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by | May 25, 2012 | Alcohol and Drugs

Home Alcohol and Drugs THE SSRI CHALLENGE

Between 2005 and 2008, 48% of Americans had used at least one prescription drug in the previous month. Over 20% had used at three or more. Over 10% had used at least five. Americans’ use of antidepressants is particularly notable: Of individuals 18 or older, 4% of men and 10% of women currently take an antidepressant.
I was eight years old when the new millennium arrived. I had begun to sample quite an assortment of pills to lessen my OCD, the most prominent of which were SSRIs; these were one class of drugs used in the treatment of depression and other mood disorders. By 2003, I had become well-adjusted to the notion of psychiatric medication. I was 11 going-on 12, and the FDA had begun to focus more closely on the treatment of adolescent depression. Of particular concern were reports linking antidepressants – initially Paxil (paroxetine) – to a greater risk of suicidal ideation and behavior among adolescents.
In 2007, I entered high school. Within a couple months, I tried marijuana for the first time. The first hit brought a sudden optimism: generalized anxiety and OCD had taunted me for years, but a drag of exhaust from the Sour Diesel granted me near-instantaneous relief from psychological turmoil. Soon, I began to experience a jaded lethargy. I was snide in public, morose in private. My psychiatrist informed me that I was likely depressed; a new combination of SSRIs (the class of drugs to which I had grown so accustomed) could elevate my caving mood. At this point, I relied almost exclusively on marijuana to alleviate my problems; still, I lacked the energy required to protest a med change. My psychiatrist questioned me extensively on my recreational drug use. Embarrassed, I told him I used marijuana no more than twice a week, always socially.
After the med adjustment, I was no longer hounded by unrelenting sadness; however, my range of emotions was severely crippled. The deterioration of my personal life had become the norm; my parents seemed more concerned with the suffering of my grades.
I took tiny white pills to make it onto school property; larger blue pills to make it through the day. I smoked weed throughout the night, and often passed out before taking my evening SSRIs. I experienced unpleasant side effects from the SSRIs, including stomach cramps and nausea, which I failed to mention to my psychiatrist. I saw these symptoms as a continued challenge for my miracle weed to overcome; I wanted desperately to believe that I had my life together. In truth, the marijuana had become less effective in almost every respect. My psychiatrist mistook my weed-induced catatonia for worsened depression. My SSRI dosages were raised, and after a week or so, I began skipping doses again regularly. I continued to meet with my laid-back therapist of several years. He did not object to basking in the afterglow of his hippie heyday. He rated psychedelics from best to worst, and our sessions would end.
My new psychiatrist viewed ADD and acute anxiety meds more favorably than the old one. I had taken a real liking to these prescriptions, and saw no reason to burst the psychiatrists’ bubble about my contented life.
In my late teens, I was prescribed Paxil, which I took as prescribed for some time. I began to experience a sort of manic discomfort, for which excessive alcohol consumption seemed a reasonable solution. I reached a point of total depravity, and self-harm felt warranted. I steeped in filth for around 6 months until I reentered treatment. My new psychiatrist convinced me I had bipolar disorder. Relieved to have such a clear explanation, I gladly accepted the course of treatment he outlined. Along with the mood stabilizer Lamictal, he continued my Ativan and Adderall; but basic comfort wouldn’t suffice. I used what I could get away with; first alcohol, then spice and bath salts. Cravings corroded my core, and impulsivity whetted a masochistic hunger. I was offered chance after chance to clean up my act. Lies exited through yellowed teeth, and impurities entered through reddened sinuses. My pride was powdered glass, and I refused to swallow. Surrender was a full-nelson, and I was going down swinging. Addiction had conceived this hellish life like Rosemary’s Baby; I was terrified to cut the umbilical cord and embrace freedom.