Psychiatric Medication Abuse:  The Little-Known Epidemic

Psychiatric Medication Abuse

Psychiatric Medication Abuse:  The Little-Known Epidemic

More than one in six Americans adults are using psychiatric medications today.  That number is shocking, but not surprising. Prescription drugs have become part of our culture, just as alcohol, cigarettes, and fast-food did.  The drugging of our society is one of those subjects no one wants to talk about because so many of us are part of the problem. Although we hear about the opioid epidemic, little is said about the fact that psychiatric medication abuse is at staggering levels nationwide.

What is Psychiatric Medication Abuse?

What are psychiatric medications and why are so many people abusing them?  Medical researchers have spent the last eight years studying these medications and their effects. Psychiatric medications include antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety drugs. Here’s a breakdown on how these drugs work, and the dangers of psychiatric medication abuse.


Antidepressants are prescribed to relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety disorders, social anxiety disorder, and seasonal affective disorder, among others.  According to a government study on the side effects of antidepressants, about 73.5 percent of participants reported withdrawal effects when discontinuing antidepressants.  The adverse effects ranged from sexual difficulties, weight gain, feeling emotionally numb, reduced positive feelings, and lack of concern for others. Almost 36% of participants reported suicidal thoughts. Some of the minor effects reported include dry mouth, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, insomnia, restlessness, and muscle spasms.

The above study also reveals that about 54% of the participants continued to experience depressive symptoms while taking the medication.  What’s even more alarming is the risks of suicide in children, and young adults are two times greater while on antidepressants.

Examples of antidepressants:

  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Citalopram (Celexa)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)

More than likely, you know someone who is taking one of these drugs daily, as they are some of the most widely prescribed medications on the market today.


Antipsychotics are prescribed to reduce psychosis. The NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) defines psychosis as “a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.

Unfortunately, according to the FDA, less than one-quarter of people with chronic psychosis see even 50% reduction in depression symptoms with antipsychotic use.  In fact, evidence suggests that these drugs may do more harm than good. For instance, antipsychotics speed up brain atrophy (shrinkage). Also, their research shows that 77% of people with chronic psychosis don’t respond positively to antipsychotics.  Antipsychotic users are also two-to-four-times less likely to recover after long-term use. The study also shows that about 60% or participants reported ongoing functional impairment while taking the drug.

Some people are dependent on antipsychotics to be able to function daily, but this does not imply that they are addicts.  In most cases, a person will not choose an antipsychotic if they are planning to get high. However, even a person who uses the drug for medical reasons may experience some withdrawal symptoms if the drug is withheld.

Examples of antipsychotics:

  • Aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)

It’s not unusual to see a commercial for Abilify each night as you watch your favorite programs on television.  They want you to know that if your antidepressant isn’t working well, you need to add Abilify to your daily routine to help combat the depression.  This type of advertising has helped pharmaceutical companies rake in billions of dollars in profits yearly.


Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are prescribed to reduce anxiety.  They are a fast-acting drug, and their use should be restricted to short periods.  According to the DEA, benzo dependence can develop in as little as a few weeks, even if taken as prescribed.

Long-term use of benzos is not advised because they can cause a significant decline in cognitive abilities, and withdrawals can become life-threatening.  Studies show that after six months of benzo use, a person is at 84% greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, a person taking benzos is at two-times greater risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Examples of benzodiazepines:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

It’s interesting to note that female patients over the age of 65 are prescribed benzos at nearly twice the rate of male patients of the same age.  Maybe some of the “symptoms of old age” are simply the side effects of these drugs. Patients using benzos are more prone to falls, decreased cognitive function, and automobile accidents, according to the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH).

If you know someone who needs help overcoming psychiatric medication abuse, contact us at our toll-free number today.


medicalnewstoday.comDo Antidepressants Work?

ncbi.nlm.nih.govLong-Term Antidepressant Use

nimh.nih.govWhat is Psychosis?

ajph.aphapublications.orgIncreasing Benzodiazepine Prescriptions and Overdose Mortality

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