By David Joel Miller MS Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Trying to solve life’s problems with a pill comes at a cost.
Modern medical science has been a great boon to people. Medications can treat diseases and have extended the human lifespan. Unfortunately, many people in our society have come to expect that taking a chemical will solve all their problems. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if no matter what your challenge there was a pill for that?
Regrettably, many of the problems people face today can’t be solved with medication. Freud, Jung, and a great many others discovered that the “talking cure” was more effective for treating emotional problems and relationship problems than meditation.
Martin Seligman, Ph.D., in his book, What You Can Change … and What You Can’t, reports that as of 2007 no medication had been found which cured any mental illness but that several varieties of talk therapy have been effective in curing certain mental and emotional disorders. While medication can help you manage some of the symptoms of your illness, symptoms can return as soon as you stop taking that medication.
A word of caution here, if you’re currently taking a prescribed medication don’t suddenly stop taking it without a discussion with your physician. Abruptly discontinuing medication can cause some severe medical issues. The symptoms people experience from stopping antidepressant medication can be so intense, that there is a recognized mental illness in the DSM-5 called “antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.”
The medicalization of life’s problems.
Many of the problems of living have increasingly been construed as medical problems. A significant number of people who completed suicide have been to see their medical doctor in the month before their attempt, only to be told that there was nothing medically wrong with them.
Taking medication for depression can be helpful, but it typically takes a long time, a month or more before you begin to feel the effects. If you don’t face your problems, learn to change what you can and to accept the things you can’t change. No medication will make your life happier all by itself.
Don’t confuse physical and emotional pains.
The belief that when you feel bad, there must be a medication that will stop the pain has led a lot of people to seek a chemical solution to the problems of living. If you’re sad because of a loss in your life, medication can temporarily numb that pain, but when the medication wears off, you still must face life’s problems.
Some problems respond better to life skills than to medication.
There’s an immense connection between sleep and physical and emotional health. Some sleep issues are medical, sleep apnea for example. Temporarily you can increase the amount of sleep by taking sleeping pills, but once you become dependent on the sleeping pills, you won’t be able to sleep without them. Rebound insomnia can happen when you discontinue the sleeping pills and results in nights where you don’t sleep at all.
Using alcohol to help you sleep is even worse. Alcohol is a depressant drug, drink enough, and you will pass out, unconscious. Being unconscious is not the same thing as sleeping.
Far more effective than using chemicals to increase sleep are things called “sleep hygiene.” Decrease or eliminate caffeine use during the eight hours or so before bedtime. Avoid blue light from TVs and computer screens during the last hour before bedtime. If anxiety and worries are keeping you awake at night try journaling about them, make up lists of things to do the next day, and seek long-term solutions to those problems. If you feel stuck in this area, consider going for counseling.
Don’t fall for the myth of “happy pills.”
I’m inclined to think that our societies belief that there must be a pill to cure everything that ails you has been fueling the drug overdose crisis. For someone with chronic physical pain medications can help them have a better life. But many people miss the connection between emotional pain and physical pain. Your emotions are regulated in your nervous system, and your nervous system connects to every other part of your body. Being under stress or experiencing mental and emotional problems leads to chemical changes in the body. Untreated emotional issues can result in genuine physical pain.
Taking medication does not solve the nonmedical problems of living and “numbing out” with drugs whether they are prescribed, or street drugs, allow your problems to grow worse and gives you the additional problem of addiction to deal with.
Don’t use drugs as a shortcut to things you can do without them.
I’ve noticed recently students who don’t put in the time to study for class but instead take “smart drugs” or load up on stimulants and try to learn everything the night before the final they should’ve been learning all semester.
Stimulant ADHD medication can be helpful to someone with severe attention deficit disorder. But taking these medications won’t make up for learning good study habits and putting in the time on your homework. ADHD is an excellent example of “concept creep” in which the number of people with a diagnosis continues to expand as milder and milder cases get the diagnosis. Learning to focus your attention is a skill that can be developed.
Mental and emotional problems respond to physical exercise.
Walking can be as useful for treating depression as medication. There is no known medication to treat the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, but a recent study reported that aerobic exercise reduces those negative symptoms. I’m currently reviewing the research reports on exercise to treat mental illness. I found thousands of studies on this subject. As I have the time to read the studies, I plan to write another blog post on what conditions exercise has been proven to help.
It’s hard to admit the doctor’s prescription pad won’t solve all your problems.
Recently something happened that drove home how ingrained our society’s belief is that medical doctors have all the answers to life’s problems. Google is now moving post written by medical doctors or approved by them to the top of the search results while writers from nonmedical fields find their posts dropping down the search results.
I get why Google may have had to do this. I’ve seen some articles and blog posts with information I considered totally erroneous. You should be careful to separate the views of someone with knowledge in the field from those who may be handing out inaccurate information. I hope that society won’t ignore information about study habits from educators in favor of posts encouraging you to take the newest smart drug or preference for information about diet drugs and surgery while disregarding sound information about exercise and physical fitness from specialists in that area who don’t necessarily have a prescription pad.
If you read this far thanks for considering my suggestions for solving life’s problems without reaching for a drug that could make your problems worse.
David Joel Miller, MS, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC.) Mr. Miller provides supervision for beginning counselors and therapists and teaches at the local college in the Substance Abuse Counseling program. He also writes both articles and books about overcoming life’s challenges.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
Sasquatch. Wandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.