Literally Indescribable: Are Antidepressants Addictive?

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They Had No Idea What They’d Done to Me

“My life was very, very good.”

That’s how Michael sums up how things were for him—prior to his suffering from devastating withdrawal effects after discontinuing GlaxoSmithKline’s blockbuster drug Paxil.

Before that, Michael was an educated, successful professional, financially secure, living life to the fullest. He loved working out at the gym, played competitive sports at a high level, and sang in choirs. He also was meticulous about taking care of his health. He never smoked, drank alcohol, or took drugs of any kind.

Michael’s troubles began after he accepted a new position that required him to spend long hours working. He developed arm pain and so sought medical attention for it.

The doctor told him the pain was due to a chemical imbalance, and it was just a matter of finding the right drug for him. So he prescribed, in quick succession, amitriptyline, venlafaxine, nortriptyline, and clonazepam. None of these drugs helped, and he didn’t stay on any of them for more than a couple of weeks.

Three months after he stopped the drugs, Michael began experiencing inexplicable bouts of tearfulness and agitation. He says he never had any psychological problems before this. He went back to the doctor and said “There’s something wrong with me, but I don’t know what it is.” Michael’s doctor prescribed Paxil.

“I had no idea that [this drug] was the sister of Prozac,” Michael told me. “If I had known something like that I would have ran a mile.”

Michael asked the doctor, “Is it addictive?” “No,” the doctor assured him. “Any side effects?” “You might experience a slight weight gain.”

Michael started on Paxil, but the drug left him emotionally numb. After a year, he complained to his doctor, who said “Okay—just don’t take it anymore.” The doctor did not offer any tapering advice, nor any warning of possible withdrawal effects.

Michael stopped the drug, but three months later he was affected, once again, by bouts of tearfulness and agitation. He went back to his doctor and pleaded “There’s something wrong with me. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I need this drug.” So the doctor renewed his prescription.

“There was no clinical assessment, no discussion, nothing,” Michael recalls.

Michael stayed on Paxil for eight more years. He tried a couple of times to kick the drug, but every time he was plagued with withdrawal symptoms. Whenever he went on vacation, he always made sure to take Paxil in his carry-on bag, because even a couple of days without the drug could be debilitating.

Michael finally decided to kick the Paxil for good. He announced his intentions to his doctor, who again offered no advice on tapering off the drug safely. So Michael devised his own tapering plan. Over the course of eight months, he cut the dose down from twenty milligrams to ten to five.

The results were disastrous. For the first time in his life, Michael became suicidal. For hours every morning all he was able to do was to lie in bed in a fetal position, trembling, sweating profusely. He also suffered from vomiting, diarrhea, and uncontrollable crying. He went back to the doctor, pleading “I’m in a very dark place. I don’t understand it. Tell me what you know about this drug you’ve been giving me.” The doctor asserted Michael had depression. When he replied, “That’s nonsense!” he was then referred to a psychiatrist.

“I didn’t want to go,” Michael recalls. “It was very obvious to me that I was dealing with people that were very ignorant concerning the pills they were pushing. They had no idea what they’d done to me.” But he went anyway to the psychiatrist, who told him it was okay to quit the Paxil cold turkey.

Then things got worse.

Brain Sloshing

Are antidepressants addictive?

The official answer to that question is “No.” Both the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) are in agreement on that point. The 2009 NICE guidelines for management of depression in adults inform readers that “antidepressants are not associated with addiction” and urges prescribers to inform patients of “the fact that addiction does not occur with antidepressants.” The 152-page APA guidelines for the treatment of patients with major depressive disorder uses the word “addiction” only once: “Common misconceptions about antidepressants (e.g., they are addictive) should be clarified.”

Both the NICE guidelines and the APA guidelines did refer to something called “discontinuation syndrome,” which includes flu-like symptoms such as nausea, headache, light-headedness, chills, and body aches, as well as neurological symptoms such as paresthesia, insomnia, and electric shock-like phenomena (commonly known as “brain zaps”), but these were characterized as transient and self-limiting:

“Symptoms are usually mild and self-limiting over about 1 week…” (NICE 2009).

“These symptoms typically resolve without specific treatment over 1-2 weeks.” (APA 2010).

Is this correct? John Read, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of East London, along with his colleague James Davies, surveyed the literature in order to determine the prevalence of withdrawal symptoms among users who discontinued antidepressants.

And of course, withdrawal symptoms are defined as those which appeared only after the drug is discontinued. The reappearance of symptoms that were present before the drug was started is not considered withdrawal, but rather the resurgence of the underlying condition.

Drs. Read and Davies found that studies show anywhere from 27% to 86% of those who discontinued antidepressants experienced withdrawal symptoms, and nearly half of those experiencing such effects endorsed the most extreme withdrawal severity rating offered.

