Spewing it like a monkey at a Mexican restaurant

Lee Pierce

Lee Pierce
July 10
A former creative type and new father lashing out at the injustices of the world


Lee Pierce's Links

Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 15, 2011 12:41AM

21st Century Drug Addict

Rate: 14 Flag

I'm a drug addict. Who isn't these days?

Going by the definition of the phrase as someone who habitually takes and is dependent on drugs, that ends up including a fairly large amount of the country. It's a scary thought to realize you are addicted. It's even scarier to think about how many other people are.

Of course, I'm not talking about anything illegal, and not even anything used for pleasure. But still, there it is. I'm a drug addict.

I have two prescriptions: one for sleep, and one to make me normal. As someone who grew up in a household where there was no such as a mental disorder, until dementia hit my family, I was raised to believe people that cried out that they were depressed or psychotic were really just lazy or crazy. There was no such thing as mental illness. And while I never really believed that, to this day, I'm still a bit hesitant to take anything.

I take Ambien to help me sleep. I've had it for a while, and used it irregularly until a few months ago. I never really liked it. For one, it's never really seemed to give me a good night's sleep. Yes, I feel a bit rested in the morning, but never completely. No, it's the side effects that I don't like. I take my little pill, and I have no idea what happens. There have been so many times I've woken up the next day to find inane Facebook ramblings or dozens of texts sent. In fact, only a week ago, I set up a blog for the first time in five years.  And here we are.  It embarrasses me to no end. Which is odd, because if these were incidents done through alcohol, I would just laugh it off. There's something about the idea of it being a side effect of a chemical that makes it embarrassing to me. It also scares me. I wake up with no memory of ever lying down. I can remember only vague snippets of me nights, although I can always tell when I've gotten up in the night.

And it's not like I haven't tried natural sleep. I've tried everything I can think of. I've used Tylenol PM, Melatonin, warm milk; I even had a doctor recommend a shot of whiskey before bed. None of them worked. I was told my body would eventually force itself to rest when I became tired enough, but I have a job and a daughter, and after four days of little sleep, I realized I couldn't keep going.  I refuse to take it on a nightly basis though.  I don't trust myself to take them when I have my daughter.  That's my biggest issue.  But when I don't take them, I feel off, like I've tried to go a morning without my coffee.  I know there are reasons for my lack of sleep.  Just nothing I've been able to fix yet.

After a bad break up, I just wasn't able to sleep anymore. Call it a psychological issue if you want, but that still doesn't help me function the next morning.

My other prescription is for Lexapro, which I take daily for anxiety. This was also supposed to help with my sleeping, but I've been on it since 2004 and have noticed no changes in my sleeping patterns due to it. My anxiety is worse than my lack of sleep. Before the Lexapro, I had problems getting out of bed each day, problems leaving the house. One summer I went off the meds and I barely left my own apartment for three months. I think that's what terrifies me the most; that this is going to be a life-long addiction, because I simply can't function normally in society without it.

And I've tried, believe me I've tried. Like I said, I was raised to believe that there is no pill to cure a mental disorder that doesn't exist. So I've tried. Healthy eating, healthy living, I used to do karate, I currently do yoga, I walk, I read daily, I write, I try to spend time with friends and family whenever I can, therapy, I try to exercise my mind and body daily, I look in the mirror and tell myself I can do anything. But I can't. And I have yet to find an explanation as to why.

So when you eliminate all other possibilities, what remains, no matter how implausible, must be the explanation. I just have something in my brain chemistry that causes these reactions. Now, I'm forced to deal with addictions for the rest of my life, using the same excuse that a thousand junkies have used, that I'm just doing it to feel normal. I'd give up my chemical dependency at the drop of a hat if I could. Besides the feelings born out of my upbringing that I've had to constantly fight against, there's the financial side to it. I'd much rather be spending my money on something I'd actively enjoy than to spend it on little pills I need to get me through each day.

But this is who I am now, and who we are as a nation. Pill-popping junkies just trying to survive. In this case, I've still got most of a lifetime of addiction to look forward to.

