Years ago, I sought treatment for my psychological distress from the mental health establishment. I came out with a psychiatric drug addiction. How can I break free of my body’s dependence on Lamictal? This drug is a total nightmare to withdraw from. Even the smallest dose reduction can cause nearly unbearable psychological and physical states. It is hard to imagine enduring such agonies while maintaining a high-functioning existence. But I am determined to break this addiction. I would need months of spacious time, with few demands, surrounded by good people, lots of fun (I’ve found pleasure and laughter to be the most effective way of coping with med withdrawal symptoms). Who has this luxury in today’s world? Even if I can find it, what about the millions of Americans who get put on psychiatric drugs for treatable depression or anxiety, who then don’t have the means of enduring agonizing months of withdrawal? (Not to mention the potentially disastrous impact weaning off a psychiatric med could have on one’s career and relationships).

I am completely unsatisfied with the answers of every psychiatric practitioner I have ever spoken with. They lack training on helping people get off of medications, although they sure have plenty of experience getting us on them. The answer I get over and over is, we can try to taper it down and check in. What kind of a treatment plan is that? Why has the psychiatric establishment not thought long and hard about the consequences of lifetime dependency on psychiatric drugs (which is the default they expect), and how people who want or need to quit might safely and effectively do so? This strikes me as irresponsible, and dangerous.

Are there herbal or alternative remedies, or treatment centers for people wanting to get healthy and free of psychiatric drugs? This is an epidemic in today’s world. Most people who get psychiatric drugs do not have psychiatric disorders. Most people who struggle with psychological distress do not need psychiatric drugs. But if you become a part of the establishment mental health system, you will come out taking drugs, regardless of whether you need them. I have never met anyone who has gone to a psychiatrist and NOT come out taking psychiatric drugs. Yet we know that most cases of mental distress are not caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic predisposition. They are caused by a toxic societal commercialization of human beings, a dehumanizing reduction of humans to machines in mass-production assembly line. They are caused by maladaptive developmental behaviors traumas, and a lack of awareness of how to create a life that cultivates well-being.

A promise is also frequently made that you can get a psychiatric drug for a short period of time; the time necessary to patch yourself back together in therapy and then get off the med. Yet, when people get better, no useful help is given to help them get off the drug. People who take these highly addictive drugs under the premise that it will be a short-term thing get addicted for life! Where is the accountability here?

The fact that our medical doctors are so reliant on drugs to treat mental distress demonstrates the problem. The medical establishment is either unaware of how psychology works, or it intentionally disregards it. Psychiatry–a noble profession–has often been reduced to little more than pill-pushing; government endorsed drug dealing. Psychiatric drugs are rarely framed in terms of addiction, yet that is so often how they function. They have side effects, and who knows how they impact us long-term? And so frequently, they keep us from treating our unhealthy moods and patterns. We heal by facing ourselves and going into our pain. But if we always drug our pain away, we can never heal. In fact, we only perpetuate and reinforce the cycle of unwellness.

I was educated to believe that I had an anxiety disorder because I suffered from symptoms of anxiety. Since I experienced depression and elation at times, I had a “mild bipolar spectrum mood disorder.” Or rather, that was one of the several diagnoses tried out on me by a medical practitioner; a diagnosis that fit the medication she wanted to try on me that I am currently stuck on. I was then trained to be defensive about my diagnoses. Anyone who told me I should seek help through alternative means lacked knowledge about my condition–surely they did not know better than doctors of medicine and the American Psychological Association!

I was taught to see anyone who questioned my need for medication as perpetuating dangerous stigmas about mental illness. Such people, I was told, were ignorant and intolerant. I fell so headlong into this way of thinking that I published a journal article about my experience of so-called mental illness, and the stigma of people who questioned it (In retrospect, I realize I questioned the diagnosis more than anyone else). I was taught that my supposed need for psychiatric drugs and my psychiatric diagnosis were part of my identity. I was born that way, it was a function of my genetics and my brain chemistry. The cynic in me sees how a drug company might benefit from making their drug part central to a person’s identity.

It took years of therapy for me to lower my defenses and trust my psychologist that there might be reasons for my moods and anxiety. It might not be something incurable or genetic, maybe I could even find relief apart from medication. As I worked this process, I began to see my symptoms vanish. I went through the agonizing process of quitting anxiety medications, and I am much less anxious without them. I still need to quit my mood stabilizer (Lamictal), however.

Do not misread me: I am a huge supporter of psychiatric medications. Millions of people benefit from them, and millions more who lack access need to take them. Psychiatric drugs have changed the world in amazingly positive ways. I do believe that mental illness can be biologically-based. Psychiatric treatment is an exercise in self-care, not an addiction. Yet psychiatric drugs function as addictive drugs for millions of people who have been wrongly put on them. Yet they must be dispensed ethically. They are grossly over-prescribed to many millions who had little education about the consequences, and few opportunities to explore alternatives. How is the medical establishment addressing this huge problem? I would love your suggestions as I develop my treatment plan for a psychiatric drug addiction.