What about the claim that withdrawal symptoms typically resolved after one or two weeks? Drs. Read and Davies found 10 studies which contained data on the length of withdrawal symptoms. Seven of these found that a significant portion of patients experience withdrawal symptoms for longer than two weeks, and withdrawal periods lasting for several months or more are not uncommon. One study found the mean duration for SSRI withdrawal symptoms was more than 90 weeks.

Drs. Read and Davies filed a Freedom of Information Act request to determine the basis for the 2009 NICE statement on that withdrawal symptoms usually are mild and self-limiting over about one week. NICE replied that the 2009 statement was inherited from a 2004 version of the guidelines, which stated:

“[Withdrawal] symptoms are not uncommon after discontinuing an antidepressant and that they will pass in a few days.”

And what was the basis for this statement? It turns out this earlier statement was based on two pieces of research, neither of which, upon examination, provided any evidence for the one-week claim.

These symptoms may be far from benign. A study of antidepressant withdrawal symptoms reported on the internet forum “Surviving Antidepressants” found a dizzying variety of complaints, including neurological (dizziness, ringing in the ears, burning sensations, sensitivity to light), psychological (suicidality, anger, insomnia, obsessive thoughts, poor concentration and memory, depersonalization, paranoia, terrifying dreams), gastrointestinal (constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux), cardiovascular (palpitations, chest pain, racing heart, skipped beats, high blood pressure), musculoskeletal (muscle weakness, aches and pains), psychosexual/genitourinary (difficulty urinating, erectile dysfunction, “numb penis”), and “other” (recurring infections, bad skin, hives).

Some of these complaints are literally indescribable in standard medical terminology: “vision lagging behind eye movements,” “head like cotton balls stuffed in,” “brain sloshing.”

In September of 2018, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence released its survey of 319 antidepressant users. Among the most startling findings:

  • 64% of patients claimed not to have received any information from their prescribing doctors on the risks or side effects of antidepressants
  • 25% were given no advice at all on how to withdraw from antidepressants
  • 47% experienced withdrawal symptoms that lasted for more than one year
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, the average reported severity of withdrawal symptoms was nine
  • 30% reported being out of work indefinitely because of antidepressant withdrawal symptoms

But perhaps even more unsettling were the respondents’ personal accounts of what antidepressant withdrawal has done to their lives. A sampling:

“I am unable to work, communicate, or basically function on any level that makes life worth living.”

“I exist as a shadow of the person I once was.”

“I cannot function to do simple tasks like make a cup of tea let alone leave the house to go to work.”

Many respondents claimed that their doctors just denied the very nature of the problem:

“I was told that ‘discontinuation syndrome’ could only have lasted a few weeks so I didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Others were told they were experiencing a relapse:

“The psychiatrists simply waived my story out of hand as impossible, saying that ‘It was just the old illness coming back’ even though I’ve NEVER experienced ANYTHING even remotely approaching this.”

“I was told it was just the anxiety and depression coming back but I have never experienced anything even close.”

“[It was] written off as my ‘original condition’ returning, and proof that I needed the medication like a diabetic needs insulin.”

Despite being told otherwise, the respondents were adamant that their withdrawal symptoms were different from the original problems which led them to take the drugs in the first place:

“The withdrawal has been far worse than the depression ever was.”

“Depression and despair ten times worse than I ever experienced before commencing on the drug.”

“This is far worse than anything I ever experienced before I went on the drug.”

Many of the respondents reported the withdrawal effects went on for years after discontinuing the drugs:

“It has gotten a little easier with time but even after 5 years of being off venlafaxine I am still not right.”

“It is just over 3 years since I stopped and I don’t think I am really over it now… I think my brain and body have been permanently damaged…”

“Seven years on after the last dose of the drug, I am still not the same person I was before starting Seroxat.”

Some of them found themselves unable to kick the drugs, and gave up entirely:

“I can only withdraw for a limited time because the symptoms are too severe to tolerate. I have tried several times to come off unsuccessfully.”

“I don’t want to be on these drugs anymore as they have too many side effects and I don’t believe they better the quality of my life, but I can’t stop.”

So why do the authorities say that antidepressants are not addictive?

A Semantic Quibble

Let’s hit the rewind button and go back to 2002, when BBC’s Panorama aired the documentary “Secrets of Seroxat.” (Seroxat is one of the trade names for paroxetine, the same drug which in the United States is marketed by GlaxoSmithKline as Paxil.) Viewers learned the story of Helen Kelsall, a young woman who began taking Seroxat for anxiety and experienced terrible withdrawal symptoms when she tried to kick the drug. These symptoms included headaches, muscle pain, sweating, tremors, nausea, balance problems, and “head shocks.” She reported that because of these problems, she had missed much of her course work for the last year and was in danger of failing. Viewers were also told that the Maudsley Hospital Medication Helpline had received more reports of problems coming off Seroxat than for any other drug.

