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Are We Over-Medicating?


I know it sounds strange coming from someone in research and someone that teaches pharmacology, but I really do feel that as a society, we tend to over-medicate. The why of it is probably due to a lot of things: commercials advertising medications for everything under the sun, the ease of getting things over-the-counter (OTC), the need to fix things quickly, people feel better when they take a pill, influx of natural options (but still some sort of pill). But is there a point when the meds are unnecessary and can even be potentially dangerous?

Case in point: a student came to see me after class today. She is one of my top students. Never misses class, does excellent on exams, cheerful, funny, has a job outside of school, lives on her own. She went to see her general physician because she found herself unable to sleep for a few nights because her thoughts were whirling, mainly things that are coming up next week (finals for labs are next week and finals for lecture classes are the week after). The doctor’s diagnosis? Anxiety disorder and prescribed her an anti-anxiety medication.

Cue me wide-eyed and flabbergasted. Anxiety disorder???? Really??!!??

I talked with her for about an hour and told her to NOT take the meds and to seek a second opinion. She has been a “worry wart” her whole life, is a very high-energy person that seems to always have things playing in her mind as to what needs to be done the following day or even week. She’s been on her own since she was seventeen, always had her own place, works while going to school and maintaining a very good GPA, is social and hangs out with friends…

This girl does NOT have a disorder!

Seriously. A disorder is something that interferes with every day life. Being stressed out because of finals doesn’t mean that someone has a disorder. Someone with anxiety disorder isn’t able to function because their anxiety is so severe that they can’t leave the house or sleep or do anything except worry about stuff. If someone is able to work, go to school, maintain relationships, they don’t have a disorder. Some people are just worry-warts. Some are control freaks. Some are hyper active. Some are always negative and down. Some are loners and don’t do well in social settings. This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them or that they need medication.

I am so thankful that I grew up when I did, before Ritalin became the pill of choice for hyperactive kids. I can pretty much guarantee that I would have been put on Ritalin as a kid. It scares me to think that my creativity and intelligence would have been squashed at that young age. I was hyperactive (still am LOL) and I was a little disruptive but it wasn’t because I wasn’t able to focus. I didn’t have a mental disorder. I was BORED in school! It was easy for me. Rather than turn me into a drooling zombie with drugs, my teachers recognized the issue and put me in advanced topics, let me tutor younger kids struggling to read or work math problems, let me bring books to read (I read The Hobbit in 6th grade) so that I was no longer fidgeting and interrupting. Problem solved without the use of drugs!

My soon-to-be ex-husband suffers from depression and anxiety disorder. His mental state deteriorated to the point that he was suicidal, had to quit his job, couldn’t sleep, overly emotional, couldn’t leave the house.

Now THAT is a disorder and requires medication or some sort of intervention.

I have no problem with meds IF they are necessary. The anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs he was taking helped him to get back to functioning at least mostly normal. People with altered mental states DO need medications to get them back to normal, or as close as medical research can get. Someone who is having a bad day doesn’t require anti-depressants. Someone so down that they are contemplating suicide? Absolutely they need medication.

We are so ready to throw pills at someone that we are missing the big picture. I am so glad my student came to see me before taking the anti-anxiety medication she was prescribed. She said every fiber of her being was screaming at her to NOT take the pills. Good for her for listening to her body. She knew deep down that she didn’t need it. Maybe all she needs is someone to talk to, someone to unload on about finals. I did encourage her to see a counselor after finals if she still feels anxious or stressed to get that valuable second opinion. I chatted with her and asked about her basic personality, what she has going on in her life, if she thinks her anxiety interferes with her life. She laughed, rolled her eyes, and said “not at all.”

So there you go.

Does this situation sound familiar? Has this ever happened to you or someone you know? I’d love to hear from you!

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3 Comments on “Are We Over-Medicating?”

  1. cpbialois May 3, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    I’m hyperactive but I could control it enough so no one wanted me put on meds and considered me lazy instead. (The same as my dad). It also helped that my parents refused to use medicine unless it was absolutely needed. My mom had nervous breadowns every 3-4 years and after her first one they had her meds so high she was walking around like Frankenstein’s monster.

