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Psychologically and Physiologically Addictive Medications

Are antidepressants psychologically or physiologically addictive? – Kind of – but not in the way that you think!

For many years, most of the medical community have held steadfast to the idea that antidepressants were not “addictive.” But many Prescription Pain Medicationof those, not in the medical community or those with no personal experience of drug abuse or psychiatric illness, were convinced that those happypills were subject to abuse.  In fact, both were wrong.  Antidepressants are not “abusable“, but they are sort of “addiciting“.

To be clear – antidepressants are not subject to abuse.  They do not produce a “high” or anything like intoxication.  There is no immediate reward for taking antidepressants; in fact, one of the most troublesome things about antidepressants is that they take several weeks to actually work.

However, there is a difference between “abusabledrugs and “addictivedrugs.  Addiction is generally thought of as a psychological illness – in the way that marijuana and cocaine are psychologically addictive.  There is little evidence that either drug is physiologically addictive.  The body does not become dependent on the drug… the brain may – but not the body.

On the other hand, some medications are physiologically addictive – without being psychologically addictiveHormones are an example of this.  Once you start taking hormones (such as estrogen replacement), your body will adjust to the presence of the Psychologically Drug Addicted Dreammedication – and if suddenly discontinued, will not function normally.  There are many other examples of this, but you get the point.

Drugs like heroin, alcohol, and tobacco are psychologically addictive – but they are also physiologically addictive.  In addition to the brain “wanting” them, the body “needs” them to function normally.  If you suddenly take away the heroin, a severe withdrawal syndrome will begin.  If you suddenly take away alcohol – you may have seizures and a number of life-threatening conditions.

Prescription pain medications and anti-anxiety agents, when taken inappropriately can also be both psychologically and physiologically addictive – like heroin and alcohol.  When taken as prescribed, they are often still physiologically addictive.

Back to the antidepressants.

Certainly, years ago, sudden withdrawal of prescription antidepressants was known to be dangerous. But, with the development of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, Paxil, and many others, most people have believed that there was no chance of physical addiction, and there would be no withdrawal.

Over the years, I would hear about people who complained of “withdrawal” symptoms which I dismissed – like most people in the medical community.  Many of these patients also had a myriad of complaints – generalized pain, foggy thinking, and other things that were considered to be indicative of a hypochondriac or chronic complainer.  Turns out maybe I was wrong.

SSRIs and other “next generation” antidepressants CAN cause withdrawal symptoms.  Some (not all but some) patients may experience symptoms of withdrawal such as Anxiety.

  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Depression and mood swings
  • Light-headedness and dizziness
  • Fatigue, headache and flu-like symptoms
  • Electric shock sensations
  • Loss of coordination, tremors and muscle spasms
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Nightmares and difficulty sleeping

Most people don’t experience these – or have only a mild reaction.  Unfortunately, even “tapering” down won’t make that much difference as the symptoms may take a long time to go away – but the withdrawal is real and shouldn’t be dismissed!

Melissa Lind

What Type of Bipolar Disorder Is It?

Each bipolar disorder illness is unique!

Uniqueness of Bipolar DisorderWhen nearly anyone thinks about bipolar disorder, they think of the symptoms of “regular” bipolar disorder.  Not that any person with bipolar disorder is “regular” (and most would not want to be), but there are several different subtypes of bipolar disorder.

One big problem with bipolar disorder is that each illness is unique.  Psychiatrists may classify them into categories – but they don’t always fit.  Here are some case scenarios: (bipolar episodesbipolar groups)

•    Jennifer has episodes where she is extremely agitated and unhappy and never seems to sleep very much.  These periods seem to last for a long period of time – but can alternate with months where she is simply unhappy and doesn’t feel like doing anything.
•    Max has had periods of depression before.  A lot of times, they go away after a couple of months and then he seems normal but recently he “disappeared” for a couple of weeks after some really bizarre behavior.  His friends never knew that he was any kind of bipolar until he told them he had been at the hospital.
•    Ben has periods of depression that can last for several months but when he is not depressed, he is productive and seems quite outgoing.
•    Sandra’s mood state can switch erratically.  One day she is all about shopping and the next time you call her, she is still in bed at noon.   This is a constant issue – and you never know what you are going to get.

These are three examples of bipolar disorder that don’t seem to fit the “normal” pattern.  None of these patients seems to be “regular” bipolar.

Bipolar disorder is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as:

Bipolar Disorder TypeBipolar I Disorder: manic or mixed episodes that last at least 7 days – or if manic symptoms are severe enough to need hospitalization.  This, usually, includes periods of depression that last at least two weeks.
Jennifer and Max both fit into this category.  Even though Max never had a severe manic episode, having a bipolar episode that warrants medical attention, he qualifies for the Bipolar I category.  Jennifer has mixed episodes – rather than euphoria or traditional mania – she has periods of “dysphoria” where she is agitated, irritable and irrational but with an excess of energy.

Bipolar II Disorder: depressive and hypomanic episodes in a pattern – but manic episodes are not severe.
Ben has Bipolar II disorder.  He has periods of depression that are debilitating, but his non-depressed periods are quite productive, and he doesn’t exhibit manic behavior.

Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified: (Bipolar Disorder NOS) symptoms of illness don’t meet any other group, but the symptoms are clearly not within the standard range.
Sandra has BP-NOS.  She is what is commonly called a “rapid cycler,” meaning that she switches back and forth from mania to depression much faster than other people with bipolar disorder.

There is also a very mild form of bipolar disorder known as cyclothymia.  It is a cyclical pattern of hypomania alternating with periods of mild depression.  Many people would not even realize this is a problem.