In presenter Shelley Jofre’s interview with Alistair Benbow, European Head of Clinical Psychiatry for GSK, the following dialogue took place:

SHELLEY JOFRE: Your leaflet says: “Remember, you cannot become addicted to Seroxat.” That’s not true, is it?

ALISTAIR BENBOW: Yes, it is true. There is no reliable evidence that Seroxat can cause addiction or dependence, and this has been borne out by a number of independent clinical experts, by regulatory authorities around the world, by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and a number of other clinical groups.

Q: If people can’t stop taking a drug when they want to stop taking it they’re addicted, aren’t they?

A: No, that’s not correct. The definition of addiction is not as you describe it. Addiction is characterized by a number of different criteria which includes craving, which includes increasing the dosage of the drug to get the same effect, and a number of other features, and these are not affected by Seroxat.

Q: That’s not, with respect, what the Oxford English Dictionary says. It says “Addiction is having a compulsion to take a drug the stopping of which causes withdrawal effects.” Now we’ve spoken to plenty of people who say they’re compelled to take Seroxat because stopping it produces withdrawal symptoms—they’re addicted.

A: If you use that limited definition of addictive, then most prescription medicines could be defined as addictive.

The second episode in the series, “Emails from the Edge,” noted that the words “You cannot become addicted to Seroxat” were approved by the Medicines Control Agency of the UK. Yet, the MCA’s own rules stated that product information must be conveyed in a language patients can understand.

Shelley Jofre told viewers “What a difference six months and 1,400 emails can make”—a reference to the missives Panorama received regarding the program, many of which told of severe withdrawal effects after stopping Seroxat. Dr. Benbow appeared on this second episode as well, and told Jofre “It’s quite clear that the phrase ‘Seroxat is not addictive’ was poorly understood by them”—seemingly putting the blame on the patients whose lives were devastated by this drug, rather than on GSK.

Of course, one way of resolving this dispute would be to ask the antidepressant users themselves. Dr. Read and his colleagues did just that. They conducted an online survey of 1,829 antidepressant users in New Zealand, and the results were illuminating.

More than half of respondents reported they had experienced withdrawal effects after stopping antidepressants, and nearly half of those characterized those symptoms as “severe,” the most extreme rating category available. A quarter of the respondents considered themselves to be addicted to antidepressants, and 6.2% rated themselves as severely addicted (again, the most extreme rating category available).

So why is there even a controversy about this? The argument is all about semantics. The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, DSM-5, released in 2013, doesn’t even have a category for “addiction,” using instead the term “substance use disorder,” which is defined by the presence of at least two of a list of 11 symptoms. None of these symptoms—tolerance, craving, withdrawal, and so forth—is by itself either necessary or sufficient for a diagnosis. The authors also proclaim:

“Symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal occurring during appropriate medical treatment with prescribed medications (e.g., opioid analgesics, sedatives, stimulants) are specifically not counted when diagnosing a substance use disorder.”

In other words, the authors of the DSM-5 have defined this condition in such a way that antidepressants taken as prescribed by definition cannot be considered addictive.

But the DSM did not always define addiction that way. In the third edition, DSM-III, which was published in 1980 and which inaugurated the modern era of biological psychiatry, the corresponding category was called “substance dependence,” and a diagnosis of this condition could be made on the basis of withdrawal symptoms alone. In other words, the authors used the same common-sense definition of addiction as it is understood by lay people today.

But this changed when the revised version of DSM-III, DSM-III-R, was released. Now “substance dependence” was defined as a cluster of symptoms, as “substance use disorder” continues to be defined today. The revised version of DSM-III, with its revamped definition of “substance dependence,” was released in 1987.

That was the same year Prozac was approved for the market.

Extraordinarily Difficult

Almost exactly thirty years later, on 22 February 2018, the usually sober Times of London published an article about a meta-analysis of antidepressant trials by Andrea Cipriani and his colleagues, titled “More People Should Get Pills to Beat Depression”—even though the Cipriani paper contained no data about the hazards of these drugs, nor of the comparative effectiveness of nondrug therapies.

This prompted a letter to the editor published the following day, by James Davies and some of his professional colleagues from the Council for Evidence-Based Psychotherapy, which said in part:

“The study [by Cipriani et al.] actually supports what is already known, namely that the differences between placebo and antidepressants are so minor that they are clinically insignificant… Lastly, the study does not address the damage caused by long-term prescribing, including the financial burden to the NHS and the disabling withdrawal effects that these drugs cause in many patients, which often last for many years.”