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
This whole thing seemed rushed and skipped over things I wanted to talk about. Just one of the joys of feeling the Ambien closing in, threatening to take away your cognitive functions.
I cannot tell from this which drug you began taking first. But anxiety is a known side effect of Ambien, and trouble sleeping is a known side efffect of Lexapro. I hope you find a solution to your problems.
Ask your psychiatrist about Baclofen -- it's a non-addictive medication that is actually given to MS patients, but also for sleep disorders because it induces sleep. It's helped me and as far as I can tell there are NO side effects.
I started taking the Lexapro in 2005, the Ambien only a few months ago. Originally, I was told it would help with sleep, but I've since learned that's not true. I exercise daily, so I don't think it's necessarily an issue with physical health. I will have to look into Baclofen. It sounds like that might help.
I take Lexapro for anxiety as well, and have been on it for about five years. The way I think of it is that if you had a life-threatening illness, you would be sure to take your medicine. For example, if you suffered from diabetes, you would be sure to take insulin. For me, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is another sort of illness; it is something that I need to live with for the rest of my life, and if things like talk therapy and exercise don't keep it away, then I feel a little better about taking a medication.
I completely understand the frustration you're going through, though. While I hate feeling dependent on a drug, I know that without it I could not live a "normal", healthy life.
Good luck.
Oh, Lee, Lee, Lee. It might seem unseemly, but you made me laugh with endearment. I really admire your honesty. Hang in there.
Dude, Ambien sleepwalking amnesia is a known and dangerous side effect. You should NOT be taking Ambien. People have gotten into their cars and driven, they have done and said things that they had to fix later. I know this is about your conflict with taking anything at all, but really, you've described something quite dangerous and I can't believe your doctor continues to prescribe this drug in light of your reaction to it. There are other hypnotics, there are benzos, there are meds for seizures that double as sleep meds. Why take the most dangerous (for you) thing there is, and then feel bad because you had to take a pill? Taking meds is most assuredly not an exercise in losing control of yourself. You don't need to take risks as you grapple with the necessity of some medicinal help.
I'm on 5mg zolpidem (generic ambien) a night and have not had any of the side effects you describe. Ask your doc for another drug. People process chems differently.
"I was raised to believe... There was no such thing as mental illness." me too. My parents are full of shit. I love them, but they are wrong. Find meds that work for you, take them. Taking control of your illness is not addiction.
I can appreciate your struggles with the side effects of meds. I think a lot of people can. We don't talk about it because we disparage mental illness as if it's a weakness or a character flaw. All the while, these drugs are marketed like soft drinks. It's a disturbing irony and really belittles the profound issues that these drugs are meant to treat. I was doing an involuntary spell/grammar check on your post, thanks for adding the comment at the end. It illuminates your struggle as well as the content :)
I take ambien with no side effects. I have a husband with beginning dementia and a 90 year old mother that I am primarily responsible in the family. Even if I was addicted, I would not care.
hello lee. i'm kk and an addict too. i'll trade you one of my psych meds for yours?
kk, I doubt you get anything all that good, so I'll just sell my extras on the street. It's the American way.
@James, I added that comment because I knew I would kick myself this morning when I got up and saw the errors. The curse of being a former editor. Thanks for trying to catch them!
@impermanentlife: I feel your pain. My dad is in the beginning stages of dementia and it's going to be up to me to care for him and a toddler. Definitely a struggle.
reminds me of "soma" in "brave new world", a very prophetic book, at least as much as 1984, but far less famous.
theres an amazing article by paulina porizkova on the subj in huffpost. Im thinking of blogging on this sometime.
I agree. Soma was actually one of thoughts in my head at the time. The moment society as a whole starts using the feelies though, I'm moving to the wilderness.
Lee, I am on about a dozen meds. Ambien for a long time.
Only side effect I have had is sleep eating. Does not happen often, but when it does it is because I took it and something distracted me from going to bed. At one time I was Rx'ed Xyrem (legal GHB). That stuff knock you out fast but you must set an alarm 4 hours later to wake up and take a 2nd dose. Kind of defeats the purpose of wanting to get a good nights sleep.
Xyrem was one that was recommended to me, but I didn't like the waking up side effect.
I haven't really done sleep eating, but I've done lots of other things. And it is usually because I don't go to bed the minute I take the Ambien. If it takes me longer than a minute or two, I have no idea what I'm going to end up doing.
Exercise is a good suggestion, although some people just don't sleep that well.
There was an interesting set of articles in the New York Review of Books written by Marcia Angell? Who had a very high position in the medical community (former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine?)

