Drugs. A taboo word in some subjects, a normal topic in others, but what does this mean?
The dictionary definition of the word is - ‘A medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced to the body’. Well, that just about covers everything we take in life! So what is a good drug and what is a bad drug and who decides?
This is a topic that has interested me because drugs have been in my life for much of the journey so far, and to be honest, always will be. Now you’re probably thinking straight away that I’m an ex-addict or someone who’s been prescribed prescription drugs for a long period of time. The truth isn’t that, well not completely. I’m not an ex-addict, although I have been treated, many moons ago, for illegal drug use, namely ‘ecstasy’. I have also been prescribed pills from my doctor for numerous different reasons. However, all of us are drug users; we use drugs everyday in our lives and there are very very few who don’t. For example, if you drink tea or coffee you are ingesting caffeine. Caffeine is a very powerful nerve system stimulant. On average there is only 40mg of caffeine per 100g of coffee! It’s a very strong drug. If you have sugar in any shape or form, you are taking a drug. Sugar is an addictive drug that affects our limbic system, the part of the brain that is associated with emotional control. If you smoke, you ingest Nicotine, another stimulant between the brain and body. I could go on.
These are all readily available and legal, and no one bats an eyelid at our use of them in moderation. The same is said of pretty much anything given to us by our doctor. For example, people suffering with mental health can be given a wide range of drugs to take, with the most commonly used being - antidepressants, anti-anxiety, antipsychotic, mood stabilising, and stimulant medications. (Notice I changed from the word drugs to medications, more later). The list is endless, from SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) like Citalopram, Lexapro, Prozac, Luvox and Sertraline (Zoloft) to SNRI’s (selective serotonin & norepinephrine inhibitors) Khedezla, Pristiq, Cymbalta, Fetzima or Effexor. Novel serotonergic drugs such as Trentellix - formerly known as Brintellix and Viibryd. Then there’s Dopamines such as Wellbutrin, or MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) such as Marplan, Nardil or Parnate, and these are just some of the types that treat depression alone. We’d be reading this list all day if I started to cover the endless roll of different synthetic drugs that are given to us to attempt to aid our different neuro and psychological problems. It’s a minefield, yet many of us openly trust our doctors and just take whatever they feel is best.
Now firstly, I’d like to state that I’m not here to dictate or tell anyone how and what to put or not put in their bodies, it’s totally up to you, but I believe having knowledge and understanding of what we are inducing and why, helps to gain better control and well being of ourselves. Not all illegal drugs are as dangerous or harmful as some legal drugs for example. Alcohol is one of the biggest killers in the UK, yet it’s legal. However, cannabis, that is nye on impossible to overdose and die from, is illegal (currently!). Both can be considered to cause anxiety and depression. So who makes the rules, and why do we accept them?
I’ll use the example of alcohol. A terrible depressant, and a destructive poison to our system, it affects our central nervous system and slows down brain function, neural activity and further reduces the functioning of various vital aids to our body. In short, there isn’t really an upside to ingesting it at all. In the United States in 1920 they introduced ‘The National Prohibition of Alcohol’ - to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses and improve health and hygiene. Sounds ok right? And in all honesty they had a point. However it failed. Quite simply, because people wanted to carry on drinking. In short, once you’ve given the masses something, it’s virtually impossible to take it away again. They knew alcohol was a destructive ‘drug’, but found it impossible to banish.
One thing I've picked up about all these different ‘drugs’ we have around us is their description for use. Something that is bad is a poison, or toxin. If it is a drug, it is either an illegal drug, or it is a pharmaceutical drug, one being beneficial, the other not. It seems it depends on its use. What’s the difference between a medicine and a poison? The answer… the dose! You can die from drinking too much water for example, or
overdose on paracetamol. Yet they are easily available to us all. So what are the benefits of taking these so-called pharmaceuticals that are handed out to us by our doctors and are they really beneficial to our needs?