The next day Wendy Burn, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and David Baldwin, Chair of the RCPsych Psychopharmacology Committee, offered this riposte:

“We know that in the vast majority of patients, any unpleasant symptoms experienced on discontinuing antidepressants have resolved within two weeks of stopping treatment.”

Drs. Read and Davies, along with a number of professional colleagues, wrote to Drs. Burn and Baldwin regarding their statement that antidepressant withdrawal symptoms usually resolve within two weeks. They noted out that the RCPsych’s own survey of 800 antidepressant users found that 63% of them had experienced withdrawal effects, and that a quarter or more of these reported anxiety lasting for more than 12 weeks. More disturbingly, as the authors of the letter pointed out, the survey was removed from the RCPsych website less than 48 hours after the “two weeks” claim appeared in the Times. Read and Davies asked Burn and Baldwin either to provide studies backing up the “two weeks” claim, or else apologize and retract the statement.

Drs. Burn and Baldwin both replied to the letter, but neither one provided any evidence to back up the “two weeks” statement. Baldwin attached two papers to his reply, but neither one was relevant to the question at hand. Burn did not even do that much, and neither one of these eminent doctors said anything at all about the request for retraction.

Accordingly, on 9 March, Drs. Read and Davies and eight of their professional colleagues, along with a number of long-term sufferers of antidepressant withdrawal effects, filed a complaint with the Royal College of Psychiatrists demanding a retraction. The RCPsych dismissed the complaint, without providing any evidence for the “two weeks” claim other than the one-sentence statement from the 2009 NICE guidelines. Government ministers ordered Public Health England (PHE) to set up an expert panel to examine the subject of antidepressant withdrawal, with Dr. Baldwin serving as the representative of the RCPsych.

On 4 September, Read’s and Davies’ systematic review of antidepressant withdrawal effects appeared in the journal Addictive Behaviors, and three weeks after that, the Times reported that Dr. Baldwin had stepped down from the panel after an online controversy in which bloggers and anonymous commenters on internet threads had called him a “pharma-whore” and a “lying serial rapist worse than Hitler.” Dr. Read condemned the online abuse but added “We can’t control the anger of people by denial of what these drugs can do.” Rosanna O’Connor, Director of Drugs, Alcohol, Tobacco and Justice at PHE expressed regret for any distress Baldwin experienced, but promised the review would be published the following year as scheduled.

When I spoke with Dr. Read, he indicated that he actually preferred not to use the term “addiction” in regard to antidepressants, because of the stigma associated with the term, but he also made it clear that he did not consider the semantic argument to be the main issue:

“I think it’s a diversion. The issue that we have millions of people, literally millions of people who are trying to come off antidepressants and they can’t. Or they are finding it extraordinarily difficult.”

“And at the same time we have the American Psychiatric Association, the Royal College of Psychiatry, and our national guidelines here all lying about this problem, all saying pretty much the same thing – that withdrawal from antidepressants hardly ever lasts longer than one or two weeks, and it’s self-limiting.”

“When people tell their doctor that they’re experiencing withdrawal effects, the doctor will look up these guidelines and say ‘No, no, that’s not withdrawal – that’s your illness.’ So not only do they not get the recognition of the withdrawal, they don’t get support for the withdrawal, they’re likely to get their drugs actually increased, when they really need a very very slow, supported withdrawal.”

“And this is happening for millions of people around the world. That’s why it’s important. And that’s why whether we call it addiction, dependence, or whatever, the point is that people are having trouble getting off them. And that’s why they are reporting, in very large numbers when asked, severe protracted withdrawal effects.”

A Stunning About-Face

On 29 May 2019, in a stunning about-face, the RCPsych issued a press release stating that “Official guidance on coming off antidepressants needs to reflect the full range of patients’ experience…” The statement also noted that many patients experience severe withdrawal symptoms, which can last far longer than existing guidelines acknowledge. In addition, the college called for:

  • Routine monitoring of when and why patients are prescribed antidepressants
  • Adequate training for all clinicians for best prescribing and managing of antidepressants
  • Adequate support services for patients experiencing severe antidepressant withdrawal symptoms
  • Expansion of talking therapies
  • High-quality research into issues including which antidepressants are likely to work for which individual, and the benefits and harms of long-term antidepressant use

Dr. Read told the Herald:

“It seems the minimizing is finally over. [College] members who value research over personal opinions, and who place the public good before the interests of the pharmaceutical industry, have apparently prevailed.”

“This dramatic U-turn may represent a first step towards the RCP regaining the respect of scientists in this field, which will be accelerated by their removing drug company sponsored individuals from senior positions of responsibility.”

