The Challenge of Going Off Psychiatric Drugs

By Rachel Aviv: For More Info, Go Here…

ngd-The article is very long and covers Laura’s entire history with symptoms, increasing numbers of prescribed medications and a detailed discussion of the process of weaning herself off of the medications…

At her appointments with her pharmacologist, Laura began to raise the idea of coming off her drugs. She had used nineteen medications in fourteen years, and she wasn’t feeling better. “I never had a baseline sense of myself, of who I am, of what my capacities are,” she said. The doctors at the borderline clinic initially resisted her requests, but they also seemed to recognize that her struggles transcended brain chemistry. A few months earlier, one doctor had written on a prescription pad, “Practice Self-Compassion,” and for the number of refills he’d written, “Infinite.”

Following her pharmacologist’s advice, Laura first stopped Ativan, the benzodiazepine. A few weeks later, she went off Abilify, the antipsychotic. She began sweating so much that she could wear only black. If she turned her head quickly, she felt woozy. Her body ached, and occasionally she was overwhelmed by waves of nausea. Cystic acne broke out on her face and her neck. Her skin pulsed with a strange kind of energy. “I never felt quiet in my body,” she said. “It felt like there was a current of some kind under my skin, and I was trapped inside this encasing that was constantly buzzing.”

A month later, she went off Effexor, the antidepressant. Her fear of people judging her circled her head in permutations that became increasingly invasive. When a cashier at the grocery store spoke to her, she was convinced that he was only pretending to be cordial—that what he really wanted to say was “You are a repulsive, disgusting, pathetic human.” She was overstimulated by the colors of the cereal boxes in the store and by the grating sounds of people talking and moving. “I felt as if I couldn’t protect myself from all this life lived around me,” she said.

She began to experience emotion that was out of context—it felt simultaneously all-consuming and artificial. “The emotions were occupying me and, on one level, I knew they were not me, but I felt possessed by them,” she said. Later, she found a community of people online who were struggling to withdraw from psychiatric medications. They’d invented a word to describe her experience: “neuro-emotion,” an exaggerated feeling not grounded in reality. The Web forum Surviving Antidepressants, which is visited by thousands of people every week, lists the many varieties of neuro-emotion: neuro-fear, neuro-anger, neuro-guilt, neuro-shame, neuro-regret. Another word that members used was “dystalgia,” a wash of despair that one’s life has been futile.

Dorian Deshauer, a psychiatrist and historian at the University of Toronto, has written that the chemical-imbalance theory, popularized in the eighties and nineties, “created the perception that the long term, even life-long use of psychiatric drugs made sense as a logical step.” But psychiatric drugs are brought to market in clinical trials that typically last less than twelve weeks. Few studies follow patients who take the medications for more than a year. Allen Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke, who chaired the task force for the fourth edition of the DSM, in 1994, told me that the field has neglected questions about how to take patients off drugs—a practice known as “de-prescribing.” He said that “de-prescribing requires a great deal more skill, time, commitment, and knowledge of the patient than prescribing does.”

Leave a Reply