She writes about the state of psychiatry today and expresses great skepticism that the current model --- that mental illness is a result of a disbalance in brain chemistry --- is right. She says a lack of adequate scientific knowledge and Big Pharm have pushed this model and the meds.

You should read the articles and probably the books she is reviewing.
The book Malushinka is referring to is "Anatomy of an Epidemic" by Robert Whitaker.

Taking a drug for anxiety that produces sleeplessness and taking a drug for sleeplessness that produces anxiety doesn't sound to me like taking charge of anything. It sounds to me like the beginning of a downward spiral that could end in disability or early death. I strongly urge you to read Whitaker's book and come to your own conclusions.
Sounds like you need to fall in love again.
The alternative for me not taking my meds is extreme anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal ideation. So, for me, antidepressants are not a drug-addiction; they allow me to live a life that would otherwise be denied to me.
There is still a lot of stigma associated with mental health meds. I think we need to get over it. If you have a need for it, well, you need it. I don't see us arguing over whether anyone needs to take insulin for diabetes, do we? or meds for heart problems? Why do we somehow think that exercise, diet, meditation, etc., (all of which I do) are going to cure a basic chemical problem that makes life unbearable? Believe me, if exercise could cure depression (It helps, tremendously), then I'd be happy as a, well, lunatic. And let's also mention that a lot of people who have a problem with drugs seem to have no problem self-medicating with pot and alcohol. Just saying.
P.S. If the Ambien isn't working, try something else. Lunesta works for me.
As usual, Fingerlakeswanderer took many of the thoughts out of my head. I eat well, exercise, meditate, practice yoga daily, have friends and family I adore and STILL have anxiety issues. I have had them since childhood. To quote an over-used phrase: It is what it is. Our society needs to get past the shame and denial it has with mental illness. ~r
Ditto Patrick Hahn. These sleeping pills have rebound effects but the doctors just gloss over them.
Lexapro gave me horrible insomnia. When I told my doc, he switched me to Citalopram. (That's the generic name, I think the brand name is Celexa). Result: No more insomnia! Bonus: Citalopram was far more effective for my anxiety, and it's a generic so it's dirt cheap compared to Lexapro. Please give it a try; I am very concerned after reading about your Ambien effects. My doc absolutely refuses to prescribe it due to its dangers.
Chiming in what's become my proverbial "a day late and a dollar short". [Am thinking of changing my sign-in name to something along those lines but haven't quite figured out the acronym yet.... :-(]

I've been following this thread pretty persistently while also juggling Designanator's live streaming of #OWS. Had to cancel my today's app't with the one-and-only ?"shrink"? I now meet with. [Shared diagnosis agreement: I'm OLD. :-( ;-)]

I've been on about all sides of the topic you've brought up here, Lee (hope I'm remembering your name right ...). As to how I'e been diagnosed by medical professionals and psychology professionals; as to my having been a practitioner (of sorts) of both practices and traditions.

I sure hope you'll keep this thread open for a healthy good long time as I know there are lots of OS-ers with relevant experiences and puzzlements, and all of us wishing you well!

Was delighted just now (seeing I haven't been able to keep up with the rate of comments) to find the latest one refers to Celexa. [I don't take it so I don't know the generic name but if I were to be taking it I for sure would be taking the generic!]. For reasons I won't clutter up your blogsite to enumerate further, I have a LOT of reasons for hoping that might be a really safe and effective choice for you. Let us know!

As for "drug" addiction itself; definitions of "depression" ....whooey, I could say a thing or two from my own experiences, but I'll spare you!

Thanks so much for this thread, Lee (and, as I said, I'm old, so if I don't find out till after signing off that I have your name wrong just sigh and fuggedaboudit, o.k.?)

