Your Drug May Be Your Problem:
How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications
by Peter Breggin, M.D. and David Cohen, Ph.D.
Perseus Books, (1999), $24.00
Book Review by Carol Maxym, Ph.D.
San Diego, CA
In the fast-paced, high-achieving, stress-filled world in which we live, the prescription
and use of psychopharmaca becomes more common and commonplace every month. Problems, whether economic, financial, or social, depression,
anxiety, panic, or compulsive behavior, are treated with an increasing number of psychiatric medications. Often they are used in combination,
with the second or third prescription needed to counteract some of the side-effects of the originally presecribed drugs. Inundated as
we are with reasons to prescribe and use psychopharmaca, a relatively new book on the market, Your Drug May Be Your Problem: How
and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications (Perseus Books, 1999, $24.00) co-authored by Drs. Peter Breggin and David Cohen carries
Dr. Breggin's crusade against the use of psychopharmaca still another step. It specifically discusses, as the title says, that for many,
it is their drug, not their "issue," that is the real problem.
Like other works by Breggin, Your Drug May Be Your Problem
is well-written, accessible, and carefully researched, although I found the number of citations of his own work to be somewhat overbearing.
It is written by Beggin, a well-known and mainstream-educated psychiatrist who practices in Bethesda, Maryland, and Cohen, a professor
of social work at the University of Montreal as well as editor of numerous journals dealing with medical, ethical, and psychological
issues. They provide a compassionate, yet urgent plea to those already taking psychiatric drugs, those considering starting or stopping
taking these drugs, and those struggling with the decision whether to begin their children on medication to understand the potentially
grave dangers these drugs pose.
This useful book methodically (if a bit repetitively) describes the
many possible side effects of psychiatric medications and gives advice on the how and why to stop taking them, should that be or become
the reader's choice. For those who wonder if the medications they or a loved one are taking are really helping and not causing other
potential or actual harm and/or danger, this book is particularly valuable. For professionals working with clients who are considering
beginning or already taking medication, it provides a very different viewpoint. It is not the perspective generally presented in literature
written and distributed by the pharmaceutical companies or the in adverstisements that appear both in professional journals and in the
general media. As with Breggin's other writing, the content of this latest book directly challenges assertions made by doctors, physicians,
clinicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and the pharmaceutical firms that psychiatric drugs do in fact "help" those patients with
problems of mental, emotional, and psychological stability. This is a book to restore both a client's and a professional's belief in
Zoloft, Prozac, Ritalin, and lithium may ring a bell with you, but
the authors also specifically address most of the other psychoactive medications, including stiumlants, tranquilizers, neuroleptics,
and some of the older anti-depressants, carefully noting the possible side effects and the difficulties involved in getting off them.
In an especially interesting though perhaps to some readers, abrasive,
chapter, the authors discuss some of the reasons why professionals so often prescribe these medications, then increase the dosage and/or
add other prescriptions to offset the less-desirable side effects. Often, in fact, maintain Breggin and Cohen, physicians, psychiatrists,
and therapists mistake the effect of the medication to be a further indication that a higher dosage is needed. Breggin and Cohen argue
that it is these drugs, not the patient's mental stability (or lack thereof), that is causing the problem. Clearly not afraid of controversy,
the authors avow that too many professionals understand too little of the potentially harmful consequences (including addiction), powerful,
unwanted side effects, and serious difficulties involved in coming off the drugs.
The authors' central focus is not so much on discouraging patients
from taking drugs or professionals from prescribing them. Breggin has extensively written elsewhere on those topics). Rather, the book
elucidates the process of "coming off" them, often in defiance of professional advice or the wishes of loved ones. While understanding
the difficult challenge this process poses, Breggin and Cohen do not shy away from stating directly their opinion, based on solid research,
that psychiatric drugs are not the answer to the kinds of problems that send millions of Americans in search of mental health care every
year. They suggest less invasive solutions, such as love, care, empathy, and the help and direction from family, friends, religious
beliefs, and nature may provide equal.
A quick and "easy" read (expect to finish the book in under a week),
this is a thought-provoking and insightful book The book gains considerable validity by means of its straight, no- nonsense, yet completely
empathetic tone. It has the added advantage of having two separate and individual voices combine to form one powerful voice. The combination
of medical fact and personal belief makes this book even stronger and more accessible to readers who may be searching for another and
different viewpoint concerning the use of psychiatric medications.