The promised review by PHE was released on 10 September of that year, and recommended:

  • Increased availability and use of data on the prescribing of medicines that can cause withdrawal
  • Enhancing clinical guidance and the likelihood it will be followed
  • Improving information for patients and carers on prescribed medicines
  • Improved support for patients experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Further research on the prevention and treatment of dependence and withdrawal

On 18 October 2019, the BMJ reported that NICE was updating its guidelines on treating depression to acknowledge that withdrawal effects may be severe and protracted in some patients, and to advise patients to discuss the matter with their health care providers before discontinuing the drugs.

The statements that antidepressants are not addictive remain unchanged.

On 25 September of this year, now-ex-president of the RCPsych Wendy Burn announced in an essay in the BMJ the creation of the Patient Information Resource on withdrawing from antidepressants, offering advice to patients on carefully managing the process of stopping these drugs.

Dr. Burn wrote about visiting a charity in Bristol which supports people withdrawing from psychiatric drugs, as well as meeting with the members of the group Drop the Disorder, an organization which challenges the culture of medical psychiatric diagnoses, and with “Altostrata,” the founder of the Surviving Antidepressants website.

“The college’s position in 2018 was not right,” Dr. Burn stated.

Her remarks seemed heartfelt, although it is not clear why she felt the need to mention her being “widely and upsettingly trolled on social media,” as if this sort of thing was even remotely comparable to the distress suffered by those trying to withdraw from antidepressants.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, it’s still business as usual. And while the changes proposed by the PHE most certainly are to be welcomed, it should be borne in mind that the PHE review was not precipitated by any new information on the subject of withdrawal – after all, patients had been telling their psychiatrists about these problems for years. The review was commissioned in response to a Twitter campaign—which may lead some to question whether psychiatry is capable of effecting meaningful reform of its own excesses.

So in answer to the question, “Are antidepressants addictive?” it just depends on what you mean by the word. It is undeniable that a significant fraction, perhaps a majority, of patients who discontinue these drugs experience distressing symptoms that they did not have before taking them, and which in some cases can be debilitating and/or chronic. This is the meaning of the word addiction, as understood by the world’s most trusted English dictionary as well as by many of the patients themselves.

Admittedly, the most severe withdrawal symptoms are experienced by only a minority of patients, but multiply this by tens of millions of people taking these drugs worldwide and you have a problem. Psychiatry’s response to this suffering experienced by actual human beings has been, in a large measure, a semantic quibble over the meaning of the word “addiction,” which may lead one to wonder whether they really have our best interests at heart.

Absolute Hell

And what about Michael, whom we met at the beginning of this article? After finally kicking the Paxil for good, the years that followed were, in his words, “Absolute Hell.” The suicidal feeling became worse. “I wanted to jump in front of buses, I wanted to jump off bridges, cut my wrists, hang myself.” Some morning all he could do was to lie in bed, chanting, “I’m not going to kill myself.”

“This went on and on and on for months and months and months,” he recalls. He had to quit his job and live off his savings.

Now eight years off the Paxil, Michael has begun to put the pieces of his life back together. He has resumed working, part time. But he knows he will never get back the years he has lost. Among the many effects of Paxil withdrawal was a complete loss of sexual functioning, and eight years later he doesn’t think that’s coming back, either.

“The urge to merge is gone,” he laments.

And what about the arm injury that triggered this iatrogenic cascade in the first place? It is still there, but it pales into insignificance in the light of the long lasting, life-altering trauma of psychoactive drug withdrawal.

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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.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Patrick. You are appreciated for what you do.
    The public should ask. Why are all these people saying the same thing?
    Internet info will report or self report a few that are sort of semi okay with their “anti-depressants”,
    but what the reader should realize that sooner or later, everyone will come to a realization that they were in fact not helpful.

    Any doctor that promotes this shit is participating in harm and one day it will be seen and recognized as such.
    They are not ignorant at all and if they indeed are, they should not work with any living being.

    The truth of the matter is, and should be written on every doc’s door. “We have people with complaints. Science does not know. Chemicals are created and passed by desperation and greed. Doctors prescribe this crap. Proceed at own risk”
    But an ethical doctor would not prescribe something that causes harm. Permanent harm. Ohh that is right, we cannot scan or test the brain for permanent harm, because we also can’t test it for malfunction to begin with. We pretend that behaviour means there is a malfunction and pretend that the drugs are FOR this unfound malfunction.

    I don’t like the word “addiction” because to the dumb docs and the dumb public they think it’s an addiction in the way that it made you feel good.
    There is no “addiction”. It is “chaos”. A brain thrown into chaos by going on, being on AND coming off. The reason for the drug companies suggesting a 6 week trial is strictly because after a few weeks, the brain is in enough chaos that to go off the drugs, it is thrown again into even worse states.

    And sure, docs say you can’t get “addicted”, because they know it’s a horrible drug and does not make you feel good. Who cares what it’s called, it is known that they cause damage. People have been telling them for years.

