More Americans than ever before are seeing a psychiatrist or other mental health professional for mental health issues. Overall, this is a fantastic development. It shows a wider understanding of mental health issues and what it means to be holistically healthy.
However, the other side of the coin is the rising problem of overmedication. While it’s not a uniquely American problem, American physicians lead the world in prescribing psychiatric medications and other controversial drugs like opioids and benzodiazepines. Drug rehabs in Dallas, for instance, see a significant number of admissions for individuals with problems related to these drugs, partly due to them being prescribed by their physicians.
Here, we’ll discuss the dangers of overmedication for mental health issues, what to look out for, what you should do, and how you can avoid it in the future. If you already suspect that you’re being overmedicated, please discuss it with your doctor or another qualified mental health professional immediately.
What is Overmedication?
Overmedication is consuming more than the dosage of a drug than your body needs to aid in recovery. It can be deliberate or unintentional and can also be caused by an individual’s sensitivity to a specific drug. Using more than the recommended dosage of most medications will not necessarily be more effective for an intended purpose and can lead to serious health problems.
What are the Effects of Overmedicating on Psychiatric Drugs?
In the case of psychiatric medications, overmedication can lead to serious physical and mental health problems over time. Most notably, many drugs used for psychiatric purposes can lead to physical dependence, which leads to complications when withdrawing from these medications.
While most effects may be specific to certain classes of medication, overmedication on antipsychotics, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), three of the most common types of maintenance psychiatric medications, have been linked to the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Increase in appetite
- Increased anxiety and depression
- Physical anxiety symptoms without associated emotions
- Emotional numbness
- Irrational thinking
- Motor skills problems
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth
- Mouth sores
- Tooth grinding
- Low libido
Note that not all these effects are necessarily signs of overmedication. Many psychiatric drugs take time to work and many patients will experience some of the above effects temporarily before the drug works as intended.
Additionally, these effects may not be so serious as to prevent a good quality of life. In any case, get in touch with your doctor the moment you experience these or any other side effects. Do not stop taking your regular medication unless advised to by your doctor.
Why Does Overmedication Happen?
Overmedication can have multiple causes. Some of these include:
- Systemic issues in healthcare systems that overemphasize medication
- Physician error
- Pharmacist error
- Lack of communication between different clinicians in the care continuum
- Deliberate fraud
- Unintended dosage errors
- Unusually high susceptibility to a drug
- Accidental consumption of substances that increase drug effects
- Taking prescribed drugs even though they are no longer needed
- Substance use disorders
- Mental health issues like anxiety or obsessive-compulsive behavior
What to Do If You Suspect Overmedication
If you suspect that you are being overmedicated with psychiatric drugs, DO NOT STOP USING THEM. Many widely used psychiatric drugs can cause withdrawal syndrome when their use is stopped abruptly. Instead, do these other things first:
- Contact your doctor immediately. They should be able to advise you whether stopping is safe or if you may need to be tapered off the drug in a specific way.
- Consider getting a second opinion. It’s completely fine to seek multiple opinions on your mental health from qualified doctors. It’s entirely possible that your current doctor may have missed something that others won’t.
- Consider focusing on non-medicinal interventions. The American healthcare system, as it is, has a tendency to recommend medication for mental illness over other proven interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy and lifestyle changes, among others. Try looking into evidence-based supplemental therapies that may allow you to reduce your need for psychiatric medications.
Have a Conversation with Your Doctor Today
The trend of overmedication has been attributed to complications in recovery from mental health problems, additional burdens to both patients and the healthcare system, as well as a mentality of using potentially harmful medications before other similarly helpful interventions such as psychotherapy.
It’s clear that psychiatric medications are extremely helpful for millions of people with mental health issues, so these types of drugs are probably here to stay. Most people who only take their medication as prescribed will probably not see any issues related to overmedication.
The risk of overmedication is real, however, so it’s important to understand when you might need stop taking these medications and when to seek a second opinion. Good luck, and be well.