How Do Psychiatric Drugs Work?
Most people begin taking psychiatric medications because they are “distressed and distressing.” They are either experiencing overwhelming states of emotional distress, or someone else is distressed with their behavior and sends them to a doctor – or some combination of both. There are many labels for these states, like anxiety, depression, mania, psychosis, voices, and paranoia, and labels change over time. Doctors frequently tell people that their emotional distress is due to a mental disorder which has a biochemical basis, that their distress is dangerous (such as the risk of suicide) and must be stopped, and that medication with psychiatric drugs is the most appropriate therapy.
Psychiatric drugs act on the brain to change mood and consciousness like any other mind altering drug. Because many medications can blunt or control the symptoms of emotional distress – by either speeding a person up, slowing a person down, reducing sensitivity, or getting them to sleep – they can take the edge off extreme states. They help some people feel more capable of living their lives. It is important to realize, however, that psychiatric drugs do not change the underlying causes of emotional distress. They are best understood as tools or coping mechanisms that can sometimes alleviate symptoms, with significant risks for anyone who takes them.
Do Psychiatric Drugs Correct Your Chemistry?
People are told that mental disorders exist because brain chemistry levels are “abnormal” or “imbalanced,” that this results from genetic “predispositions” inherited from families, and that psychiatric drugs work by correcting these pre-existing brain chemical imbalances. However, these claims have never been proven by scientific study to be true.
Despite decades of effort and billions of dollars in research, no reliable and consistent evidence of preexisting chemical imbalances, genetic predispositions, or brain abnormalities has ever been found to go along with any psychiatric disorder diagnosis. Even the fine print of drug company ads now typically state that conditions are “believed to be caused by” or “thought to be caused by” chemical imbalances, rather than making definitive claims. Genetic theories today talk about complex interactions with the environment that differ from individual to individual based on experience, rather than genetic “blueprints” or causality.
No elevated or lowered level of any neurotransmitter has ever consistently been proven to cause a psychiatric disorder. A baseline has never even been established for what constitutes “normal” brain chemistry for all people, and no physical test, like urinalysis or blood draw, exists to detect mental disorders. Brain scans have never been able to distinguish consistently between “normal” people and people with psychiatric diagnoses (though medications can cause brain changes that show up on scans). Three people with an identical diagnosis might have completely different brain chemistry, and someone with very similar brain chemistry might have no diagnosis at all. Western medicine has not isolated any biological causes in the same way it can describe the physical mechanisms that cause illnesses such as tuberculosis, Down Syndrome, or diabetes.
Madness and mental disorder diagnoses do sometimes seem to “run in families,” but so do child abuse and artistic ability. Because of shared learning and experience, family history can mean many things other than genetic determination. Despite ambitious claims by researchers that are sensationalized in the media, no genetic cause, marker or set of markers has ever been discovered and isolated for mental disorders. In fact, the more that is understood about genetics, behavior and the brain, the more complicated the picture becomes, and the less likely of ever finding a genetic “key.” Using genetics to explain the diverse range of human behavior in a simplistic way is a throwback to the discredited concepts of social Darwinism and eugenics.
Identical twins have the same genes, but don’t always have the same psychiatric diagnosis, which proves that genes alone cannot be causal. Studies show that twins do tend have a slightly higher chance of the same diagnosis, possibly indicating some genetic role, but these studies are often flawed, and claims exaggerated. Parents certainly know that children have different temperaments and qualities even at birth, but individual traits like sensitivity and creativity only become the experiences of madness and emotional distress after the very complicated social factors of experience, including trauma and oppression, have played a role.
Every mood, thought, or experience exists somehow in the brain and body as expressions of biology, but society, mind, and learning intervene to make any causal relationship impossible to establish. Philosophers and scientists have been puzzling over the relationship between consciousness and the brain for hundreds of years. Psychiatry and neuroscience can make no credible claim to have solved the mystery of the mind-body relationship.
Ultimately, psychiatric diagnosis requires a doctor’s subjective psychological evaluation of a patient, and the doctor relies on their own interpretations, fears, and preconceptions. Doctors often disagree with each other, people sometimes have many different diagnoses over time, and discrimination based on class, race, and gender is common.
The decision to take or not take psychiatric drugs should be based on the usefulness of the drug to the person who needs help relative to the risks involved, not any false belief that they “must” be on the drug because of biology or genes.
A previous article entitled Looking Critically at “Mental Disorders” and Psychiatry provides information... disruptive behaviors, Mental Disorders ve mood swings