The United States is a nation addicted to prescription drugs. A recent Associated Press article noted that since 2006 more people have died related to prescription drug abuse than car crashes or cocaine and heroine combined. What I found so alarming is that 1 in 4 women in the US is on psychiatric medication. When I began thinking about it, I could only name a few friends I knew that didn’t take medication and some I’ve witnessed such erratic behavior that I didn’t even feel like I was talking to the person I knew. I know friends who pop a pill to go to sleep, pop a pill to wake up, and pop a pill to focus during the day. I know friends with 3 bottles of pills by their bedside and medicine cabinets full of prescription drugs. Although it could certainly be argued that I myself may need to be on medication, somehow the only psychiatric medication I have been prescribed was percocet for 3 days after I had surgery, and I didn’t even take all of them before I felt fine and didn’t need them anymore. But in going through a huge life transition last year I was given a Xanax here and there to help me sleep, and although it did help me go to sleep and not toss and turn with anxiety until 4am, the effects I could always feel the next day - a sluggishness, an inability to focus, and lack of motivation. With this recent AP article, I cannot help but wonder ‘Why?’ Why does our nation find it necessary to be medicated? Why do so many people I know who seem to have so much going for them in life find it necessary to medicate? Are we a nation with made up problems? Are doctors too quick to prescribe these drugs instead of suggesting therapy?
When you think about our society - most people live relatively comfortably. A bad day may be a break-up or a speeding ticket - these are ‘white people problems’. When it comes down to it these are problems that may be painful, but the pain is truly ‘all in our head’. They are not problems of survival - How am I going to feed my child? Are we going to be able to make the mortgage payment? How can I help my sister who is dying from cancer? When you think about the beginning of man - the only problems we used to have were problems of survival, cavemen dealt with: Where am I going to find food?, How do I protect my woman and child from being killed by a wild animal?, Where can I find water? There was no ‘I don’t feel like getting out of bed today because I’m sad.’ or ‘I just need to take a Xanax because my boyfriend upset me.’ I completely understand how someone wouldn’t feel like getting out of bed, I have been there myself and sometimes you just need to take time to work through your sadness or anxiety and tell yourself ‘This feeling is temporary, it isn’t truly how I feel, it is temporary.’ What I also have found interesting is how people see nothing wrong with popping a pill, yet even in today’s day and age have an aversion to seeing a therapist because that’s what ‘crazy’ people do. Everyone should probably go to a therapist because it is in fact ‘theraputic’ to talk to someone - no matter what your problems are or your life stage - it is nice to be able to talk. Another effect of our tech culture is that people do not like talking on the phone anymore - texting, Facebook messaging, and Tweets have replaced actual voice to voice conversation. Amazingly enough though everytime I have a long conversation with a friend about something going on in my life or even pray out loud, I feel better.
I wanted to dive more into this issue of our medicated society and so I interviewed different people who have taken prescription drugs.
Female, age 39
I have been on some type of antidepressant since I was 26, most recently Lexapro. The thing with Lexapro is that I will have withdrawals if I don't keep taking it. My prescription ran out recently and I found myself calling the nurse 5 times during the day to get her to call in my prescription. I became very panicky and jittery. I feared going off it and having to start over. I didn't want to have panic attacks and have that sad, depressing, freaking out, raging, crying feeling. Maybe I would be okay, but would I be ok in 24 hours? Or would I be under my desk crying? Lexapro helps me from hitting rock bottom.
Female, age 25
Between the ages of 18 to 22 years old, I was a benzodiazepine addict. Any were good but my favorite was always Valium because for me it produced the desired feeling and lasted a long time. Then one day my foggy minded life changed. I was generously given a bottle of a much sought after drug for me, Alprazolam or better known as Xanax. The very sight of a 2mg Xannibar makes my mouth water almost and I still crave it although I am no longer addicted to or dependent on any benzodiazepine now.