Keep safe Lee. One of my relatives takes Lexapro after trying almost everything else for a while (for depression) and I'm on another brain med. Everyone's chemistry is different. It's a pain to have to make a laboratory of oneself, but being able to function in the face of faulty brain chemistry is worth it.
Lee, you are very brave to open up about your anxiety and sleep issues. Without restful, restorative sleep, humans won't function at optimum capacity in very many areas of their lives, whether work, social, or family. My twin sister had the worst problems sleeping - falling asleep, staying asleep - of anybody I've ever known, and she medicated herself into the grave searching for relief. Unfortunately she did it mostly on her own, without a doctor's supervision, acquiring her medications from street dealers and unscrupulous "friends" - but being under the care of a doctor who obviously doesn't "get" what you're going through is no better if all he does is replace your out-of-whack natural body chemistry imbalances with chemically induced ones that are far worse. Please do what misslisa and Patrick Hahn are suggesting, and experiment with other drugs and dosages until you find what works for you, and don't let your doctor's lack of understanding stop YOU from taking charge and insisting on making the necessary changes. Frankly, any doctor who would hear a patient's complaints about the many risky ways Ambien affects him - not being aware of what you're doing while you're taking care of your daughter??? - but keeps on prescribing it anyway would be a doctor I'd dump in a heartbeat. There are many homeopaths and alternative health practitioners out there who will do a better job of getting your particular body chemistry figured out and back on a healthy sleep track than traditional, western-educated doctors: check out the American College for Advancement in Medicine website, acam.org, for listings of practitioners in your area who might be able to help you.

There's nothing more wondrous than being able to FEEL everything, no matter if it hurts or exalts. Peering at life from behind a veil of gauze, as you must feel you're doing sometimes, is a sad way to experience the beauty of human existence, and not getting enough sleep to enjoy it fully is a far worse prison than those of us who don't suffer from sleeplessness can imagine. This is one prison I hope you break out of, Lee. Best of luck and sweet dreams to you.
I've just gone back on my traditional triad of zoloft, clonazepam, and trazadone, after going cold-turkey four years ago, due to cost and the fact that I didn't think they were making me feel any better than I did without them. They're working only a fraction of a bit now, but I'd welcome being addicted to them if they really helped. It's hard to be addicted to something that doesn't make you feel significantly better. Ambien doesn't sound right for you, but "addiction" to anti-anxiety meds and anti-depressants, if they work for you, is far preferable to being addicted to being imprisoned in your house (and I know all about that). Think of it like being addicted to food and water. Also, I don't think meds work very well unless you're in cognitive behavior therapy of some sort. Pills can't solve the problematic thinking habits, which will just keep eating away at you. Good luck. sincerely.
I can't believe I'm going public with this, but I not only share your hoosierness, but your birthday...so here goes:

I too have found Ambien wanting. But hokey as it sounds I find that some "hypnotism tapes" work to put me to sleep. I have no illusions that they are actually hypnotizing me, but the process of relaxing the muscles and focusing the mind is practically coma-inducing.

Glenn Harrold has some that will do the trick. I use a Zen mp3 player with Sony earbuds. I usually wake up with the earbuds in place and the Zen mp3 player asleep also. It even "hypnotizes" the mp3 player. Cheers, Glenn (he has a really great accent).

I may have to look into the sleep eating since I'm the world's fattest vegan. That may explain everything.
@ Finger

I did not advise anyone not to take meds. I advised them to be aware of the fact that the theories on which current medical treatment of depression are not as solid as those for, to use your example, diabetes.

To compare the two, the current theory for the cause of depression is that the brain isn't producing enough serotonin and therefore, meds that fix that imbalance can help, eg serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.

Diabetes is caused by the body not producing enough or any insulin and it can be fixed by injecting insulin. (okay, I'm simplifying in both cases).

The difference is that with diabetes, all aspects of the theory are confirmed. Diabetic pancreases show low or absent levels of the insulin producing cells. Blood tests on diabetics show high blood sugar and low insulin. Injecting insulin produces a prompt and objectively measurable change in blood sugar.

With depression, there's no real evidence that people with depression have lower levels of serotonin than the non-depressed.
That theory came because they discovered SSRIs affect serotonin levels in the brain. As one critic put it, one could, with equal logic say pain is caused by a shortage of opiates, because narcotic pain relievers activate opiate receptors in the brain. Serotonin does affect mood, but then, so does alcohol.

