In the New York Times “well.blogs” on April 17th, there was a provocative piece on the high use of antidepressant drugs in young adults. According to the author, Doris Iarovici, M.D., more and more young people are taking these drugs and staying on them for much longer periods than they were intended for. These “emerging adults” face many changes and challenges during those crucial years- and now, they are expressing a need for chemical help to meet those challenges.
The author points to the very real downside that antidepressants mute feelings and emotions, which doesn’t allow for the normal highs and lows that we learn to take in stride and deal with through developing healthy coping mechanisms. In her experience with college students, they are reluctant to stop taking the medication for fear of having to confront uncomfortable issues and feelings, and if they do discontinue them for a time they often want to resume treatment at the first sign of a problem. According to Dr. Iarovici, “these drugs are seen as a panacea to which they turn at the first signs of unhappiness.” At the same time, many are drinking heavily, smoking pot and taking their roommates ADD medication. This is clearly addictive behavior and these are just various drugs of choice and opportunity. The doctor also emphasizes that “there is still no clear understanding of how psychiatric medicines might affect brain development.”
A big downside that is rarely if ever mentioned by medical experts, but that the author does speak to is that the use of these drugs negatively impacts intimacy and intimate relationships. When they mute emotions and lead their users to avoid and discount difficult but very important emotions and feelings- they block the experiences that lead to personal growth and the ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. We could in fact be helping to create a “Stepford” generation of young adults who are only going through the motions as they move into dating, relationships and marriage without really being there.
In my experience as a psychotherapist and dating/relationship coach- this problem is very real and troubling. From the young daters I hear stories about the people they are meeting who look great on paper, have good jobs and are attractive and accomplished- but are on some kind of substance or another that impacts their ability to connect, relate and truly be present in the interaction and relationship. From the married couples I see, I hear about alcohol and other drug use and the emotional distance that results over time from it.
This is the hooked-up generation. They are hooked on prescription drugs for ADD from childhood, first using stimulants to deal with the challenges of doing well in school and getting into a good college, then taking antidepressants as they move into the challenging world of adult responsibilities and relationships.
The solutions here won’t be simple, but they need to start with doctors who are not quick to write prescriptions and parents who don’t look for a pill to fix their child’s problems. Maybe then, fewer young adults will be coming from a culture of dependency and avoidance of everything that is unpleasant and difficult.
For anyone out there who sees themselves here- remember that being truly present is a critical piece of any relationship foundation. Without this, you will never have real intimacy, not will you get to know your authentic self which allows you to make informed and healthy decisions about your life and relationships.
Lastly never forget that if you blunt your feelings and avoid your emotions you will not only lose the lows, you will also lose those wonderful highs that can only come with the joy we experience when we are truly present in the experience.