    It is just HORRIBLE that these damaging drugs are even given to kids and teens.

    I suggest a new study. 50 med docs and 50 shrinks. All on abilify, paxil, seroquel. High doses. Ohh and haldol. For a year. Let 50 of them withdraw. On their own terms.
    Keep 50 on for another 20 years. And why can’t they test the drugs at those levels themselves? Obviously the docs would have to get them AOT, or else there would not be compliance.

    The days of doctors denying a patient’s discomfort I thought were over and done with.
    Why does a doctor not deny the patient’s depression or physical pain and willingly gives him drugs?? But he denies that the patient has all these symptoms from the drugs and also post drugs?

    Seems the good doc denies what he wants to deny.

    • The use the drugs for 6 week to experience all the benefits was not only fabricated but it opposes the results of the corporate studies used to approve the drugs.
      Corporate psych drug studies find the entire theoretically drug benefit occurs at the start and decreases over time. By 6 weeks the placebo group has the same relapse rate but since they did worse at the start the drug still has a claimed net benefit. We know the reason these studies show a benefit at first is because the placebo group is actually in abrupt withdraw from the drugs.
      The 6 week lie is simply designed to addict people to the drugs.

  2. Thank you for writing this important article. I am someone whose life has been obliterated by psychiatric drugs. I am left mentally and physically disabled. Like the person Michael you write about in your article, I put somewhat blind trust in physicians regarding prescription drugs and tapering. When I reported side effects, was given higher doses or other drugs to offset these side effects. The suffering has been indescribable. Like Michael, my life was very good prior to being on these drugs. Now, I am a shell of the former person I was. Years after being drug free I have permanent mental and physical disabilities. I live in daily agony with no reprieve in sight. I still find myself shocked that my circumstances are possible. There is zero culpability from the medical doctors I saw, just blame for the patient. I struggle between trying to accept and forgive and voicing my anger and rage. Stories like Michael’s are not uncommon. Lives and families are destroyed.

    • The most common response psychiatrists have if someone complains about an effect of a drug is to add another addicting deadly drug or increase the first ones dose. Their definitions literally view complaints about drug effects as a sign of mental illness.

      It’s why people get put on neuroleptics (which block dopamine and serotonin) and drugs that increase serotonin and dopamine at the same time. Other combos are sleeping pills, and other sedatives while on stimulants. Anti-chilinergics (which cause dementia) for the neuroleptic induced brain damage which causes movement disorders.

      They don’t want not admit they broke the doctor ethics of “first do no harm” and “informed consent” so they lie and cover up by breaking those ethics all over again.

  3. The level of harm I have experienced from psychiatric drugs has been unimaginable. When I think of people who are put in jail because of the physical harm they have caused other people, I wonder why are there not legal repercussions for what I have experienced? My life has been destroyed. I nearly died. I am disabled. Then I was blamed. My family has been torn apart. My quality of life has been decimated. I cannot feel love or joy, emotionally blunted. No imagination, intellect or intuition. Memory and cognition issues. For a year I could hardly even speak. My mind is overtaken by relentless obsessive thoughts I never had before taking the drugs. Can barely complete simple tasks. Chemical lobotomy. The essence of what makes a person human has been erased. I was a high functioning person with a full life before taking the drugs.

    • PrescribedHarm, I am so sorry to hear about your suffering, going through your comment history encouraged me to finally create an account on this website to respond to you, after being a lurker on here for years. I am still in college and was on these medications for a few years during my childhood/teenage years, and still suffering from much of the many debilitating effects you articulate so well.

      I am going through the exact same symptoms you describe and it is horribly isolating – adjusting to my new abilities, and the lack of understanding and support by family and medical “professionals”, who refuse to acknowledge that effects of these drugs can last this long and only offer more diagnoses and drugs.

      • I suffer with a lot of anger for losing my childhood and teenage years because of this, and the suffering the medications caused was blamed on worsening “illness”, hence leading to an increase in dosage and introduction of more serious classes of drugs. It is painful because children not have any say, and could not have protected themselves from this. The parents who were supposed to protect the child were brainwashed by doctors spewing big pharma lies/gaslighting and withholding information about the harms of these drugs.

        What sucks though is that even though I have been off these medications for a few years now, it is still not done with me, and I continue to suffer from bad cognitive effects, the same ruminating thoughts you so well describe, struggle with basic tasks/executive functioning and depersonalization/derealization.

      • Sunshine coffee, I am so very sorry to hear about your situation, especially at your age. I am in my mid 50s. I feel so upset when I hear about adolescents being given psychiatric medication without their understanding of the risks. I have kids of my own and know that it’s often the first option given to kids in distress. There is so much pressure from all sides – therapists, doctors, family members – who put their trust in the notion that the drugs are low risk interventions. The pressure is hard to overcome, even as an adult. I sincerely wish you all the best.

