Peter R. Breggin / David Cohen: Your Drug May Be Your Problem – How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications

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(Perseus Publishing, 1999, paperback edition 2000)

A review of a currently up-to-date and very useful handbook about the dangers of psychiatric medication and how to escape them, including practical tips,
plus an introduction and some thoughts about racketeering and revolution.

It is the dogma of contemporary psychiatry that ‚mental illnesses’ are easily diagnosed and then ‚cured’ with chemical substances manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry; substances that all have side effects, in many cases severe ones that can be irreversible and mentally or physically disfiguring. In the last 20 years the biologistical view on these matters has become the mainstream in psychiatry, to a degree not seen since the time of Nazi Germany. Instead of killing the ‚mentally ill’ the modern biologists however aim at turning them into long-term or life-long consumers of psychiatric drugs under a pseudo-scientific gloss.
This is based on the concept that if you have any ‚mental’ problem this is caused by a ‚biochemical imbalance’ in the brain that causes the brain to malfunction and thus produces depression or mania, attention deficit disorders or psychosis. The drugs are supposed to redress this balance. Paradoxically people whose problems recurr are given more drugs, rather than recognising that the drugs don’t actually help them, or even make the situation worse.
But is there such a thing as ‚biochemical imbalance’? There is no real evidence for this – it’s a mystification, guesswork, a metaphor at best. Most advance testing of these drugs is done on healthy brains of animals. The drugs have the same effect on a person whether they are ‚ill’ or not. Rather than redressing any ‚imbalances’ they may create them, and thus actually damage the brain, and/or create dependency, while long term use is often advocated by doctors without justification.
If the picture emerges that the biologistical psychiatrists are a racket backed by an extremely powerful pharmaceutical industry, busying themselves with turning ever greater numbers of people into drugged zombies, then we have to ask ourselves if we’re not getting a bit too paranoid here, or rather: how such a situation could be at all possible.

People with ‚mental health’ problems are hard to deal with in their acute phases, the way they interact with the world is mysterious, and even if we think we understand what triggered or
caused the crisis, by this point it is often too late to simply undo it and easily go back into a ‚normal’ mode.
If they get self-destructive or violent, some sort of confinement and drugging may seem like (or actually be) the only option to prevent worse things from happening. It’s at this point that the psychiatrist steps in with his or her special powers and authority. And with an easy explanation of and solution to the problem: ‚chemical imbalance’ and drugs. Often both the patient and those close to them may welcome the sudden clarity shed on the dark and stressfull problems, and in addition getting absolved from any possible responsibility about the state of mind the patient is in.
This is the beginning of two possible lines of action: Either to conform to the doctors opinion and advice and most likely start a journey that can lead deeper and deeper into drug dependency as the chemicals take over the job of re-(or: de-)forming ones personality, brain and body. Or to try and get to the origin of the problems by mobilising ones own true resources and reshape ones own life according to ones desires.
If this sounds idealistic consider the following:
– on a ‚personal’ level, as an example: A particularly dangerous type of drug is the class of neuroleptics, or anti-psychotic drugs, a fact that is expressed first in the extremely bad side-effects, potentially including irreversible motoric disturbances or the potentially lethal Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome, and second in the dulling, de-personalising effect they have on the patient even if they ‚work’: A work that has been called chemical lobotomy. No wonder at least 50% of patients try to get off the drugs once they realise what is happening to them. A necessity if you want to retain the ability to shape your life, to be the person you want to be; a point that is further illustrated by the (statistical) fact that while those who stop the medication may be more likely to have further psychotic episodes, those who take them are more likely to eventually commit suicide.
– on a ‚social’ level: What are called ‚mental illnesses’ seem to be caused at least to a significant degree through constellations that leave no dignified course of action to the person; these are most likely complicated and twisted combinations of problems that have accumulated for many years often going back to childhood. It is also important to understand that ‚mental illnesses’ are not the same as a broken bone or a flu, even if psychiatrists like to use the analogy to pretend a scientific rather than disciplinary basis for their quackery – simply not enough is known about the brain to make a large number of the claims the psychiatric profession is uttering. The diagnosis of most ‚mental illnesses’ are essentially based on a collection of symptoms rather than a ‚broken brain’.
The more radical proponents of ‚Anti-Psychiatry’ or the Italian democratic Psychiatry movement of the 60’s and 70’s have located the course of action to be connected to social revolution, a dialectic between illness and revolution that was further radicalised by the SPK.

From the point of view of ‚society’ the psychiatric profession is policing this situation. In the backlash of the last 25 years against Marxist approaches the biological point of view has taken over as the view most suiting to late capitalism. Under this banner psychiatry has expanded considerably, and drugs like neuroleptics have been promoted as miracle cures that keep people out of the asylums and lead them ‚back to life’. The question what sort of life this is, is asked by many patients as they feel their own personalities dimmed and crushed. Psychopharmaceuticals are means of preventive counter-insurgency.

