Antidepressants in recovery from Alcoholism or Addiction
Antidepressants in recovery from Alcoholism or Addiction
I thought I would write a bit about antidepressants, from my point of view. I am certainly no doctor and feel that depression is something that can be best treated by the medical professionals and certainly not left to lay people, in recovery groups with no training, who often have old-fashioned ideas, and who can cause problems for people who are depressed. I was actually put off using antidepressants and later felt guilt about using them, thanks to the unhelpful attitude of some people in AA, who were ignorant, and saw the use of antidepressants as something that meant you were not sober. One of these people was my old sponsor who sponsored many people from newcomers groups and has probably given out poor advice to a lot of AA members, who could have been helped by taking appropriate medication. He told me to pray and read the out of date “Big Book”. Because of this unqualified person who at the time I looked up to, I questioned my doctor’s advice and started to view antidepressants as a problem. Thankfully I got some proper help and was able to move on from the old-fashioned 12 step world. I am sure that quite a few people relapse, because they are not coping with life and could have been given some appropriate help that would have prevented them going back to blotting out life with drink. this is very sad.
Many people drank to cover up, or blot out problems. They sometimes call this self medication, which is a term I certainly do not like. I am no doctor or psychologist, and these views are my own, but I doubt that any doctor would go around prescribing vodka as a solution to problems, instead of antidepressants. I feel giving alcohol abuse, the status of self medication, is something it does not deserve. It was the cause of many of my problems and not the solution. It displaces a problem by blotting it out for the period of time you are drunk, but certainly does not help you solve any problems.
There is a tendency for some addicts or alcoholics, to view antidepressants as just another drug, that is similar to the stuff they have bought on the street. They may view them as happy pills (my old, out of touch, AA sponsor had this type of view), and feel that they are not sober because they are taking a form of medication that helps them to deal with life. They may also have a strong desire to be completely medication free, and see using medication as a bit of a failing in recovery from addiction. I was a bit like this for a while but have changed my views. I am now glad I had access to antidepressants and was grateful for something to help me function while I began to deal with my problems.
The situation is not helped by some old timers in 12 step groups, who view any form of medication that helps change the way you feel, as not real sobriety. Although AA literature is not anti medication, many in AA groups are, especially by those who are firm believers in faith-based methods such as prayer and the intervention of higher powers. Sadly, this can end up with members of 12 step groups that are desperate to impress their peers, suffering when they could have been helped through a difficult time, by talking to a doctor and getting some suitable medication. Similar issues can happen in other recovery communities, especially with people who are desperate to stay totally alcohol free and who have made great changes to their life. They feel that, they should be able to cope with anything after a few months and that they should not need antidepressants. They seem to feel that taking an antidepressant is removing control from them, or some kind of emotional crutch that they should not need. These are often not helpful ideas, for somebody with underlying emotional issues, or somebody that has brought depression on by having an active addiction. If you think that everything will be plain sailing in recovery, after putting the bottle down, doing a few steps, or reading some self-help books, then you may be in for a bad shock at some point. Many people will have to deal with some form of depression in the first few years of recovery, despite making many positive changes to their lifestyle. I did feel a bit angry, or cheated when this happened to me, but I realised that it was not uncommon and did something about it.
The bottom line is that depression kills people through suicide, or ruins lives every day, far more often that it should, because it is treatable in most cases. Antidepressants are not the whole answer to dealing with depression in an alcoholic. You need to learn how to live an alcohol free lifestyle, for a while at least, and change things in your life. Some people will need therapy as well. Antidepressants will not give you the instant change of feeling that you would have experienced, from something such as ecstasy. They hopefully work over a period of time and enable us to function and hopefully get well. They do not cure us like an antibiotic. With depression you have to be patient and give the solutions you are using time.
People have a tendency to stop taking antidepressants before they have had time to work properly, which is usually a few weeks, or after they believe they are well again, when in fact this is not the case and the antidepressants have been doing their job. It can be very dangerous to stop them in an uncontrolled way, without consulting a doctor, and I heard about several people in AA having bad experiences as a result of doing this. Sometimes stopping quickly can send somebody back to deep depression. Some can make you feel a bit lethargic which is something to talk to a doctor about, but they are nothing like the old-fashioned “knockout” pills such as Valium which can be addictive. A lot of the ideas that medication is bad, comes from the old-fashioned solutions that were used in the past, which did involve using drugs that stopped you from functioning and were addictive.