    I cringe whenever someone talks about putting their kid on medication cause they act out, are hyper, or have problems paying attention. It’s like society in general is afraid to let someone be themselves and wish to regulate it.

  2. Rossella July 19, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    Hey.I’m a 100% non synthetically-medicated pshtyocic kid. Diagnosed schizophrenic and have very serious positive symptoms and equally horrible negative symptoms. Here is what I do to keep on top of the depression that is one of my negative symptoms.1) Omega 3 Fish Oil. You may have to buy a brand manufactured for kids because adult brands don’t tend to be filtered for mercury and you DEFINITELY want a mercury-free product. 2) Multi-vitamins. Take something with a very high iron, vitamin D and magnesium.3) Exercise. If you’re overweight, a healthier bodyweight will help you out. If you’re not, exercise will still release endorphins. Personally when I’m at my worst I do yoga from flashcards, (this is when I cannot leave the house) boxing, and jumping jacks while a music channel (usually rock but I figure anything with a good beat that you like listening to when you’re happy will work) is on. I also go running, when I’m not as bad, usually in a forest on warm days or at a beach on cold days, somewhere where I’ll be alone with nature and my ipod. 4) Music. I mentioned the music channel & ipod above, but I also blare Queen, Bowling for Soup, Blink-182 and the All-American Rejects (aka nobody who sings about death, depression, suicide, sadness, or has a downbeat – less than 4/4 – track) and I HATE IT. It makes me MAD and MAD is better than depressed. It is more productive. ;]5) I force myself to do things I enjoy when I’m happy. I take a shower with the nice smelling soap and warm my towels on the radiator, I watch the funny episodes of Firefly and my favourite films and read magazines and This Book Will Save Your Life (A.M Homes – it’s my favourite book). And if that sucks, I do the laundry and hoover. For me what works is just keeping moving. Then even if my whole day sucks and I can’t bear it, the next day I can wake up to something good I’ve done and maybe feel better for it – or I have fond memories of my favourite movie etc.6) My favourite one – I read a book I’ve written. It’s a big old book that I bought ages ago and when I’m happy, I write things I like in the book. Stupid stuff like, Xander from Buffy, and the sound from line arrays, and Diamond 4’s, and sherbert lemons, and Harry Potter 1, and Gandhi quotes, things that have no consequence. If I’m only mildly down, it can get me back up.7) Meditation. Just sit quietly and concentrate on not concentrating on anything. If that makes sense. Don’t allow yourself to have thoughts. Let your only thought be the thought that stops you thinking about anything. It sounds complex but you probably get my meaning. I like to meditate either in the dark in my room but the sunlight is good for depression so I force myself to sit in the middle of the living room with all the shades open in the sunlight. Therapy. Not from a councillor – from a psychologist, in particular a psychologist who is a qualified Cognitive Behavioural Therapist – these people are like GOLDDUST. They will teach you how to get through your worst moments and help you tailor your recovery techniques to your own personality. Plus, they’re also usually really cool not-up-themselves people. Interview a few different psych’s if you can, and if they’re in an office and wearing a suit, don’t bother. Find someone who wears jeans and listens to the music you like and likes the TV shows you like, so you geniunely like their company and that way, you’ll get a lot more out of your time with them – it’ll be more friendly and less clinical. And that in itself will lift your mood.Please bear in mind that the most important thing to have to get over depression without meds is psychological resilience. You need to be the type of depressed person who says, this sucks, but I WILL GET THROUGH THIS. I WILL NOT GIVE UP.. I WILL FORCE MYSELF THROUGH THIS. If you’re prone to giving up (I am not saying this is something to be ashamed of, it’s just something to be honest about – I understand fully that being a can’t-be-f*cking-bothered/don’t-want-to-can’t-make-me depressive is horrific and not something the depressive can help) you may have to come to terms with the fact that you may need a low dosage of meds (Citalopram is good in low doses) to get you through, and you may have to rely more heavily on therapy. Either way, get a CBT and remember you are not alone, and you should never give up on yourself.’When all you’ve got to keep is strong, move along. And even when your hope is gone, move along.’Good luck. Was this answer helpful?

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