Breggin and Cohen do not take this explicit position, they are much more cautious. But they essentially formulate fundamental criticisms of biologism and present an extremely useful practical handbook for anyone caught in the trappings of psychiatry, whether as a patient or as someone close to one. Certainly they urge people to fall back on their true resources rather than on medication, to realise themselves rather than disable their brains, but they leave it open to the individual as to what those resources may consist in. They don’t make the connection of biologistical ideology and late capitalism and the need to overthrow it. On the positive side they avoid the mistake of some earlier Anti-Psychiatry of creating another lose-lose situation by invariably connecting the success of ones positive development to the success of social revolution.
Nevertheless they don’t completely avoid the issue and speak of the social void created by psychiatric drugs and urge: „The choice is not between psychiatric drugs and some other ‚therapy’ but between psychiatric drugs and all the resources that life can offer us.“

The book is structured in an introduction and 13 chapters, starting from the fact how disturbingly easy it is to get on psychiatric drugs – it takes a few minutes for the doctor to write the prescription – and how hard it can be to get back to a life without a chemically impaired brain. The myths propagated by biologistical psychiatry and the immense propaganda machine supporting it are exposed and the dangers of the mental, emotional and physical harm caused are listed in detail.
Much space is dedicated to the adverse effects of the various psychiatric drugs, from Ritalin to Prozac to Benzodiazepines to Neuroleptics.
Psychiatrists often believe that the benefits outweigh the risks, but often they are misinformed themselves, following the gospel of bio-psychiatry dosages of medication are usually raised if they don’t work, or other drugs are added to the cocktail, sometimes only to cover up unpleasant ‚side effects’.

Psychiatric drugs impair the brain and can develop a catalogue of ‚creeping’ adverse affects that may only become obvious with time, the risks of permanent brain dysfunctions are rarely investigated, something that is particularly the case with Prozac or Amphetamines. Often drugs are used for long-term ‚therapies’ – years or even a life-time – after having been tested only for short periods of a few weeks, as was the case with Zyprexa, an ‚a-typical’ neuroleptic.

To sum it up – different types of psychiatric drugs commonly produce states of mind that are characterised as mental problems, from impaired concentration, sleep problems, depression, poor memory and anxiety to drug induced psychosis or mania – and many others in between. Far from being rare these effects are common.

Most of these drugs cause withdrawal reactions. To withdraw from them can therefore be difficult, even dangerous. It has to be done with utmost care, and a considerable section of the book is dedicated to how to withdraw once the why has been made quite clear, how to plan your withdrawal, how to stop the drugs, and a detailed examination of the possible withdrawal reactions to the different types of drugs. It is recommended to withdraw from drugs with the help of a sympathetic therapist. The internet or various anti-psychiatric initiatives should be helpful in finding one in your area. The reduction of the medication should be done in small increments, the recommended amount being about 10% per week. Note that often pro-drug psychiatrists are reducing the medication too fast, adding unnecessary dangers of relapses, which will then be interpreted as the ‚illness’ reappearing underneath and you’re likely to be given more medication as a consequence!

A further chapter deals with the fact that more and more children are given dangerous psychiatric drugs for all sorts of (non-)reasons, a prominent one the so-called attention deficit disorders.

This book is easily accessible and readable and is recommended to anyone who is on any sort of psychiatric medication and is thinking about stopping.

To finally pick up the open question of how this situation has been possible to come about:
The backlash against critical positions and Marxism in particular of the last quarter century.
The excessive power of the pharmaceutical companies who dictate with the weapon of advertising revenue what positions are pushed in medical journals
The racket structure of the medical profession and psychiatry in particular

The first point has already been described as the shift from social interpretation to biological interpretation in this period.
The power of the pharmaceutical companies can be further illustrated by the case of a new ‚illness’ – ‚female sexual dysfunction’ which is, according to an article in the British Medical Journal, in the process of being created, sponsored by a large pharmaceutical company. The company sponsors meetings of ‚scientists’ to agree on a definition of the new illness and then to devise the right drugs to ‚cure’ it. A questionaire is designed that will make the occurence of the the previously unknown illness seem exceedingly high (the number of 43% of all women over 18 is already banded about!). Dissatisfaction and disinterest – in many cases they may well exist, having an identifiable social reason – are turned into disease, and into profit! They will make sure women won’t change their life to make it happier, but stay in their place and become, if possible, long term users of drugs.
Processes like this would not be possible if there was more transparency – something the author of the BMJ article is at least attempting, something Breggin and Cohen are dedicated to, but the majority of the profession try to uphold the secretive priest-like status, the total authority over the patient. Only doctors can afford to kill unpunished in our society.
Maybe the situation would be different if, like in ancient China, you paid your doctor in the times you are healthy and cease paying as soon as you get ill.
The primacy of profit in capitalism is leading to an unholy alliance of pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession and to a weird hybrid goal of fighting and perpetuating illness at the same time, and this at a time when much of the world is still suffering from real health problems that could be solved. It’s leading to a situation where the needs of the patient are subordinate to ideology, where capitalism becomes an objective impediment to progress.
It’s time for those in the medical profession who are critical of the mainstream to stop being intimidated and stand up and be counted. It’s time for patients’ self-organisation.

Ray Moynihan:
The making of a disease: female sexual dysfunction

Carl Wiemer: Krankheit und Kriminalität. Die ärzte- und Medizinkritik der kritischen Theorie. Ça ira-Verlag, Freiburg 2001

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