Psychotropic Drugs, Our Children and Our Pill-Crazed Society

09/08/2010 04:03 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Today, the use of psychoactive drugs by children (6-17) is all too common, relied on far too much and growing at an alarming rate. It all started in the '70s.

Memorialized in 1966 by the Rolling Stones' "Mothers Little Helpers," it was at that time that our society took the first steps at becoming "Pill Crazy." Valium and Librium and Quaaludes were "Mother's Little Helpers. The first drugs to enter the stage. If you couldn't stand Johnny, your friends, your husband, in-laws, etc, tranquilizers smoothed you out, made you tranquil. Not surprisingly, in the 70s, the consumption of these tranquilizers, once discovered and available, skyrocketed. Anxiety was the popular diagnosis. Antidepressants were beginning to raise their heads as well. Their popularity at that time, however, was muted by the fact that they didn't work well, and also sported many side effects, some of which were very annoying and occasionally dangerous. And, no one knew what was just around the corner.


Prozac was first marketed in 1987. It was a totally new type of antidepressant, which seemed to work and had far less side effects. What had been a stream of tranquilizers became a tsunami of Prozac's and tranquilizers. Other 'Prozac's' entered the scene--Zoloft, Celexa, Paxil and Luvox, all vying to take part of Prozac's market share. Promotion of these drugs by drug manufacturers exploded. Where there had been a surge in the diagnosis of anxiety, now the diagnosis of the decade was 'depression.' Housewives by the droves needed and demanded antidepressants and even more tranquilizers. If one was good, two must be better. The pill craze was on.

Diagnoses started to morph. The more the diagnoses, the more opportunities to sell drugs. Anxiety became anxiety neurosis, panic disorder, panic attacks, etc. 'Depression,' as a diagnosis, was of course and remains very popular. However, many patients don't and didn't like that diagnosis--perhaps it sounded too much like a disease. So a new depression explanation and diagnosis emerged--'chemical imbalance,' which sounded more sheik and less like a disease and, of course, yielded more customers.

Not far behind 'chemical imbalance' came 'mood disorder,' a special type of depression, also called bipolar disorder. There are people who actually have a bipolar disorder and require numerous special medications for treatment. These medications, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and second generation antipsychotics are far more dangerous medications than Prozac and tranquilizers. Further, there are also many people who are said to have 'bipolar disorder' who don't. Often these patients are those who were said to be depressed yet don't get better with standard antidepressants. They get all the special and dangerous medications (the number of which is multiplying geometrically) and have the additional advantage of being able to excuse pretty much anything they do as a result of their 'mood disorder.'

This pretty well takes us through the '90s. But here come our children. How did our children get sucked into all this? Our pill craze was and is a huge part. Parents and physicians often subscribe to this theory, that there is a pill for everything. Mommy says Johnnie is depressed, doctor agrees, Johnnie doesn't. Guess who wins? Certainly not Johnny. Guess what Johnnie gets? A pill, usually an SSRI, which he may end up taking for a long time. Assuming Johnnie takes three years of SSRI therapy, his diagnosis is changed 25 percent of the time, usually to the much more serious diagnosis, bipolar disorder. His medications are changed to a much more serious and dangerous types. If Johnny takes an SSRI for six years the chances of his diagnosis changing to bipolar increases to 50 percent. So do his meds.

There's yet another and newer mine field for Johnnie to negotiate, new in the last two decades. Let's say Johnnie fidgets in his seat, doesn't listen to the teacher, hates to read, and talks to his neighbor all the time. Guess what. Johnnie is diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and given another serious type of drug, a stimulant--usually Ritalin or a form of speed (one example being Adderall). Did you know that Adderall is 100 percent speed? We know speed kills but give it to our children. Think about that. Speed kills and we give speed to our children, masked as Adderall. Astounding.

Johnnie has climbed the pill craze ladder, as did his parents, but with a kicker---he takes stimulants. The effects on Johnnie of his powerful medicines far exceed the effects of those same medicines on his parents. Why? Johnnie is a child. He often takes antidepressants, anti-anxiety agents, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and stimulants. To climb the pill craze ladder, it took Johnnie's parents 40 years. Johnnie did it in 10. Maybe Johnnie's brother can do it in five.

How does Johnny escape the pill crazed society? Education of parents may be very useful. Reading, studying, talking to friends, to doctors, to teachers, etc. Parents should learn as much as they can about their children. Notice their moods. Talk to them. Get them therapy if they need it. Drugs are only a very, very last resort.

The most useful education comes from us looking at ourselves. I mean everyone looking at themselves, carefully. I and most of my friends lived through the 70s and 80s and 90s and 2000s. Most of us had no medications, no treatments, no diagnoses. We certainly weren't perfect. Yet amazingly, most of us have done and are doing just fine. How are you doing?