Spain is at the forefront of the consumption of psychopharmaceuticals , understanding these to be medicines that act on the brain by producing psychological effects.
We are above the European average in terms of anxiolytic and benzodiazepine consumption. Anxiolytics, antidepressants and sleeping pills are prescribed without much thought for their possible side effects and without considering, as a first option, going to psychotherapy.
Why does this happen?
There are multiple associated factors that explain the medicalization of psychological well-being, among them, its low economic cost, hovering between 1 and 3 euros per box of some of these drugs, having decreased its cost in recent years.
On the other hand, it is very easy to access psychotropic drugs; it is enough for the doctor at the health centre to pre-write them, that is, it is not necessary for a mental health professional to do so. It can be very simple for the latter to prescribe them if people relate the symptoms that can resemble anxiety, depression and insomnia for the most part; however, the most likely thing is that we are not talking about depression, but sadness, and that we are not talking about pathological anxiety or that, even if this were the case, this problem could be solved with psychotherapy.
But, and we come to the third reason… how is a doctor going to refer a person to psychotherapy when there are hardly any psychologists on the Social Security? Specifically, there are 4 psychologists and 6 psychiatrists for every 100,000 inhabitants. Doctors, therefore, are almost forced to prescribe them in order to offer some “solution” to the patient .
The concept of happy pills
On the other hand, we have to attend to the almost obligation to be happy and to be well at all times. Therefore, when the person feels sad, nervous, goes through a duel… he notices that something is not right inside him and that he has to take some pill that “cures” him . But what if going through that sadness, feeling anxiety, crying over a loss… is healthy, necessary and adaptive?
Stress, frustration or pain is less and less tolerated , so the person seeks the immediacy of the drug; however, in this way, we may be diminishing our coping capacities.
It is also necessary to talk about the normalization of these consumptions. Few families do not have a member who consumes psychoactive drugs, it is something very normal, which is a clear factor that influences this increase in consumption.
Stress and our poor sleep hygiene combined with an increasingly worrying use of technology, are causing an increase in the use of sleep aids, even though they have been shown to help sleep but not rest, generating a feeling of heaviness and apathy in the person that is rarely taken into account before consumption.
The problem of overdiagnosis
Another relevant factor is the trend towards overdiagnosis and medicalisation in our society, which we can see in the new versions of the DSM, in the medicalisation of minors with psychotropic drugs, etc. All of this is very much influenced by the interests of the pharmaceutical industry.
What can be the consequences of taking these types of drugs?
First, you can generate dependency . Addiction to psychopharmaceuticals is increasing, and these are among the drugs that are creating most addiction at present.
Most psychotropic drugs create physical dependence, that is, the consumer’s organism will show symptoms of withdrawal syndrome when the consumption is stopped, and, on the other hand, psychological dependence arises: the brain gets used to this substance and will demand greater quantities , and may reach the point of not being able to sleep or to function in daily life without these pills.
If we are prescribed a pill that we take when we are nervous and another when we are sad, what happens if we are nervous or sad and we don’t have it? That we probably feel that we are not able to cope with that discomfort.
Adverse side effects should also be taken into account . Although in the short term anxiolytics can reduce our symptomatology (antidepressants need weeks to develop their effects), in the short and long term they can have very considerable adverse side effects .
On the other hand, as we mentioned, anxious or depressive symptoms can be reduced, among others, but not to solve the problem in question, and not to work on it and on the focus of the problem because it reduces this symptomatology and makes us believe that the problem has been solved, being probable that it will appear again.
At Mariva Psicólogos we think that, although it is true that psychopharmaceuticals may be necessary, and even more so when we talk about serious psychopathology, we must be careful when resorting to them and consider whether going to psychotherapy and betting on our mental health, even if it requires greater personal effort, is more beneficial. If you require medication, our psychologist will recommend it, and we can combine pharmacology and therapy.