Further, one of the books Angell reviewed found that placebos are three times as effective as no treatment for depression and at least 82% as effective as anti-depressants. The difference in effectiveness on the standard clinical scale was small, like lowering blood sugar slightly, but not to normal levels. So, even the drug research, as carefully reviewed by an objective scientist, not a drug company, doesn't provide much support to the theory.

Whitaker states that the course of mental illness such as depression has changed. Once they were mainly self-limited or episodic, with each episode usually lasting no more than six months and interspersed with long periods of normalcy, the conditions are now chronic and lifelong. He believes the drugs even those that relieve symptoms in the short term, cause long-term damage that continue after the underlying illness would have naturally resolved.

These are serious and well-researched accusations and I recommend anyone taking medicine for mental illness to read and understand them. I hope you appreciate the difference from offering medical advice from my armchair.

Anyway, the is the link http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/
I want to emphasize that the article I have mentioned is not quack stuff. The author is on the staff of Harvard Medical School and was formerly editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine.

She says, "I have spent most of my professional life evaluating the quality of clinical research, and I believe it is especially poor in psychiatry."

She quotes people like the former director of the National Institute of Mental Health --- and a current senior staff member at Harvard.
sorry, sloppy html

Clinical Psychopharmacology Made Ridiculously Simple are both good books to check out the action (how they work in your brain) of psych meds
Psych meds are a crap shoot. I think anyone that has every been on them or dealt with them will admit to it.

but they are the best tool we have against this group of diseases

After 11 years of tinkering and over 10 meds tried I no longer suicidal ideate every other second, the way I have since I've been 15. The profound relief in that I can't even begin to express. I wish you the same relieve Lee. Of sleep, of lack of anxiety, of anything else you aren't admitting on paper that plagues you. Mental pain is real. It's not some phantom that can be blown away with smoke and mirrors. My attitude and coping skills improved with analysis, but my suicidal ideation continued until I was put on lithium. The diseases are real. Don't let anyone try to tell you they aren't. Denial is not an adequate shield against anything.
Are they still peddling that tired old fable about how these drugs are "like insulin for diabetes?"

They are not like insulin for diabetes. There was a time, within living memory, when a diagnosis of diabetes was a death sentence. Tday, with insulin, folks with diabetes can have decades of productive existence. What similar success do the purveyors of psych meds have to point to?

There was also a time within living memory when depression, mania, and even psychosis were rare and largely self-limiting conditions. Since the introduction of psych meds, the proportion of people disabled by mental illness has skyrocketed, while outcomes have gotten almost immeasurably worse.

I'm not talking about the proportion of people LABELED mentally ill (although that, too, has skyrocketed). I'm talking about the proportion of people DISABLED by mental illness.

There is an epidemic of overdiagnosis AND an epidemic of iatrogenesis. The overdiagnosis is how they get people in the front door. Then the real fun begins: the cascade of more drugs, stronger drugs, higher doses. Someone who started out with nothing more than normal teenage or twenty-something angst ends up permanently disabled, or dead.
@Patrick I don't think the insulin debate works for every person on psych meds, but I do believe it stands up for quite a few. Without my meds would I be physically dying? Not that I know of, but I also know there was a point before I started taking them when I couldn't leave the house. Wouldn't that be considered a disability?
I certainly believe that the pharmaceutical companies have a heavy hand when it comes to pushing their product and many doctors follow their lead. But the same is happening with drugs for physical ailments. A lot of people are prescribed medications they don't need. A mental illness is no different, and as much as my upbringing causes me to constantly question the mere existence of mental illness, I can say without a doubt that I have one and need medication to function in society. That, to me, seems as much of a disability as any physical ailment.
@Virtual Dave: I've considered the hypnosis tapes, but I've always found it hard to sleep with any sort of headphones or ear buds. I spent most of high school plugged into a record player or walkman and not understanding why I couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep. Not that I was going to give up my late night rocking out of course, haha.
Also, thanks to everyone for the well wishes. Living with these different issues that each person has is a struggle, but I guess that's what life is. I'm okay with that.