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Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Anxiety Medication: The Good, the Bad and the Dependent

By Dr Becky Spelman

Medication is a sticking point for many people when it comes to the treatment of anxiety. There’s no doubt, in some instances, when a Psychiatrist prescribes medication it can be the difference between leading a normal life or finding yourself cut off from the outside world. In the most severe cases, or when there is a need for immediate intervention, psychiatry medications certainly do have their uses.

However, the use of pharmaceuticals as the first line of treatment rather than the last resort is on the rise. Psychiatric Medications are now regularly being prescribed to people who may only be experiencing the fluctuation of emotion, as well as to those who would benefit from a more holistic approach. It is the classic case of easy short-term gains over longer and more lasting results, albeit down the road less travelled.

This is exacerbated by the litany of side effects that anti-anxiety medication have become infamous for, which become more troublesome, depending on the type and duration of treatment. Traditionally, benzodiazepines – aka the opioid family – including the likes of Xanax and Valium would be offered, due to their ability to provide quick relief to those with generalised anxiety disorder.

Aside from bringing on the effects of drowsiness, fatigue and nausea, the continued reliance on these drugs has shown them to be highly addictive. Many of them pose the risk of extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if stopped immediately. So while they do provide respite, they don’t offer resolve. It is the psychological equivalent of putting a plaster on a wound that requires stitches to heal properly.

Lately, the increased awareness around the dangers of opioids has seen a shift in focus to anti-depressants from the SSRI and SNRI family of drugs. However, the problem with these psychiatric medications is although they don’t have the same addictive qualities as their opioid counterparts, they still promote dependency. Users of these drugs become used to the benefits, and seldom want to give them up for the fear of relapsing into their previous state, or, would like to but feel trapped.

Getting stuck in this cycle of dependency presents a challenge in treating anxiety from a psychological standpoint. This is due to the interference these drugs have on the brain’s chemistry, making treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) much less effective in some instances. Since the process of CBT involves the gradual exposure to ‘threatening-like’ situations as an emotional hurdle that must be overcome, this can’t happen if medication is already doing the work. There is no watershed moment, as the meds alter the way we perceive the world around us, there is no challenge, and no true healing.

This is why the casual issue of psychiatry medication is such an error of judgment on the part of most medical practitioners. They treat the symptoms, not the cause, and stand in the way of making real progress that will increase the quality of life without dependency and other associated issues. Anxiety, as with all emotions is part of the body’s vocabulary, indicating there is something out of alignment that needs to be addressed. However, we cannot do that by merely suppressing the symptoms.

This is why CBT is such an effective therapy. It gets to the heart of why the anxiety is present. It challenges you at the rate you’re willing and able to overcome your condition by pushing your tolerance threshold that little bit further each time. When it comes to overcoming of anxiety, short-term measures can be, and sometimes are necessary. So we shouldn’t dismiss any tool that can make a positive difference in recovery. But as far as the big picture goes, CBT is far safer and just as effective in treating non-psychotic disorders than any drug currently on offer. By using psychiatric medication long-term, you’re merely giving more of your power away. When you choose to engage with the issue proactively, you begin the process of taking it back

*** If you’re suffering from anxiety, and either find yourself struggling to come off your medication or take positive steps forward, one of specialists would be happy to provide you with a FREE 15 MINUTE CONSULTATION.

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