Bipolar disorder is hard to classify.  It may be easy to determine that someone has a problem – but the uniqueness of each bipolar case makes it more difficult for even a patient to identify with the diagnosis.  Each type of bipolar disorder is, usually, treated the same medically. With an anti-manic agent (Lithium), anti-epileptic (Lamictal, Depakote) or atypical antipsychotic (Abilify, Zyprexa) – and sometimes with an antidepressant.

Melissa Lind

Bipolar Disorder Research Funding – Poorly Directed

Prepare yourself for a bit of a bipolar rant!

An article entitled “Bipolar Disorder in Youth Not as Chronic as Thought” in Medscape Pharmacists e-newsletter came across my email and while I was initially quite interested, I soon became annoyed.
Bipolar and Borderline (BPD)A recent study done at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine shows that bipolar disorder may not always be a chronic condition. While this may look like good news and you might see it pop up in the media as a big positive – cheerleader kind of thing, it really isn’t.

The study followed 413 children and adolescents who were 7 to 17 years of age and diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the time of study enrollment.  The patients and family members were interviewed about every eight months, for eight years.  What they found was that some of the patients were “ill” most of the time, some were “well” most of the time, and some were both ill and well.  Sorry, but that result isn’t astounding.

I find a couple of things wrong with the published results.

  1. They didn’t say whether the patients were stabilized on medication during the study – what medication, whether the medication was changed, whether the patients took the medication – in fact the publication doesn’t mention medication at all.
  2. The data collected was based on “interviews.”  Sorry, but being bipolar inherently predisposes you to lack of complete transparency.  Bipolar patients are likely to hide and lie – whether it is purposefully or subconscious behavior, it is a known problem.
  3. The patients were ages 7 to 17 when entering the study, meaning they were 15 to 25 at the end.  Many of the patients went through puberty during the study and what pubescent child or the post-pubescent adolescent is truly stable…or honest for that matter.  Interviews with the family may have partly balanced this but we also know how “well” our families may know us…some, not at all.

What I did find a little more relevant was that the patients tended to be “well” more of the time if they:

Though true, this is not astounding either.  It is easily recognized that if your family has a history of mental disorder, you are more likely to have a mental disorderBipolar disorder and substance abuse go hand in hand, and sexual abuse makes nothing more manageable.

Incidentally they also showed that patients would be more stable if they:

•    Had less history of severe depression, manic or hypomanic symptoms
•    Had fewer subsyndromal episodes

So basically, if the patients had a history of fewer episodes, they would have fewer episodes……really?
Not discounting the fact that any academic attention given to bipolar disorder, especially in juveniles should be welcome, I am disappointed because the study results didn’t show anything.  This is all information that anyone could guess – and the funding for mediocre “non-results” could have gone elsewhere.

This sort of news can easily lead to an “it will go away” thought process, lack of medication and lack of attention to and acknowledgment of the real and long-term challenges that a bipolar patient can face.  Yes, let’s all believe that bipolar disorder is not a chronic medical condition… let’s undo all the progress that has been made.

Melissa Lind

Academic attention given to bipolar disorder should be welcome!

Mental Health and Grief

Grief and Mental Health – When the Two Merge

Grief is something that we all experience at one time, or another.  The stages of grief – sometimes explained as 3, 5 or 7 different stages – are pretty well known and include shock, denial, anger, sadness, acceptance in some order.  Most people will struggle but eventually come to some resolution with no prediction as to how long that will take.

Resolution of deep sorrow can be made much more difficult when a pre-existing mental illness is imposed.  A severe loss can trigger a relapse of virtually any mental illness, even when the illness was well treated, and the patient was stable.  Patients may relapse into severe depression, bipolar episodes, panic attacks or a return of obsessive compulsive behavior.  If the patient was not well stabilized, the whole apple-cart can be upset.

Depressed and Suicidal GirlEven the most mentally healthy person can become unstable if unable to resolve the feelings caused by painGrief has been known to result in clinical depression, lasting for a long period which can lead to extreme difficulties and even death in the case of suicide.  The problem comes in a case where one becomes “stuck” at a certain point – usually during the agitation period.

There is a saying;   “depression is anger turned inward.”  The existence of anger over an extended period can cause depression.

Anger allows us to have a heightened response to a threatening situation.  Anger fuels energy, giving us a false sense of power, but over time, the brain and the body run out of that same energy.  This can result in fatigue, emotional lability, and symptoms of depression.  In some cases, depression caused by grief may be resolved with grief counseling.

In other cases, however, depression may have become severe enough that medication may be warranted.  Clinical depression is characterized by:

•    Fatigue and decreased energy
•    Cloudy thinking
•    Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
•    Insomnia or excessive sleeping
•    Irritability
•    Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
•    Body pain or digestive problems
•    Persistent sad or empty feelings
•    Thoughts of suicide

How different is this from grief – not much.  The only difference would be in how long it lasts.  Depression carries a high risk of suicide and if symptoms last longer than what would be considered “normal” – for any reason – you should seek treatmentMental Health ChaosDepression that is severe enough to interfere with normal activities for longer than four to six weeks should be treated – even if life circumstances explained it.  Counseling may work – or you may need medication for a short period.

If you have some known mental disorder, stay in contact with your mental health professional.  Most – and I did not say “all”, but most mental health patients find it difficult to self-assess, some find it difficult to be openly honest.  The only way to ensure that an episode of grief is resolved without severe consequences of going “off track” is to allow someone else to help assess your mental state.

Whether you are or are not a mental health patient, know that grief can cause mental illness and can worsen an existing illness – even if only for a short time.  It is not something to be dismissed or ignored as the risks are high.

Melissa Lind

Depression is Anger Turned Inward