Are We Overmedicated?

In a March 14, 2014 article titled “Overmedicated America,” American Spectator writer Daniel J. Flynn took a look at the frightening statistic from the Mayo Clinic that roughly seven in 10 Americans take a prescription drug, calling it “surely a symptom of a sick society,” and asking, “who will diagnose the diagnosticians?” More than a year later, we’re still waiting for an answer to that question.

The same Mayo Clinic study cited above found that opioids and antidepressants were prescribed by doctors only second to antibiotics. Dexedrine, Klonopin, Adderall and Oxycodone are prescribed to help with everything from ADD to anxiety, but it’s worth asking, “Are we treating the symptoms instead of the diseases?”

The Good…

To be clear, there are a number of prescription medications that are truly lifesaving, and for those who have been diagnosed with clinical mental health disorders including bipolar, PTSD, ADHD and schizophrenia, medication makes normal life possible. For others, temporary use can help regulate emotions enough to that an individual is able to weather a specific traumatic event or loss.

Addiction experts also find that many who seek treatment for substance abuse are self-medicating with illegal or prescribed substances not meant for them. Some of those individuals may benefit from prescription medications, including anti-depressants. But it’s important to note that these medications are not offered in place of counseling, instead they are prescribed as part of a comprehensive treatment program and monitored closely to find the right dosage and watch for any negative side effects.

The Bad…

In an opinion piece for titled “Are Drugs Stifling Women,” New York City psychiatrist Julie Holland looked at what’s really ailing women in America. She asserts that the fairer sex is suffering from an energy crisis brought on by competition at work and expanding demands at home that lead us to “use anything we can to duct-tape our lives and ourselves together: comfort foods, alcohol, energy drinks, and an expanding array of antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, painkillers and amphetamines. All in an effort to maintain our unnatural pace.”

The Ugly…

Holland cites her own sobering stats: Americans are about 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we take half its pills – 80 percent of its painkillers. In her CNN piece, Holland suggests that a new normal has been created by the widespread use of prescription meds. “Like steroids in baseball, when everyone starts doing it, the players who don’t are at a disadvantage,” she says, also comparing it to plastic surgery. “The overuse of psychiatric medication is called cosmetic psychopharmacology, and it’s like cosmetic surgery: as more women get breast implants, the rest of us feel flat chested.”

Everyone’s Doing It (Or Are They?)

The danger is that while prescriptions may seem ubiquitous, everyone’s not jumping on board. And for those who are regularly medicated, is it really helping? A popular group of antidepressants, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), are used to artificially do something our bodies were designed to do naturally: manage serotonin levels, the brain chemical that helps regulate mood. While we’ve all received the message loud and clear that not enough is bad, we’re rarely told that too much can also cause issues. An overabundance of serotonin “can dampen empathy and emotional reactivity, while higher doses can engender apathy,” Holland warns.

Afraid to Feel

When did we become so afraid of our emotions that we need to medicate them away? Again, this does not apply to treating a medical disorder that interferes with everyday life and makes normal tasks unbearable or even impossible. We’re talking about the idea that being emotional equals being unstable or that experiencing the normal ups and downs of our moods is somehow something to be fixed. There are legitimate mental health issues that are disorders, but emotions like sensitivity or loneliness aren’t a sickness that needs treatment. One is a natural condition that leads to empathy and understanding of others while the latter is a natural feeling we all experience at times. Our varying emotions shouldn’t be seen as a sign something’s wrong, instead they should prove we’re healthy and our bodies are working as they should.

A Pill for Every Ill

In this age of overmedicating, we’ve come to expect a pill to cure any issue that arises without looking at the deeper causes and how we might handle the problem naturally. As pharmaceutical companies make taking powerful drugs seem like the norm, there is little talk about the side effects, which can range from a lack of sexual desire to weight gain and a general lack of emotion or inability to feel any emotions. With this in mind, it’s easy to see that it may not be a coincidence that the Greek word “pharmakon” can mean either to poison or to cure.

Holland calls for a “course correction, away from the synthetic, so that we can live lives that honor how we feel. But to do that, we must be able to feel, to be our moody, authentic selves. That is the first step to wellness and to wholeness.”

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction and a co-occurring disorder, call us today. We’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can provide information on treatment programs, help with insurance and answer questions about the treatment process.


  1. “Overmedicated America,” Daniel J. Flynn, The American Spectator, March 14, 2014 (
  2. “Are Drugs Stifling Women?” Julie Holland,, March 3, 2015 (

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