Medications: Are they really anti-anything?
Teenagers frequently ask me, “What is the difference between a "drug" and a medication?” I explain that a medication helps the body to work normally and a "drug" takes the body away from normal function. Many people who take (recreational) "drugs", do so, for the abnormal and pleasurable feeling it affords. Eventually, because of the miraculous and determined ability of the body to heal itself, it will literally return the body to normal (accustomed) function and, the "drug" no longer produces the “high”. This is why, over time, a person needs to take more and more of the "drug" to, again, get back that pleasurable feeling.
Another recurrent question is, “If I take a medication, how will I know if the way I’m feeling is from me or from the medication?” This question has been asked over and over again through the years and has made me wonder why we call our medications anti-anything. The person’s question is clear. Specifically, if they are depressed and take an antidepressant, and their depression improves, how will they know if they are feeling the effects of the medication, or if their body is truly healing itself? In essence they are asking, “Will medication change me?”
No medication has been discovered that can make the body function better than normal. Medications work to allow emotional circuits to return to normal function, leading the person to simply feel more like themselves. A person whose emotional circuits struggle, can become depressed or anxious in more than a hundred different ways! They may be predominantly anxious or sad. They may sleep too much or too little. They may eat too much and gain weight or lose their appetite and lose weight. By listening carefully to a person's symptoms and seeing who they really are at the core of their being, which may be quite different, the right medication can be the "change agent" required for actual healing. While keeping a watchful eye for any potential side effects, the person has the opportunity to indeed live their life more authentically than without the medication.
When Someone Asks, "Will Medication Change Me?"
It is particularly important to communicate this to our children as they are struggling to discover who they are, what gifts they have been given and what decisions they should consider in the future. When we talk about controlling their anger or keeping them from ‘acting out’ we will naturally get resistance. From their viewpoint they feel they have something to be angry about!
Whether we’re talking about different psychotherapy approaches or medications, the words we use about desired outcomes must be chosen carefully. When someone asks, "Will medication change me?", our goal is to help the person become more aware of their real needs. Then we promise to help them more effectively communicate these needs to others. This approach is respectful to the goodness that exists in them and in all people around them.
This is particularly important to people who are suffering from autistic spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder or psychotic disorders. Their identity and communication issues are already difficult. Seeing the world from another’s perspective and helping them make sense of their feelings leads to the trust necessary to grow.