  4. “Are antidepressants addictive?” is the wrong question. Addiction is not due to a characteristic of a drug, it is a behavioral pattern of a person.

    When ingested regularly, all psychotropics, prescribed or not, technically “addictive” or not, legal or not, will incur neurophysiological adaptation, neurophysiological dependency, neurophysiological tolerance and, when discontinued, may cause neurophysiological withdrawal symptoms. This is the Law of Psychotropics.

    “Addiction” is a behavioral pattern that may or may not accompany neurophysiological dependency. This is spelled out in DSM-5, see O’Brien, C. (2011). Addiction and dependence in DSM-V. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 106(5). https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03144.x

    Since it’s long been trumpeted that antidepressants and most psychiatric drugs are not “addictive”, doctors have assumed they do not cause significant withdrawal. Nothing could be further from the truth. (One wonders how they have managed to ignore patient complaints of withdrawal symptoms for 25 years.)

    The confusion about the meaning of “dependency” and “addiction” pervades all of medicine, psychiatry, and addiction medicine, too, leading to utter cluelessness about tapering and withdrawal syndrome from all psychotropics and truly senseless national drug policies.

    With probably 15% of adults in wealthy countries taking antidepressants, plus more taking pain drugs and still others illegal psychotropics (not to mention the huge population of frequent ingesters of alcohol), it’s likely at least 25% of the adult population of wealthy countries are physiologically dependent on one psychotropic or a few. Medicine had better catch on to the Law of Psychotropics, fast.

    • True True Alostrata. Thank you for that.

      They are always careful to mislead the public, and whoever is watching.
      When patients presented with withdrawal, of course they knew that it MUST
      be happening.
      And in fact, the patients could not even verbalize how awful and scary it is to
      suffer with those harms, that is how bad it can be.
      Psychiatry knew dam well it was happening.
      Do we see any reductions in prescriptions? NO. There is a constant game going on.
      The game is slow admissions, combining them with accusing ‘outsiders’ of
      giving misinformation.
      Just like the chemical “imbalance” theory. They let the first onslaught and fury pass by,
      and then everyone forgets and then onto the next project, or the same ongoing
      project which is to keep their industry alive. But it’s not about their industry. For each psychiatrist
      it really comes down to their own personal investments. Which is their job/money, status with family and community. Besides there is little else they could possibly be employed in.

      If one is an arrogant ass, and a lier, then one must be good at it. Practice makes perfect.

      It’s really horrible what they do to people. It is why they thought perhaps younger people would not complain as much or have the same voice to defy them.

      • A lot of psychologists and psychiatrists really are arrogant asses, and pathological liars, aren’t they? But I guess that’s what happens when governments are dumb enough to give the power to play judge, jury, and executioner to a group of mere humans.

        Those humans turn themselves into the “omnipotent moral busy bodies,” about whom C.S. Lewis forewarned us. And they believe committing any crime is acceptable, so long as it benefits themselves. Sam, you should have read that thievery contract a psychologist gave me recently, talk about “delusions of grandeur” and a God-complex” problem.

        The right to force treat people really needs to be taken away. And psychologists and psychiatrists really should be required to take some ethics classes. To garner insight into the fact that attempting to psy-op an innocent widow, so you can try to steal from widows in your church, is unacceptable human behavior.

        Pardon my disgust at both the unethical and scientifically “invalid” psychological and psychiatric industries. Whose only goals seem to be “maintaining the status quo,” and “getting all the money [and assets] into the hands of a small number of banking families,” by hook or crook. The latter goal which, they should know, is a dumber than dirt idea, from a psychological perspective.

        Not to mention, the common wisdom that, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The psychological and psychiatric industries have corrupted themselves absolutely.

  5. Addiction may be the wrong term, but, on psychiatrist told me that your brain/body get used to these and when they are no longer available to the brain/body they are confused. In a way, it is just like needing water to drink or air to breathe. The difference is these drugs are not natural and mostly synthetic chemicals. Therefore, there is this horrible withdrawal period, not just days or weeks, but months and years. Beyond that the person must contend with the damage these drugs have done to brain and body; but, since, it is the brain that is basically the chief of the body that is where the danger lies. But, still, how can any one thinking individual NOT consider that these synthetic chemicals that affect the brain could not do at least some harm. Of course, they do magnitudes and magnitudes of harm. And what do you have a population of people not disabled by some “mysterious alleged mental illness” but by the reality of these evil drugs. The worst pill-pushers of all do not inhabit the back street and alleys, but the doctor’s offices; psychiatrists and other alleged “health professionals.” But, how many times and how many ways can we say this before this sinks in or before anyone really, really hears us? “Hell” is beyond freezing and the creeks have risen way, way over their banks. Thank you.