I’ve been prescribed both Citalopram and Sertraline at different times in my life and personally for me, I won’t take them anymore. Again, I stress, the choice is completely individual and you must follow guidelines and listen to advice of a medical professional, but at the same time investigate and understand yourself so you make choices that are best for you. For my experience, I was firstly turned off by the fact that I was told I would feel worse on these before I felt better. I didn’t like the sound of that! This is true of many prescription drugs that we are told to take. But why? After some research I found that generally your body rejects these drugs at first as they are alien to you, don’t forget they are synthetic, meaning, not natural and are made in a lab. You are forcing your mind and body to change its routine, SSRI’s like citalopram and sertraline take a while to build up levels in your body to make the brain then start producing more serotonin, the feel good element in your brain. Now the effect of these things is all well and good, it’s what we want right? We’re at this point because we can’t cope or are having problems and we need help. My question to myself was, but how else can I achieve this arrangement with my brain without taking something that is unnatural to my body? At first for quite a few months I took these drugs, (not medication!) and at times early on I found the effect similar to ‘coming up’ on an ecstasy tablet. Grinding teeth, tension of the body, restlessness etc. Not really all that nice. After time these things wore off, but it still didn’t sit right that I’d conned my mind into being something it wasn’t, which was ‘content’. So I told my doctor that I wanted to come off these pills. He wasn’t all that keen, and also told me coming off them had their own issues and that I must reduce the dose slowly. This also unnerved me, however it also cemented my decision. To my mind this wasn’t something my body enjoyed having in its system. Secondly, the issues that had brought me to this point hadn’t gone away and certainly weren't going to just by popping this little pill. I began reducing the dose, and eventually came off them and started some counselling.
My point here is thus. A lot of the drugs we are given through our doctors are stabilisers, and these neutralise our issues so that we cope better in the short term, and there is nothing wrong with that as its goal. However, we are not actually dealing with our problems in the long term, and therefore almost ‘putting it on ice’ for a later date. Now I appreciate there are certain cases where someone literally can’t cope with day to day things, and this kind of treatment may work well for them and stop causing much distress, so be it, but how does this work for them going forward? During the 1980’s Prozac was handed out like smarties on a mass scale to many many men, but mainly women throughout the UK, and being such an addictive drug, the country ended up with an epidemic of people hooked on the drug and they couldn’t cope without it, creating a problem within a problem. Although not physically addictive, I still think that some of these drugs that mental health sufferers are given become psychologically addictive and coming off them puts people straight back to the starting point of their anxiety from when they first walked in. It is easier to simply give a patient medication and let them walk out the door than to assist and attest to proper narrative about the crux of their issues and work towards proper solution. Why? Because in this country there simply hasn’t been any proper funding for years into mental health and there aren’t enough qualified people to help deal with this influx. All the funding goes towards pills or drugs etc that obtain monetary gain to the powers that be. Talking therapy be it in groups or one-to-one is proven to aid mental health sufferers much much more than any course of drug. The issue isn’t that they need drugs to make them better, the issue is they need guidance and help with psychological issues which have made them ill. With that kind of help, they will become better in themselves and learn to adapt to the way they function and the brain will naturally follow suit. It’s understanding we need, not drug blocking.
All I'm asking, or saying, is that we should ask more questions about what it is we are being given and why. What it is doing to our brains and bodies. Set a timeline if we must take these synthetics and remember that they are not the problem solver. We are. They may well have benefits in the short term, but our long term goal is to be drug free and
mentally ok with ourselves. To achieve this, we need to be able to talk through our issues and rewire our own brains with positive steps and therapy that focus on our problems and help us get better. No drug can do this. Just because some drug is ‘legal’ doesn’t mean it’s ok or good for us. Our doctors don’t even choose which drugs are available to them, there is a Government list set each year between them and the drug companies about what’s to be used in our society and handed down to surgeries as the ‘approved list of medications’ (they won’t call them drugs!). Again, mainly defined by side effects and big wads of cash.
The point is, drugs are a paradox, sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re bad. Ask yourself why you are taking what you are taking. Do you really know anything about them, and are they really going to help you in the long run? Actively try and find other ways of getting help with your issues, speak to your doctor about this, saying that you also want to explore other avenues such as therapy whilst you are taking them. The answers to our problems will not come from these small little pills. They will come from changes we make ourselves, and we will need help to do that, and that help to my mind and many other psychologists out there, is from getting therapeutic help and talking about our problems together, be it starting with a friend or family member or whoever you have available, especially your doctor, as they have the power to move you onto that path professionally, and put those little pills away back in the cabinet or to me, bin, where they belong.
I’d love to hear your own experiences and trials on drugs or medications you’ve been given and how you feel they have or haven’t aided you in your quest for better mental health. It’s a subject we should all talk about much more. Take care.