I do not remember most of the year I was heavily abusing Xanax. I can't believe how I kept a full time job on daily Xanax. I would only take one during the weekdays at work to avoid being doped up but as soon as I got home I'd gulp 3 or 4. By the end when I sought help for my addiction I was at a point where I had virtually no memory and also false memories and to this day I still have short term memory problems.
I withdrew from Xanax over a 8 month period with the help of my nurse, with her help by creating a slow dose reduction regimen, a prescribing doctor and a caring pharmacist who dispensed my Xanax and Valium to me 3 times a week as per the regime. I was on both Xanax and Valium at the beginning of the program, the dose of xanax being lower and over the first 4 months, I was weened off of Xanax and was solely on diazepam. I was off that year Christmas day and didn't suffer any withdrawal effect.
Female, age 32
I was going through a tough time in my life - I was unhappy with my job, had been through a bad break-up, and I just felt low. My doctor easily prescribed Xanax, it made me feel great and helped me get through the day, but of course I found myself needing more so my dosage had to be increased. I also would drink on it, which you are not suppose to do, but I had other friends who did it so I thought it wasn’t a big deal. My 3-4 pill indulgence and subsequent pass outs and 'odd' occurrences of unknowingly visiting people while trashed on Xanax was embarrassing, as I'd have no memory of it and friends would recall my stupor and how I would repeat words and generally act very ‘out of it’ but most knew it was just the Xanax and I thank God they still love me and care for me. I realized I am the type to take much more of a benzo than is necessary and I easily became addicted.
Female, age 28
I have been taking Klonopin 0.5 mg once a day for the past four months. I was initially prescribed it to help address relatively acute anxiety and depressive symptoms while I was trying out a series of other medications - Remeron, Wellbutrin, Cymbalta. This has been my first experience in taking a benzo for an extended period of time. I am 28 years old and diagnosed with your standard unipolar depression.
I began to reduce my Klonopin dose four days ago. Per the advice of my psychiatrist, over the past four days I have taken 0.375 mg rather than 0.5 mg. This is my second attempt to reduce my Klonopin usage in the past month. On the first attempt, I cut the dose in half (from 0.5 mg to 0.25 mg) and suffered from a host of moderate to severely uncomfortable symptoms. I would characterize these symptoms as sharply increased rebound anxiety, increased difficulty falling asleep, noticeable shaking in my hands and legs, and feelings of panic ranging from perceived difficulty breathing to just feeling plain old fashioned scared for no reason. These symptoms were significant enough to return to my 0.5 mg dose. This time, I have started with a slower taper and I have had the above symptoms but on a much smaller scale.
While I certainly appreciate that everybody has their own unique situation, I would state my opinion that discontinuing Klonopin has been much tougher than I would have imagined. I would have thought that a small 0.5 mg dose taken once a day over a four month period of time would not lead to any sort of physical dependence whatsoever, but I was wrong.
For years our nation fought the war on drugs, but now it seems another addiction has taken over and it seems perfectly acceptable because doctors prescribe it. Why does prescription drug use seem so prevalant in women? Psychologically, women have a different narrative and profile than men who are on prescription drugs. Women have a greater tendency to have developed that addiction to cope with trauma and emotional pain than men. Women also have a range of social and cultural pressures and issues that men do not experience.
I am not sure what the answer is - but would encourage anyone to try a therapist before starting to take a pill and before you start taking a pill make sure to learn all you can about the drug. And do not abuse it - the one warning almost all prescription drigs say is ‘DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL’. Any positive side effects you see from a prescription drug will have adverse effects with alcohol not only altering your personality and mental cabilities severely, but it could be fatal. When you think about having control of your mind even alcohol stays in our bodies 36 hours effecting us mentally and physcially. So if you feel out of control due to a chemical imbalance and then mix a potentially beneficial prescription drug with alcohol and combine that with long term use there is no way a person could feel in control of their brain. If we live in a nation where there’s an antidepressant for your antidepressant (if it’s not working), if you are depressed but then your prescription drug makes you feel suicidal, then something seems wrong with that picture.
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