    • As Whitaker outlines, there are actual physiological changes forced on the brain by these drugs, and depending how long a person’s been on them, it can take a very long time to get back to “normal.” It is exactly the same process as happens with street drugs, yet of course, the psychiatric guild continues to deny that such things even happen, despite the science.

      • Yes, Steve McCrea, these are just “street drugs” under the “dark” cover of “white coat authority;” so they must be alright to take… Huh? I remember those old ads in the 1980s which the man in the commercial showed an egg in a frying pan and this is your brain on drugs. I think a more apt description would be to scramble the egg and then whirl it in the blender over and over again until it gets that rotten stinky egg smell. Thank you.

  6. I’m a 42 year old man living in the UK. I was first prescribed Seroxat (Paxil) when I was 19. Some 23 years later, and following several attempts to withdraw from that drug where the final attempt almost saw me taking my own life at the end of a 3 year withdrawal programme, I now find myself on 225mg of Venlafaxine daily. I read this article with huge interest. When I first started to withdraw from Seroxat when I was 26 (16 years ago), many people thought my problems with withdrawal were ‘all in my head’. It feels edifying to see that the issue of psychiatric drug withdrawal is finally coming into the public domain with some acknowledged visibility. I’ve had to move beyond anger with what has happened to me and work hard at trying to re-build my life; that’s not been easy. My physical health has been irreparably damaged including major weight gain issues, soul destroying sexual dysfunction and extensive dental problems. I was reflecting on my sadness about this ‘life experience’, that I didn’t sign up for, with my therapist recently. I explained to her that I knew I didn’t have a choice now but to stay on anti-depressants for life as I just seem physically unable to withdraw, let alone be emotionally, financially and spiritually strong enough to weather another catastrophic life storm, which could ultimately drown me if I tried again. My hope is that public health services will seek to address this emerging crisis and provide safe, structured and supportive withdrawal programmes so that one day I might be given the chance to have my body free of the medications that have plagued all of my adult life to date. As a man of 42, I like myself and I like my life; I don’t want to die. I’d need a firm promise of support from the health system to support another withdrawal before I’d ever seek to risk everything once again. I’m an optimist and believe that one day, that professional support might be available. I live in hope.

  7. Thank you for writing this article, Patrick. And it’s very sad that “on this side of the pond, it’s still business as usual.” I’d say it’s even worse on this side of the pond, because the mere act of giving Whitaker’s “Anatomy” to an ELCA pastor. Expressing concern for all those children misdiagnosed as “bipolar” to some ELCA “mental health” workers, gets them bragging about the fact that this bipolar disclaimer was taken out of the DSM5.

    Oops! My access to Philip Hickey’s website, with the DSM-IV-TR disclaimer has been blocked. Those of us speaking out against the harms of psychiatry are being censored.

    None the less, then those of us speaking out against the harms of the antidepressants get another ELCA psychologist sicked upon us, with a BS contract proving that psychologist wanted to steal all my money and work.

    In America those of us speaking out about antidepressant withdrawal, and the massive societal “bipolar” malpractice, are being literally attacked, both online and in real life. The “mental health” workers in America have very literally turned themselves into “paranoid schizophrenics,” willing to commit any crime to “maintain the status quo.”

    • Oh, what’s good is when I went back hours later, I was no longer banned from Philip’s site. Here is the DSM-IV-TR “bipolar” warning against misdiagnosing the common adverse effects of the antidepressants as “bipolar.”

      “Note: Manic-like episodes that are clearly caused by somatic antidepressant treatment (e.g., medication, electroconvulsive therapy, light therapy) should not count toward a diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder.”

      This, in addition to misdiagnosing the common adverse effects of the ADHD drugs, as “bipolar,” should have been put into the DSM5. But taking this disclaimer out of the DSM5, after Whitaker’s book was published in 2010, is what the psychiatric industry chose to do instead.

  8. Great article – thank you. One point of clarification- the PHE review was commissioned not because of a Twitter campaign but as a result of the work of the APPG for Prescribed Drug Dependence, whose secretariat is the Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry.

  9. Any psychoactive substance is *potentially* addictive.

    This to include most foodstuffs. As most foodstuffs have psychoactive effects.

    Then almost anything we experience is also *potentially* addictive as anything experiential can become compulsively compelling.

    This is why there is a masturbating to porn epidemic in the western world. And also why pushers of non-nutritious edibles scrape in billions of revenue every year.

    The human is an addictive being. We are hardwired to attach to things over and over like hatchlings. Look at all the moronic computer gamers in their 30s 40s 50s 60s… basically still in the childhood toybox and they claim to know no better.

    Addiction is a complex beast. Ask any Trump supporter…

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