We Need Drugs

The truth is we live in a horribly miserable time. There is no getting around it. It cannot be candy coated. Self-help books about happiness are truly an insult to anyone with eyes clearly open. No wonder the masses are walking around on a cocktail of prescriptions. You would never know who is on what. Until they start falling over or stop breathing. I am not talking about gloom and doom at all. Reality is enough to make a strong argument for the validity of escapism as a life strategy.


Wendell Berry is a political essayist and farmer with works spanning over five decades and one of the most prolific philosophers of our time. He had this to say about drug use: “People use drugs, legal and illegal, because their lives are intolerably painful or dull. They hate their work and find no rest in their leisure. They are estranged from their families and their neighbors. It should tell us something that in healthy societies drug use is celebrative, convivial and occasional whereas among us it is lonely, shameful and addictive. We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other. (pg 61, Racism and the Economy).

A recovering client in the Get Off Prescription Drugs outpatient program recently confided that he has heard this phrase repeatedly from colleagues in crime who are still in the abuse cycle: “stuck in the game.” That is a perfect description of the conundrum of power and shame referenced in the previous blog about responsibility. How are we suppose to take responsibility when there is no hope of success while we circle the drain? We sense that there is no way out of our peculiar dilemma and therefore with resignation and contempt we become enmeshed with the substances/addictions of choice.

Another prior blog post referenced the tsunami of frozen grief found in the difficult prescription drug tapers. When prescriptions came in as the go to treatment for life’s difficulties, grief work flew out the door. We are left now with a torrid waterfall of pent up anger and sorrow. Perhaps this explains our penchant for violence and wars.

The other foundation of healing superseded by the quick fix of drug prescribing is the “relationship.” Power over patients relies on the obliteration of bedside manner. The paradigm shift we see coming in to replace abuses of power consists of kindness, intuitive listening, empathy, openness, respect and liberty. Input and freedom of choice is a return to a foundation lost upon us.

The inspiring forefather psychoanalyst Carl Jung put it this way: “Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” (On the Psychology of the Unconsciousness. 1917)

Now that medical doctors are facing shadowy homicide charges (on 3/4/2012 Dr. Hsiu-Ying Tseng of Los Angeles County was charged with murder after three of her patients died of prescription drug overdoses) and being held accountable for their decision to be drug prescribers you see a good deal of scrambling on their part to explain themselves. As with many abuses in power, the abusers hide behind the explanation of “I had no choice.” Shall we forgive them because they knew not what they did?

In an article titled “U.S. Abuse of Prescription Drugs at All-Time High; Mental Health Professionals React”  (3/17/2012 PR Web) Dr. Lisa Firestone the Director of Research and Education of the Glendon Association (a non-profit mental health research organization) made this statement about the prescribing of drugs: “When we try to submerge or alleviate pain and anxiety, we ignore their messages. Pain, whether physical or mental, is trying to tell us something important. When we try to quiet our discomfort, we fail to identify it’s cause and address the underlying issues that lead to the suffering. The seduction of getting relief creates a path to addiction, often requiring more and more, as the apprehension of possible discomfort increases.”

We have been duped by Pharma and their brigade of soldiers who peddled harmful substances to the public. We all sat in front of our televisions since the dawning of the blockbuster drugs as we were told to go to our doctors and ask for those drugs. The United States is the only country in the world who allows this type of hypnotic marketing and make no mistake, it is not so simple for the patient to “just say no”.

The difference between the pharmaceutical companies and doctors is businessmen do not take the Hippocratic Oath. The CEO of Pfizer may not be an ethical dude but he is not sworn to a healing oath. In this case it is the messenger who needs to own up. Johnson and Johnson is settling with the U.S. Justice Department for about 1.8 billion dollars for misrepresenting Risperdal in advertising. As far as one could tell nowhere in that settlement were harmed patients even mentioned, except for some civil suits alluded to in the fine print  At the end of the day it is the clinicians who are charged with the task of watching out for patients. In a perfectly just world the pharmaceutical companies would be held accountable for much more than billions of dollars. Misdemeanors, which are part of the settlement, are laughable when you consider the scope of the atrocities.

We need drugs because we have lost all sense of purpose, direction and connection while the moral compass went south. These are the threads that lie below the prescriptions. In the search for soul we find that chronic drug use is the landscape for the absence of meaning. Another of Carl Jung’s great quotes tells us: “The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.” (from Modern Man in Search of a Soul)

In order to get back to an environment where we can manage the pent up emotions caused by decades of escapism and self-medication we must once again embrace the loss and grief that rampant depression designates. Recognition of the loss of one another points the way home. I will leave you with one more of Wendell Berry’s classic truism’s: “I don’t believe that grief passes away. It has it’s time and place forever. More time is added to it. It becomes a story within a story. But grief and griever alike endure.” If we can come to terms with the truth about loss, and what jewels can be found on the pathway ahead, we may no longer have a need for all of the obsessive drug taking.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. You have hit the nail on the head here. I truly believe that we need to face life’s adversities in order to deal with them, in the same way as physical symptoms should encourage us to change our lifestyle. Alas modern allopathic medicine persists in masking the symptoms so that we can continue as before, and this removes the body’s chance of communicating its discomfort to us. Likewise with grief patients are offered drugs to ‘take the pain away’ and this removes the opportunity to learn and grow through the experience, and most importantly to move on whilst continuing to acknowledge the loss.
    As a herbalist I always seek to get to the root cause of a health problem, and as a Tibetan Medicine practitioner I am not frightened of helping people come to terms with their loss and grief. I myself was widowed suddenly when my children were only 2 and 4 years old so believe me I know all about the pain of grief and the courage it takes to deal with it head on.

