Antidepressants, the second most prescribed group of prescription drugs, aren't just for depression any more. New research reveals a shocking number of doctors are advising their patients to take antidepressants for other reasons.
Since the 1980s when antidepressants first became popular, their use has exploded an astounding 400 percent. Today, more than one out of every 10 people is on some type of antidepressant.
Surprisingly, nearly half of the people using antidepressants aren't taking them for depression.
According to a study published in the May 24 Journal of the American Medical Association, a whopping 45 percent of antidepressant prescriptions are given to treat things like anxiety, migraines, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and chronic pain. Other uses include the treatment of fibromyalgia, premenstrual syndrome, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction.
Antidepressants are not FDA approved to treat many of the conditions for which they are being prescribed, and there has been little to no scientific testing to determine whether antidepressants even help people suffering with these so-called "off-label" ailments.
"These doctors are prescribing in the dark," one of the study's authors said.
Psychiatrist Peter Breggin, whose work influenced warning labels on antidepressants, says too many people are taking them.
"People on these drugs for long periods of time become apathetic and indifferent," Breggin said. "They don't care as much. They don't have as much empathy."
He says the dangers of antidepressants are often overlooked by doctors and their patients, who often take them for years.
"There are people who feel they can never get off antidepressants because they have such terrible discomforts in their body, their brains, their minds, coming off the drugs," he said. "The fact that the withdrawal symptoms are so difficult indicates how much these drugs change the brain."
In his book, Medication Madness, Dr. Breggin documents what he warns is the dark side of antidepressants.
"The antidepressants cause violence and they cause suicide, and they do it in all age groups," he said. "We have studies in all age groups. There's no doubt about it."
Other doctors, however, tout their benefits, saying antidepressants are a safer alternative to other medications, such as sleeping pills for insomnia.
Doctors often prescribe antidepressants for conditions for which they are not intended based on anecdotal evidence, such as recommendations from other doctors who reported successful outcomes of patients to whom they prescribed antidepressants for "off-label" purposes, a practice that is legal.
Nevertheless, physicians with varying opinions about the value of antidepressants usually agree that more research needs to be done to determine their effectiveness for uses other than depression.
However, those studies are costly and usually paid for by the drug manufacturers, who may not be inclined to foot the bill.
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