Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why do people take psychiatric medication if it does not correct a chemical imbalance?

This post is prompted by a comment on a previous entry. The question was whether psychotropic drugs are unnecessary, as people continue to take them even though they don't work by correcting a chemical imbalance.

Believing the chemical imbalance theory provides a good rationale for taking medication (see eg. previous post and eletter). But I guess we will continue to take medication even without really knowing how it works. It is often started when we are feeling desperate, so we are likely to believe whatever's proposed will help. And of course medication might have non-specific effects.

Remember also that discontinuation problems are very common (eg. see my book chapter about antidepressant discontinuation problems.) So I'm not recommending just stopping it. However, I do think it's important to have a debate about the rationale for taking medication (eg. see previous post).

(With thanks to Atariana who has now prompted me to pick up on her comments on my blog a third time.)


Atariana said...

Hi Duncan,

I hope I have not ask too many questions.

Look forward to your conference about critical psychiatry. Hopefully, by then I will be in the position to attend (and still in the country).

Camilla said...

As explained to me by my psychiatrist, I learned that anti-depressants don't "cure" depression but may minimise or may make some of the symptoms of depression less severe. The therapy I was in, and still am, wasn't enough to ameliorate some of the distress I was feeling at the time. So for me personally, it was because of the numbing effect the anti-depressants are supposed to have, and in my case, they did exactly that: the drug I was on allowed me to take a break from myself, for which I was grateful.

I was severely suicidal (where episodes of suicidal ideation would last anything from two days to two weeks at a time), unspeakably distressed (crying all the time) and barely managing to eat and get out of bed.

I experienced the standard side-effects loss of sexual desire, slight lethargy and constipation, but the drug made me less suicidal and less distressed without turning me into an emotional zombie. I was on it for a year and a half and had no great difficulty getting off it: I experienced slight nausea for a few days. So, although it didn't cure me it made my life more bearable. I presume that that's the reason why at least some people use these drugs. Others perhaps because their doctors lied to them about what anti-depressants actually do and don't do, and so in hope of "curing" their depression.

Lou said...

People also take medication without believing the chemical imbalance theory or even experiencing any positive effects because quite simply they feel they have no choice but to do so - to hold onto any psychological support, therefore being seen as compliant with treatment. It's a major fear for some people and has been borne out of actual experience of being told that if they don't take medication then other support will be cut off.

Jeff Johns said...

Psychotic patients often live in fear. Do they take antipsychotics to decrease their anxiety?

Anonymous said...

Some people take the drugs out of fear of being threatened with a needle, or worser drugs, not for any good reason at all.