I had to try a few different types and be patient, when I was having problems. My prescription was changed over time, in my first couple of years of stopping drinking. I had a period where I stopped taking them when things were ok, but then a few problems, such as my anonymity being broken by AA gossips and a few other issues meant that I needed a bit more help. After giving them some time to work and other means of support, I have not needed to use them again, as they did their job and gave me some stability. The same is not the same for my partner who has been alcohol free for eleven years which is a bit longer than me. She still takes them, and finds them helpful. Her prescription has also been varied over time and she keeps in regular contact with her doctor so everything is monitored properly. They still help her, and she has other difficulties these days that are not alcohol related, that have understandably caused her emotional problems.
Quite a few people do need to take them long-term, especially if they have suffered badly in the past. I certainly do not view this as a negative thing at all. If they help somebody, then they are doing their job. That is much better than being the type of person who is permanently depressed, because they are too proud to ask for help, or view an antidepressant as a breach of sobriety.
The greatest danger from antidepressants is not taking them when you need them, and not bothering to tell your doctor when they are not really working, so that the situation can be properly addressed. They do not cloud our judgement, it is depression that does that. Being depressed in recovery is really bad because it stops you seeing any progress that you are making. It is hard to see the point of recovery when you feel down. I am not sure I would have got through the bad times without some help if I had just tried to do things my way. Taking control in recovery, is not always about doing everything by ourselves, but learning that we sometimes need to ask for help, to keep us going.
There is of course a downside to taking them, which I should mention in the interests of being balanced. There can be side effects that are not welcome, but these should be discussed with a doctor that you trust and not just ignored. They can affect the ability to feel and express emotion. However these problems can be overcome if you are honest with your doctor and are not as bad as facing depression head on. Anyone who has been part of any recovery group will have seen people who have relapsed and caused themselves real damage because they have become overwhelmed by depression and not done anything about it. You have to weigh up the side effects against the potential risks at times. Antidepressants are not going to take you to another place like heroin, they are there to help you cope and rebuild your life. Although the side effects can be frustrating, the risks to people who have a background of addiction along side depression, can be even worse without them.
I can understand that people who have tried hard to change things and done things like going to meetings, are pretty annoyed when they do not feel great. That happened to me! I had a good period at the start of my recovery, when the fact that I was finally doing something made a big difference, but then I had to deal with the mess I had made and also my feelings and things went downhill for a while. Working step 4 and 5 did not help and added to my depression, but after getting some proper help, some medication and moving from AA, which was not something that was suitable for me long term, I made good progress. My doctor had suggested things like exercise and yoga many times to me, but I had not tried them, as I did not feel that it would help when I was depressed. When I did eventually start these activities and meditation they made a huge difference to me. It was a struggle to motivate myself to do these activities at first, but they are all things that have become regular parts of my life now, that I would really miss if I could not do them. Regular running has become really important to me now, which surprises people who have known me a long time, including my Father!
Recovery or recovering, is about striking a balance and changing approach, as time goes by, when circumstances change. In my case, time has been a great healer and I have got used to living an alcohol free lifestyle. Things are going well at the moment, but I cannot predict my future. I have had to deal with some pretty serious situations and have got through them. Everyone has to deal with stress in life and sometimes it can be overwhelming. The fact that I have managed to prove to myself that it is possible to recover from depression in the past, makes me feel positive about the future. I will not see it as a weakness, if I do become depressed in the future, because I will do my best to beat it and I know the quicker I ask for help, the quicker I will get better. If I need antidepressants again at some point I will use them. I do not view antidepressants as a problem, in the way that some do. I do view the evangelical approach, of anti medication, 12 step “Big Book” thumpers and the new age self-help cure everything brigade as a problem at times, especially to those who are vulnerable and who are not going to be helped by faith-based “solutions”, and that may actually go downhill as a result. The sad truth is that some people never beat depression, and some people will commit suicide if their situation is unmanaged and they do not have a suitable support method. However, modern solutions do make life more bearable for many who continue to suffer, and that is a great thing.Google+