In brief, the medications that have been prescribed for me (those
that I am aware of) were:
1. 1981 (15 years old): imipramine
2. 1990 (24 years old): amitriptyline, chlorpromazine, and an
All quotes on this page are Wikipedia, except those
related to side effects.
Imipramine was, in the late 1950s, the first tricyclic antidepressant
to be developed (by Ciba-Geigy). It was first tried against psychotic
disorders, such as schizophrenia, but proved insufficient. During the
clinical studies, its antidepressant qualities were unsurpassed by
other antidepressants. To this day, Imipramine is often considered
the "gold standard" antidepressant, as its ability to lift
the most severe depressive episodes is unsurpassed. It is not
surprising, therefore, that Imipramine is also known to cause a high
rate of manic and hypomanic reactions, especially in patients with
preexisting bipolar disease. It is estimated that up to 25% of such
patients maintained on Imipramine will switch into mania or
hypomania. Such powerful antidepressant properties have made it
favorable in the treatment of treatment-resistant depression.
Common Side Effects: Dizziness; drowsiness; dry mouth; excitement;
headache; impotence; nausea; nightmares; pupil dilation; sensitivity
to sunlight; sweating; tiredness; upset stomach; vomiting; weakness;
weight loss or gain.
It is less rare to experience constipation and increased depression,
but apparently nowadays if this occurs you are supposed to contact
your doctor right away.
Amitriptyline is approved for the treatment of major depression, as
well as clinical/endogenous depression and also involutional
melancholia or "depression of late life", which is no
longer seen as a disease in its own right.
Common Side Effects:
Dizziness; drowsiness; dryness of mouth; headache; increased appetite
(may include craving for sweets); nausea; tiredness or weakness
(mild); unpleasant taste; weight gain
The original antipsychotic drugs were happened upon largely by chance
and were tested empirically for their effectiveness. The first
antipsychotic was chlorpromazine, which was developed as a surgical
anesthetic. It was first used on psychiatric patients because of its
powerful calming effect; at the time it was regarded as a
"chemical lobotomy". Lobotomy was used to treat many
behavioral disorders, including psychosis, although its
"effectiveness" was (from a modern viewpoint) due to its
tendency to markedly reduce behavior of all types. However,
chlorpromazine quickly proved to reduce the effects of psychosis in a
more effective and specific manner than the extreme lobotomy-like
sedation it was known for.
The underlying neurochemistry involved has since been studied in
detail, and subsequent anti-psychotic drugs have been discovered by
an approach that incorporates this sort of information.
Chlorpromazine is known to cause tardive dyskinesia, which can be
Chlorpromazine impairs the metabolism of tricyclic antidepressants
which can thus increase the risk of toxicity. Can increase appetite,
resulting in weight gain. Impaired sexual response.
Common Side Effects: Blurred vision; constipation; dizziness;
drowsiness; dry mouth; light sensitivity; nasal congestion.
Anxiolytics (antianxiety medication)
Benzodiazepine Benzodiazepines are prescribed for short-term relief
of severe and disabling anxiety. Benzodiazepines may also be
indicated to cover the latent periods associated with the medications
prescribed to treat an underlying anxiety disorder. They are used to
treat a wide variety of conditions and symptoms and are usually a
first choice when short-term CNS sedation is needed. Longer-term
uses include treatment for severe anxiety. There is a risk of a
benzodiazepine withdrawal and rebound syndrome after continuous usage
for longer than two weeks. There is also the added problem of the
accumulation of drug metabolites and adverse effects.
Benzodiazepines exert their anxiolytic properties at moderate dosage.
At higher dosage hypnotic properties occur
I am not sure which Benzodiazepine I was prescribed. Some of these
can impair sexual functioning or result in slight incontinence, as
well as decrease ability to concentrate.
Imipramine was the first antidepressant prescribed for
me. It was prescribed in autumn 1981, when I was 15, after a binge
drinking episode resulted in suspected alcohol poisoning. At the
hospital, I was asked some questions, and a history was
I took the pills for a few months, but did not feel less depressed.
