Ever since reading Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic, PsychOdyssey has been pondering the worrisome contradictions that antipsychotic medications pose for those who take them and their families. If antipsychotic medications are supposed to help people with psychiatric disabilities improve their conditions, why are they having such little effect? And what are their effects over the long-term? A controversial thesis of Whitaker’s book (which PsychOdyssey will review shortly) is that psych meds are doing more harm than good. Antipsychotic medications may not be rebalancing deficient brain chemistry. Instead, they may be causing the deficiency! Psych meds over time may permanently alter brain chemistry and worsen, not improve, cognition.
One of the many sources that Whitaker cites in his copious work is Dr. Nancy Andreasen, one of the leading experts on schizophrenia, neurology, and brain imaging. A highly accomplished scholar, Dr. Andreasen began her academic career as an English professor, completing her Ph.D. studies on John Donne. After the problematic birth of a daughter, she became fascinated with matters of health, went back to school to become a doctor, and now is an eminent neurologist and psychiatrist attached to the University of Iowa. Her specialty has been brain imaging.
In a 2008 interview in The New York Times, Dr. Andreasen spoke about recent research findings that she is soon to publish. In a longitudinal study of over 300 people with schizophrenia spanning 18 years, she found that “people with schizophrenia are losing brain tissue at a more rapid rate than healthy people of comparable age. Some are losing as much as 1 percent per year. That’s an awful lot over an 18-year period.” The research led Dr. Andreasen to a troubling conclusion: “And then we’re trying to figure out why. Another thing we’ve discovered is that the more drugs you’ve been given, the more brain tissue you lose” [italics added].
Evidence is now suggesting a link between the long-term use of antipsychotics and brain dimunition. If this is true, it would have enormous implications for families who hitherto have been led to believe in the efficicacy and primacy of antipsychotic medications in the treatment plans of their loved ones.
To read the entire New York Times interview with Dr. Andreasen, click here.