Journalist gets backlash for intimate essay on quitting antidepressants

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Pills. Photo credit: Pixabay.

If you read the LA Times, a recent op-ed headline may have gotten your attention: “Hi, I’m David. I’m a drug addict.” LA Times business columnist David Lazarus had turned to antidepressants after he was diagnosed with diabetes and couldn't sleep. 

“On rare occasions when I forgot to take my daily pill, I would feel groggy and disoriented by early afternoon. I’d feel and hear a whooshing in my head, as if my pulse was pleading for its fix. What if there was an earthquake or some other disaster and I couldn’t get my pills? What if the withdrawal symptoms were more than I could handle?" he wrote. 

The piece, especially Lazarus' use of the word “addict," set off a backlash. People called his language insensitive and inaccurate. 

“The recovery community spelled out for me in great detail that there’s a clear distinction between addiction and dependency. Addiction is a lot more serious. It’s going to control your behavior," Lazarus shares. "But that said, for someone in the midst of a withdrawal situation, whatever that drug might be, this can be a distinction without a difference. If you are facing these symptoms, from nausea to dizziness to even suicidal tendencies, you’re not really caring about what the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] says is addiction versus what is dependency. Withdrawal is withdrawal.”

We asked listeners to share their own experiences with antidepressants. 

Linda (last name withheld): "I quit Effexor years ago when I could no longer afford my insurance. I weaned myself off over the course of a few months, but still felt horrible twinges during the process. I couldn’t imagine going cold turkey."

Shannon (last name withheld): "I just had my Celexa doubled after five years. My Dr. wants to add Wellbutrin, but I'm worried. How much harder is two meds to get off, if needed?"

Patrick Robinson: "I have definitely seen the benefits; I was able to write original songs and make/produce an album because of the medication."

Amber (last name withheld): "Withdrawals: Dissociation and everything has a bright white glow. If I focus on something too long, it fades to a cluster of light. Surreal."

Ann (last name withheld): Antidepressants didn't work for me and ended up on a benzodiazepine for over 20 years."

Angela (last name withheld): "I don't notice immediate withdrawal, but can tell within a few days. Because I've adjusted to them, I now struggle with bigger challenges."

Ted Ryno: "My experience with Escitalopram (Lexapro) has been a great one. I stopped at 5 mg and I think that’s a good balance. Not dependent. Happy."

Renee (last name withheld): "I have had a hard time coming off of anti-depressants. I have been on them for a long time and have tried to go very very slow - very hard."

Credits

Guest:
David Lazarus - business columnist for the Los Angeles Times - @Davidlaz

Host:
Jarrett Hill

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Kathryn Barnes, Amy Ta