Human beings have always taken substances because of their effects. We are very accustomed to this idea. What we are not accustomed to doing is taking a close look at why we are taking a given substance.
What heavy drinker wants to take a close look at his or her rum or vodka intake? What insomniac doesn’t prefer popping a sleeping pill to engaging in the hard work of reducing his or her stress? Weight watchers want their amphetamines, men suffering from performance anxiety or limited interest grab their Viagra, women will inject the neurotoxin Botox to remove wrinkles. Since that is where we are, very comfortable taking chemicals for any and every reason and loathe to scrutinize that intake, it follows that the average parent is primed to accept the idea that his or her child’s diagnosis should naturally lead to a chemical fix.
Even if you assume that the psychiatric chemicals given to children work, which is a highly debatable assumption, that they work is not the only criteria by which to judge whether or not a chemical should be taken. Vast amounts of Scotch may work to help you forget that you hate your life but that doesn’t make alcoholism an excellent treatment for despair. When it comes to the psychiatric chemicals that may be prescribed to your child, as important to answer as “Do they work?” are “Do they make sense?” and “Are they a good idea?” First of all, how often and to what extent do they work (remembering that there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that a medical condition is present)? Second, do they make sense at all, if mental disorders are labels and not medical conditions? Third, are they are a good idea, given their powerful side effects, the possibility that alternatives may be available, and vexing questions of dependence, addiction, and more? Make sure to answer these three questions to your own satisfaction.
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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.