Why Do Psychiatric Meds Make Some People Worse?
When prescribed appropriately, psychiatric medications can be very helpful in reducing symptoms associated with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, and many other conditions. But if you’ve been misdiagnosed and are taking prescription pills for a condition you don’t have, or you’re taking medication that isn’t right for your individual brain type, it can lead to unwanted side effects and even some questionable behaviors. Just look at what happened to Kate.
7 Minutes to Disturbing New Behavior
A minister’s wife, Kate went to her family doctor and told him she was stressed, depressed, and couldn’t sleep. After a 7-minute appointment, she left his office with three prescriptions: a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) called (fluoxetine/Prozac) for depression, a benzodiazepine (alprazolam/Xanax) for her anxiety, and a sleeping pill (zolpidem/Ambien). Within three days Kate started to feel better. After a week she was feeling really great.
Then, while stopped at a traffic light, a man in a truck pulled up beside her. He winked at her, which was not unusual as Kate was an attractive woman. But what happened next was very unusual. Kate proceeded to unbutton her blouse and showed the man her breasts. Horrified at her own behavior she sped off, and the trucker tried to follow her. She managed to give the guy the slip and sped back to the safety of her home.
Still shaking from what she had done and unnerved at what might have happened if she hadn’t driven off, she went straight to her medicine cabinet. She figured the uncharacteristic change in her behavior had to be related to the new medications she was taking, so she tossed them all in the trash.
Why Kate’s Meds Weren’t Right for Her
Desperate for answers, Kate decided it was time to see what was happening in her brain. After she had been off those medications for several weeks, she underwent a brain imaging study called SPECT. It measures blood flow and activity in the brain and shows three things: areas of the brain with healthy activity, too much activity, or too little activity.
Kate’s brain scan showed low overall activity, especially in the front part of her brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC is involved in impulse control, planning, judgment, and decision-making. When activity in this area is low, people tend to be more impulsive, engage in risky behavior, and make bad decisions.
The three medications Kate had been given all decrease brain activity. This can be helpful in people who have too much activity in the brain, but not in Kate’s case. These medications further diminished activity in her PFC, thereby disinhibiting her judgment, lowering her impulse control, and leading to the embarrassing incident with the unbuttoned blouse.
Kate was lucky that she made the connection between her unusual behavior and the medications. Imagine if she had continued taking them and the kind of trouble she could have gotten into. It’s frightening!
Unfortunately, many people who are taking psychiatric medications don’t connect the dots between the pills they pop and differences in the way they act. They can go years without realizing that their medications are impacting their behavior in an undesirable way. This can lead to problems at work, troubled relationships, and many other issues.
How Psychiatric Meds Affect the Brain
Brain SPECT imaging studies show that some psychiatric medications—particularly benzodiazepines, sleeping medications, and pain pills like hydrocodone and oxycodone—have a negative impact on the brain. SPECT scans reveal that they suppress brain function in many people.
A growing body of scientific evidence, including studies in BMJ, the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, and the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, shows that these medications—especially benzodiazepines—increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. These are all conditions known to be associated with low blood flow to the brain. Because some psychiatric medications can harm the brain, it’s important to look for natural ways to heal the brain and reduce symptoms.
Brain Function is the Key to the Right Medications
Without looking at the brain there is no way to know if a person’s brain needs more stimulation or needs to be calmed down. Symptoms, such as hopelessness or nervousness, don’t always equate to underlying brain function. Kate’s brain clearly needed more activity, not less. Seeing a person’s SPECT scan can help understand how that person is likely to respond to various medications and can diminish the risk of prescribing the wrong ones.
Seeing her brain helped Kate understand her disturbing behavior, and she got much better with a treatment plan that was targeted at increasing her brain activity. This included exercise to increase blood flow to the brain; great nutrition and stimulating supplements—including rhodiola, ginseng, and green tea— to support her moods; melatonin and magnesium for sleep; and psychotherapy to learn how to deal with the stress of being a pastor’s wife.
At Amen Clinics, we take an integrative approach to diagnosing and treating our patients. Through our brain imaging, lab work, and extensive assessment of your personal history (including asking about the medications you’re taking), we are able to identify biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors that may be contributing to your symptoms. With this information, we can help you optimize areas of your life to enhance overall brain health to help decrease your symptoms.
If you would like help finding integrative solutions for your symptoms, call 888-288-9834 today to speak to a specialist or schedule a visit online.