The Mental Health Medication Problem

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I’m a recovering drug addict, and my primary drug of choice was prescription medications. Since I got sober, my outlook on prescription medications has changed greatly. The tricky situation is that I’m not a doctor, so you should take what I say with a grain of salt, but also, you need to remember that doctors are half of the reason we have such a major issue with prescription drugs in the first place.

As I write this, I’m finishing the book Saving Normal by Alan Francis , and he’s the psychiatrist who led the team that created the DSM-IV. He’s one of the few doctors who is recognizing the massive problem going on in the United States when it comes to prescription medications, but I think if we’re going to overcome the prescription drug epidemic, we need to start recognizing our own ability to thrive without some of these medications.

I’m on Meds

Yep. That’s right. I’m on a mental health medication, and I have been for the most part of seven years. I was diagnosed with a Generalized Anxiety Disorder as well as depression, and when I’m not taking meds, it’s not good for myself or anyone else in my life. My anxiety flares up at random times, and I go into a full-blown panic, or I slip into a deep depression. There’s been a few times I’ve weaned off of the medications with my doctor’s supervision, but I always end up back on them.

Since getting sober from my prescription drug addiction, I’ve been extremely cautious with meds. I think a lot of people recovering from that addiction are (or they should be at least). After you’ve been the slave to a tiny pill for years, you want to be completely free from them. But, staying sober is pretty difficult when you’re having anxiety attacks and major depressive episodes. Because of my recovery, I don’t take narcotic medications like Xanax. I’ve taken Lexapro for most of the last seven years, but this year, I switched to Prozac.

Although these medications help, they don’t help nearly as much as the other coping skills I use in my life. Basically, these medications are designed to get us to a baseline, so the other stuff we do works. For some of us, the meds get us out of bed in the morning so we can have a productive day. For others, it keeps our panic attacks at bay, but we always need to remember that these are never a cure-all.

The Epidemic

Currently, approximately 7% of Americans are addicted to prescription drugs. Prescription drugs are the leading cause of overdose in the United States, and it’s more than heroin and cocaine combined. It’s easy to pass this off as being a problem with prescription opioids, but that’s not the case. The addictive drugs that people are having problems with include opioids, amphetamines, benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

There is an endless amount of suggestions as to what we can do about this crisis, and a lot of them have to do with taming doctors and Big Pharma. While we’d probably see some benefits from no longer being the only country that allows pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly to consumers, for most of you reading this, you’ve already been exposed to this for most of your life. Since we’ve been raised on the idea that taking a pill can fix any problem we have from sadness to hyperactive children, a vast majority of the population is going to continue hounding their primary care doctors for some kind of medication.

I think the solutions we need to start looking at comes from us recognizing our own resilience as a species. There are millions of us who legitimately need to be on some type of medication, but how much do we really need these medications?

Embracing the Human Experience

Although most of us either don’t recognize it or refuse to admit it, we have this delusion that life is supposed to be perfect. Somewhere along the way, we were convinced that we should never be sad, nervous or have any negative feelings. Previous generations love to tell us how much tougher they had it, and even though it can get annoying, it’s true.

A lot of us don’t appreciate how badass we are as a species. We’ve been evolving for millions of years and made it through some serious shit. Anxiety and depression aren’t new. In fact, our ancestors who had a healthy amount of anxiety were the ones who survived long enough to pass on their genes. While being smart about their anxiety, they were still hunting and gathering in a much more ferocious world, and they survived.

This is something that I think we all need to remind ourselves on a regular basis when we start thinking that there’s something wrong with us, and we need some type of powerful medication to fix us. I respect the hell out of medication and how far we’ve come, and my non-narcotic medications keep me in a pretty good place, but I also know that a lot of the moderate symptoms I feel are completely manageable. Within each and every one of us is that same resilient person that survived long before these medications came into our lives.

When I speak of these issues, my main concern is the addictive medications that can either make you develop a dependence or increase the potential of abuse. We really need to start thinking about our decision to take these medications because, again, we can’t always trust doctors to make the right decisions for us. Our need for instantly getting rid of parts of ourselves we’re not pleased with leads us to take medications that often have more side effects than what we’re trying to treat.

Rather than turning to these medications as a first resort, they should be a last resort. If we have the resources, we should be giving therapy an honest try. Although therapy doesn’t work as quickly for our anxiety as popping a Xanax, it helps us get to the root of the problem and develop healthy coping skills to start managing our symptoms. We also need to realize that it’s 2019, and some of the brightest therapists and psychologists on earth have put their knowledge out there for free or in a book that’s usually less than $20. We need to stop risking our lives in an effort to get short-term gains.

As long as Big Pharma is able to show us ads and are allowed to buy politicians through “campaign donations”, it’s up to us to educate ourselves and exhaust our other resources to at least try to manage our mental health without meds.

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