winning book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, which Villa Kali Ma recommends to everyone, Whitaker exposes a terrifying probability, a conclusion reached simply by taking a closer look at data already in existence. A thorough review of data gathered independently as well as data collected in pharmaceutical companies’ clinical studies indicates a horrifying but nevertheless compelling possibility: not only do prescription psych medications not curethe condition they claim to treat, they actually createa host of serious, devastating problems which are clearly worse than the original condition. Specifically, it looks as though anti-psychotics worsen psychosis over time, anti-depressants increase suicidality, anti-anxiety agents induce panic disorder, and so on. In other words, in the long run these drugs create more of the problem they are supposed to treat.
Whitaker describes how mental health statistics show that not only are we as a nation not happy (which we theoretically should be, if psychotropics work, since we are the most medicated nation in the world), we have actually been severely declining in mental health over the last decades. Our decline coincides with the pharma industry extending its reach into our emotional lives. The numbers at this stage of the game are grim: people with mental health disorders are now more likely than ever to suffer cognitive decline, end up on disability permanently, struggle in the legal system, develop addictions to prescriptions and street drugs alike, to become homeless, and to commit suicide. According to indicators like those, we are undeniably more mentally ill as a country than ever before.
The implications of the state we have gotten ourselves into are quite severe; psychotropic medications, whether or not they are effective in the short term (which, it turns out, is also up for debate), are now recognized to make lifetime mental health consumers out of people. Frighteningly, many of the mental health conditions now considered epidemic look like they are probably iatrogenic, which means that they were triggered by the use of psychotropic medications in the first place. In other words, whether or not you had a serious mental health problem before you got put on meds, once placed on them for more than a short period, you’re more or less guaranteed to have a mental health problem for life.
For a variety of reasons, this information is not yet widely known and accepted in many households, but even if we grant that more research would be beneficial (it always is), enough evidence both scientific and anecdotal exists to cast serious doubt on the whole idea of using psychiatric medicines to address mental health problems.
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 addiction and prescription medication dependence, 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.
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 we integrate psychiatrists and MDs in treatment, too, and 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 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.