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  2. I really enjoyed this perspective. We think we need drugs because of not dealing with meaningless and suffering on their own terms.

    But I am also more hopeful than the author. I have experienced my own recovery and seen recovery in others from painful emotions like deep grief, anger, despair, depression. Healing is possible!

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    • @Cameron – there are no x-rays, MRIs or lab tests to measure neurotransmitters or their activity in the brain or body. There has never been a ‘chemical balance’ identified and the chemical imbalance theory of depression or any psychiatric diagnosis is a marketing story created to sell whatever pharma product is new or patent-protected. This doesn’t make your pain or distress any less real. There are many medical illnesses (endocrine/hormonal abnormalites, for example) that often underlie mood problems and hallucinations that CAN be identified but are rarely tested for before psychotropic meds are prescribed. Psychotropic meds all interfere with endocrine function, making it harder to detect and treat the underlying cause.

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    • I agree with Barbara here. IF there was such a way of detecting these problems, there would not be half the problems that we have. IF we had a way of testing for these conditions the DSM would not have tick boxes and it would not list behaviours, it would instead be able to give clear markers for these conditions. Diabetes is diagnosed by having a certain levels of blood sugers. As a result they can decide from those tests as to how much insulin the person requires. And this differs on a day to day and minute to minute basis. They test there own blood throughout the day, to ensure they get the exact amount of insulin required.

      In order to develop antibiotics one had to first know what bacteria was. They had to be able to put bacteria into a test tube, and then and ONLY then could they begin to look for substances to kill that thing. Depression is feeling sad. One cannot put feeling sad into a test tube. Psychosis is among other things hearing voices. One cannot put hearing voices in a test tube. Unless and until you can do such a thing you can hardly develop a biological treatment for it.

      There are NO xrays, MRI scans or blood tests that can diagnose ANY mental illnesses. In PET scans they can at some very rare times show that certain areas of the brain and more highly activated, but it means nothing. PET scans show that taxi drivers have parts of the brain for navigation more highly activated. Does that mean that we need to medicate them all to stop them having good navigational skills!??!!! Areas are activated based on use. Using something does not prove that something is wrong or that a drug can fix it. The SAME activation of saddness is shown in those who have been clinically depressed for decades as those who have just lost a spouse of 20 years. Are people not supposed to be upset after loosing a spouse of 20 years?

      If these drugs were as effective as the drug companies would want us to believe they would cure people and they would not cause any problems. When a person takes insulin they immediately feel better. It fixes the problems, because we know exactly what we are doing. NO ONE has to force them to take it, they want it becuase it makes them feel a thousand times better. Sure there are many who question it, they look into other methods and ways of managing the condition, but they end up ignoring them very quickly as they don’t work and the insulin does work. If a person is on the drug, then if it was making them feel better, they would choose to keep taking it. How can an illness that is supposedly under control still control them?? If the illness is talking as they claim in causing them to stop taking it, then the medication has NEVER worked in the first place. People don’t stop taking insulin because they think they are better now, simply being late with it is enough to make them feel like shit and to know they really are unwell. If these drugs were like insulin for diabetes they would do the same thing.

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  3. Good post. You bring up the concept of escapism and how it plays into the pharma industry. Escapism is one of biggest marketing and advertising pushes, as well as being a humungous goods and service market (for everyone not just those suffering). People seem to avoid any sort of negative feeling or suffering and for many people that means escapism through drugs or medications as you brought up in your article.

    It would be an interesting study to be able to get a good sample size of people using psych meds where you could do a survey where you ask if you had clear evidence that there are no chemical imbalances in the brain would that change your stance on taking your meds. I think there are a lot of people that would continue to use psych meds as a way of escaping that emotional suffering, just as people use alcohol.

    The sad part is so many people see these comercials and they get caught up in that is the most affective way of making things better in their live. The harm this is having on society is truly alarming.

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  4. Thank you for this post, which elegantly expands on many of my own musings. In particular, I appreciate the quote from Wendell Berry, “I don’t believe that grief passes away…” I have often written in my journal that time does not heal—and yet in certain ways it does. It gives old wounds new shapes, or we ourselves change shape. So I think that grief does change, in that we will experience it in different ways over time, but still it’s there, as an undeniable part of life.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful commentary; your honest approach instills hope.

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  5. I created a program called “The Chocolate Fairy,” which is a person in a Chocolate Fairy costume who ride a bicycle through the city and gives chocolate to People in Need of Chocolate. Her slogan is, “We all use drugs, so you might as well use the ones that harm you the least, that you can control the most.” Some drugs are more addictive to some people than others. One of the good exercises we do in Chocolate Fairy workshops are list our substances of choice in order. Knowing how lists are different for different people is really important. The key for everything is moderation, since abstinence from everything is pretty tough. Some people will find some things they do have to totally abstain from. http://corinnawest.com/programs/the-chocolate-fairy/

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