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Article Summary

Psychiatric Drug Addiction

Psychiatric medications are prescribed for the management of mental and emotional disorders.

Classes of Psychiatric Medications

  • Antidepressants, which are used to treat disparate disorders such as clinical depression, dysthymia, anxiety, and eating disorders.
  • Stimulants, which are used to treat disorders such as attention deficit disorder, narcolepsy, and to suppress the appetite.
  • Antipsychotics, which are used to treat psychoses such as schizophrenia and mania.
  • Mood stabilizers, which are used to treat bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder.
  • Anxiolytics, which are used to treat anxiety disorders.
  • Depressants, which are used as hypnotics, sedatives, and anesthetics.

Psychiatric drug addiction is best understood as drug dependence. For those who take their prescribed psychiatric medications as directed, it is inevitable that they will develop a physical dependence for the drug. This means that they are compulsively forced to take a given drug to prevent withdrawal syndromes (a physical syndrome which relates to the sudden interruption of the drug, during which a patient can expect a temporary increase in anxiety symptoms).

Psychiatric Medication Withdrawal

All psychiatric drugs have the potential to cause withdrawal reactions, including the antidepressants, stimulants, tranquilizers, antipsychotic drugs, and “mood stabilizers” such as lithium. When the individual’s condition grows markedly worse within days or weeks of stopping the psychiatric drug, this is almost always due to a withdrawal reaction.

If you are taking psychiatric drugs and you want to quit them without suffering from withdrawal symptoms, contact your doctor and discuss a plan of stepping down your medication. You will need to follow a strict protocol of detoxification which includes a very gradual reduction in dose that may be extended over several weeks or months. You should be prepared to spend about a week of detoxification for every month of drug use.

Patients will also suffer psychological dependence from psychiatric drugs. This is when the patient feels that they are unable to quit the psychiatric drug because they fear they will lose the benefits it gave them. They also expect to receive increased benefits by continuing psychiatric drug use, sometimes even abusing it.

The best way to prevent psychiatric drug addiction is to understand that any drug treatment for a mental disorder will diminish, but not eradicate, the disorder itself. Psychiatric drug treatment should be taken for a limited duration and always in the prescribed dose.

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