If anything, I felt more hopeless. I also had an extremely dry mouth,
which never let up. After giving the pills some time to work, I
began to save them up, and they were eventually used in a suicide
attempt in late March 1982.
There had been other side effects in addition to the dry mouth: a
kind of fuzzy weird thing in my head sometimes, and constipation.
However, it was the way the 'professionals' talked about chemical
imbalances and made false statements about my blood tests (i.e., that
they could tell from my blood tests that the 'imbalance' had been
corrected) that changed my attitude about meds to a less open, more
skeptical one. I would never again be as willing to trust that the
professionals really knew what they were doing.
In 1989, I was prescribed one drug by an admitting doctor when I had
been taken by the police to the hospital (I had trouble talking to
him at all because I was crying uncontrollably), which was
immediately changed to something else when the doctor on the psych
ward interviewed me. I don't know what either of these drugs were.
When I asked the psych ward doctor for an explanation, he would not
give it, and so I began to refuse meds. I remember only that the
side effects seemed 'strange' or 'scary' to me - I don't remember the
details. It was actually the side effects which prompted me to ask
about the medication.
I was prescribed amitriptyline at age 24 (1990), during
a hospitalization of two months. At the same time I was also
prescribed an antianxiety medication and the antipsychotic
chlorpromazine. I did not take any of these medications.
In talking to one of the staff, she had vaguely stated that the
antipsychotic would 'clear up my thinking' - when I couldn't clearly
see that my thinking was any less clear than hers. I didn't think I
actually needed the other meds - what I thought was necessary for me
was to talk for a long time to someone, but considering the approach
and lack of depth of the conversation I encountered in the various
hospital therapies, I didn't think I was likely to find what would
help me personally. Also, psychologically-based therapies were not
covered by my provincial health insurance.
Is it true that some disorders or conditions might actually be
'created' so that a new drug can be marketed? Do doctors get monetary
rewards for recommending or prescribing certain drugs?
Drug companies and medicalization
It has also been alleged that the way the categories of the DSM are
structured, as well as the substantial expansion of the number of
categories, are representative of an increasing medicalization of
human nature, which may be attributed to disease mongering by
pharmaceutical companies and psychiatrists, whose influence has
dramatically grown in recent decades. Of the authors who selected
and defined the DSM-IV psychiatric disorders, roughly half had had
financial relationships with the pharmaceutical industry at one time,
raising the prospect of a direct conflict of interest. In 2008,
then American Psychiatric Association President Steven Sharfstein
released a statement in which he conceded that psychiatrists had
"allowed the biopsychosocial model to become the bio-bio-bio
However, although the number of identified diagnoses has increased by
more than 300% (from 106 in DSM-I to 365 in DSM-IV-TR), psychiatrists
such as Zimmerman and Spitzer argue it almost entirely represents
greater specification of the forms of pathology, thereby allowing
better grouping of more similar patients.
The meds can only do so much, and for some people, there might be a
psychological placebo effect - through trusting the hospital,
accepting or relying on meds, you relax your own sense of control and
might feel less anxious. However, I couldn't help being aware of my
motives for taking the drug or trying it, and I couldn't help being
aware that in a practical sense, it didn't really solve important
issues for me. I needed help focused in a different area. When
motivated, I could handle anxiety myself.
Psychiatric drugs carry their own risks, and sometimes the side
effects involved merely add to your problems or make it more
difficult to tackle the original problem. They also cost money, and
require that a person be monitored by a professional, which requires
Some of the drugs prescribed for me could potentially have caused
weight gain or impaired sexual response - two side effects that
would have contributed to my problems, and which I would definitely
not have found acceptable. Also, the idea that I had been prescribed
a drug which could have resulted in permanent tardive dyskinesia, and
I had not been warned about this beforehand, infuriates me.
I think that alcohol is a valid medication, for me. With alcohol and
other non-prescription drugs, there may be different side effects,
different levels of risk, and different long-term side effects. But,
as with prescription drugs, some non-prescription drugs will help
some and not others.
Speaking for myself, a suicide pill would be a valuable