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Are Psychiatric Medications Safe for People in Addiction Recovery?

Are Psychiatric Medications Safe for People in Addiction Recovery?

One of the most important considerations for many people in recovery is whether taking psychiatric medications for co-occurring disorders is right for them. It is a decision that requires careful thought and knowledge about both addiction recovery and the mental health disorders that are commonly diagnosed in patients with substance abuse disorders.

The diagnosis of co-occurring disorders is fairly common. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports the following statistics in their 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:

  • Nearly half of people diagnosed with a severe mental health disorder are also affected by drug or alcohol abuse
  • 37 percent of alcohol abusers report having at least one mental disorder
  • 53 percent of drug abusers report having at least one mental disorder
  • 29 percent of people with a diagnosed mental health disorder are substance abusers

Long-term recovery from co-occurring disorders requires that both disorders are treated simultaneously. Integrated treatment is necessary because if only the addiction is treated, without proper treatment of the underlying mental health condition, relapse is likely to occur when the person attempts to self-medicate the mental illness symptoms that still exist. Co-occurring disorders have a complex and interwoven relationship that is much more complicated to treat than either disorder alone.

Commonly Diagnosed Co-Occurring Disorders

Any type of mental health disorder puts a person at a higher risk for addiction, but there are some psychiatric disorders that occur most often in patients who also have a substance use disorder. The most common co-occurring mental illnesses include:

  • Mood disorders (depression, bipolar)
  • Anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder)
  • Eating Disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Personality disorders (borderline, antisocial)
  • Process addictions (gambling, sex addiction)

The commonly abused drugs among people with mental disorders include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, and heroin. Prescription drug abuse is also common among people with mental health disorders. They may abuse painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives to try to control destructive thoughts and fears. While this method of self-medication may appear to work, providing temporary relief from depression, anxiety, and delusional thinking, it will undoubtedly make psychiatric symptoms worse in the long run.

Commonly Prescribed Psychiatric Medications

The most commonly prescribed medications for psychiatric conditions are antidepressants, anti-anxiety, antipsychotic, and mood stabilizers.

Antidepressant Medications

Antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed medication in the country. One in ten people, over the age of 12, currently take antidepressants. They are commonly used to treat depression, anxiety and mood disorders. The symptoms of depression can often be managed successfully with the use of proper medication. Depression is a brain disorder, in which the neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of pleasure are not properly balanced. Antidepressants seek to restore the balance.

The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, and Viibryd are common SSRIs
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) – Cymbalta, Wellbutrin, Effexor, and Pristiq are common SNRIs

Most antidepressants are considered safe for people in recovery.

Anti-Anxiety Medications

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that anxiety disorders affect 18 percent of the U.S. population, making them the most common mental illness in the nation. The prevalence of the disorders, reported by the ADAA, are as follows:

  • Phobias – 8.7% of the population
  • Social anxiety disorder – 6.8% of the population
  • Generalized anxiety disorder – 3.1% of the population
  • Panic disorder – 2.7% of the population
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder – 3.5% of the population
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder – 1% of the population

Like depression, anxiety disorders are often treated with SSRIs or SNRIs. Benzodiazepines are also used for the treatment of anxiety disorders but are often considered dangerous for people in recovery from addiction due to their addictive nature as well as the risk of abuse.

Doctors who understand addiction often use other medications for the treatment of anxiety in recovering addicts. Blood-pressure medication and antihistamines have been shown to lower anxiety in some patients.  

Antipsychotic Medications

Antipsychotic medications are often used to treat the agitation, hallucinations, and delusions of patients with schizophrenia. Some medications that are prescribed are considered safe for recovering addict, while others are in a gray area – they could be risky but may not be. It is up to the patient and the prescribing doctor to weigh the benefits and risks to determine whether to use them.

Mood Stabilizers

These medications are often used to treat bipolar disorder. The disorder is characterized by episodes of depression and mania. The medication helps to balance those mood swings and reduce the number of extreme episodes. They are often successful at managing bipolar disorder symptoms.

Lithium is one of the most commonly used mood stabilizers, as well as the oldest. It was the first of its kind to be approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Lithium, and other mood stabilizers, have to be monitored closely and blood must be tested for kidney function regularly. In addition to lithium, antidepressants are often prescribed to manage the mood swings of bipolar disorder.

Anticonvulsant medications have also proven to be effective treatments when used as mood stabilizers. These medications are generally considered safe for recovering addicts to use.

To Take, or Not to Take Psychiatric Medications

Ultimately, deciding whether to take medication for mental disorders when you are in recovery from addiction is your choice. It is something to be examined by you and your doctor so that you are able to make the best choice for your specific needs.

If you are struggling with addiction, Life of Purpose can help. Contact us today for more information. You don’t have to live like this anymore.


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