Psychiatric medications are prescribed to help people cope with emotions they cannot do so on their own. These drugs may be a good or bad thing, depending on how one’s body reacts to them and what side effects these engender. Although prescription medications have helped people who really need them, these sometimes exact their price from other areas of our health. Some drugs could cause weight gain, a drop in libido, or loss of focus, among many other major and minor ramifications. It is for these reasons that people decide to stop or gradually lessen their intake of medication.
Coming off or stopping medication altogether is not as easy or consequence-free as one may think. It is not a simple “stop the drug; stop the side effects” scenario. In fact, there are risks, some dangerous, to suddenly coming off the drug as well as being on it. Much like being “between the devil and the deep blue sea,” the decision to discontinue taking medications that one has been taking for quite some time needs thorough thinking and awareness of the disadvantages.
Why People May Want to Stop Taking their Medications
People often mistake psychiatric drugs as cures when these simply hold the fort, so to speak. Although they are a big help, psychiatric medications function as symptom reducers, not exactly recovery tools. Over time, people can become dependent on these medications and have difficulty managing without them. In other situations, the drugs don’t effectively block the symptoms but seem to enhance their degree. For others, the side effects can be debilitating such as sleep deprivation, forgetfulness, excessive weight gain, feelings of detachment, and many more.
Some people would simply want to live a drug-free life. While a no-drugs personal policy is ideal, it is not always workable or even safe. In cases where the mental illness has become critical to the safety of the person and others around him, prescribed medication can be obligatory under the Mental Health Act.
Why Coming Off or Stopping Medications is a Risky Business
If you have been taking your prescription for three months and over, it is unwise to suddenly stop taking them. Coming off psychiatric drugs may introduce withdrawal symptoms which may put you back to where you started in the first place. While people who have been taking the drug for a very short time may sometimes safely stop cold turkey, this is not the case with people who have been following their prescriptions for months or years.
Because the brain has adapted to the presence of a drug, stopping its intake could cause severe withdrawal consequences. One cannot simply say they will weather the withdrawal storm or hope to steel their minds to the physical and emotional aftermath. In some cases, even gradual reduction of intake can lead to repercussions, ranging from moderate to severe, such as suicidal or violent behaviour. This is why even gradual coming off a psychiatric drug must be a supervised situation.
The decision to come off or stop taking your medication altogether must be done after knowing your risks. Your psychiatrist or general practitioner is the best person to consult on the matter as he is more knowledgeable of the drug.
Coming Off Gradually
The brain and body needs time to adjust to the reduction of intake. Sudden dosage decreases may throw your body off-kilter and make you very sick from withdrawal symptoms. Your mental illness, for which your drug was originally prescribed for, may also surface and pile on more symptoms. Sometimes, it may be difficult to weed out whether the symptoms come from coming off or from the mental illness itself.
If you have been taking a drug for over six months, then expect a six-month or more timetable to get yourself completely weaned off the prescription. If you have been taking the drug for ten years, then the reduction should be very slowly, spanning a period of years before being free of the medication.
Some people have prescriptions of two or more psychiatric drugs. Coming off has to be done one drug at a time. Since drugs affect how other drugs in your prescription work, your psychiatrist or GP must suggest which drug to reduce first and what other dosages need to be adjusted because of the change.
Alternative Support for Coming Off Drugs
Aside from your doctor, you may turn to these alternatives to help you deal with withdrawal symptoms for coming off your medications.
Medications can suppress emotions and creativity; so, coming off drugs can trigger these emotional issues. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, and other forms of counselling may be very helpful in dealing with emotional upheavals.
As further support to dealing with withdrawal symptoms, your doctor may recommend alternative therapies such as exercise, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and aromatherapy.
Art, music, dance, and writing can become invaluable and enjoyable ways of expressing one’s emotions. The art therapist’s job is to encourage you to express yourself in whatever medium you feel comfortable doing. You do not need to possess a painting talent, for instance, to engage in painting sessions because the main goal here is not to create good art work but use art therapy as a venue to deal with difficult feelings or memories.
You may use what you created to talk to your therapist about your work’s relation to your feelings. For some people, art therapy in itself is a healing process that helped them deal with or even recover from their mental illness.
The decision to stop or gradually come off medications is something one must consider very carefully by weighing both one’s risks and benefits from the move. Never stop taking or reducing your intake on your own. With a decision like this, seeking your doctor’s medical advice becomes doubly imperative.