Shadow Dance: Is alcohol safer and more effective than SSRIs?

September, 24, 2012 | 18 Comments


  1. Yes, the product, the marketing campaign, getting it on the market, making sure it stays on the market. Good, all well-run companies draw up this clever marketing plan to make sure their product is first in the queue, bought by the traders and marketed to the consumer.
    Alcohol is marketed in this way and we all know what a few drinks do to us. They make us happy, carefree, sometimes irresponsible, but who cares. We are all in it together, having a few drinks and being just a little bit on the wild side.
    I take David’s point, that alcohol, could be branded an antidepressant.
    Why not? It does the business, we feel great, in good company, and to hell with everthing. We are among friends, who are all drinking, too, so, another one, why not?

    But, and a big but, when you are alone with a pill, shaped like a jelly bean, that promises even greater delights, more happiness, more contentment, more social involvement than alcohol could ever give, then it is so tempting to take this little pill and not to worry, because it is not alcohol; it is tried and trusted medication; it might be better than alcohol because your doctor doesn’t like you drinking alcohol, he says it makes you depressed, but this little pill won’t make you depressed, because it has ‘chemical properties’ which have been proven to bring you up and keep you up, whereas alcohol brings you up and then brings you down very quickly leading to perhaps a few more drinks than is perhaps safe or wise, whereas the little pill will keep you up and not let you down, ever.

    This little pill will not let you down, ever. It has been designed to keep you up, to keep you in a place they have told you to be, forever and ever.
    Give me a nice, ice cold, glass of Soave, anyday, over the tantalising, jelly bean shaped pill that makes people addicts. OK, wine is addictive, too, but the marketing plan is the same scenario developed and organised by specialists.
    Coca-cola is addictive, irn-bru is addictive, nicotine is addictive; but, ssris, have a peculiar, distasteful taste in the mouth, the mind and the body, that is seriously miscast and criminal marketing.

  2. This proposal makes enough sense to be downright spooky. At least in the US, patients are always advised to be patient and stick with your treatment because “it may take your doctor a long time to find just the right cocktail for you.” They utter this phrase without a hint of irony.

    Psychiatry: “California Rocket Fuel”

    Mixology: “Long Island Iced Tea”

    Which of these professions is more scientific right now?
    And which would you rather talk to, if you were feeling real bad?

  3. An article in the Canadian Medical Journal is worthy of attention with respect to advertising and marketing of drugs.
    “Direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in Canada: Permission by default?
    David M. Gardner, Barbara Mintzes, Aleck Ostry
    “The advertising of prescription drugs aimed directly at the public is prohibited in most countries, including Canada. However, a shift in interpretation of the policy governing this marketing strategy, known as direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA), has occurred in Canada, resulting in its partial introduction without public and parliamentary debate. …..In 1996, a policy statement that set out to define the boundary between information dissemination and advertising suggested that Health Canada was ready to relax its interpretation of the Act.4 It stated that Health Canada “recognizes the importance to the pharmaceutical industry and to the general public of being able to disseminate and access nonpromotional information regarding drugs for human use.” The effect of this statement was tacit approval of help-seeking advertisements for serious diseases. A policy paper released in November 2000 suggested an even more liberalized reinterpretation of the Act. It explicitly stated that help-seeking and reminder advertisements, but not product claim advertisements, were legal…..The problems with this system are evident. Advertisements can be released to the general public without being reviewed by government regulators or their delegated bodies. ……a television advertisement for Zyban (bupropion) was allowed to run for months, although Health Canada judged it to contravene the law…..Examples of drugs marketed to the public that were soon found to be harmful include benoxaprofen, cisapride, alosetron and troglitazone.The finding that 20% of new drugs eventually receive new black box warnings on the product monograph after marketing or are withdrawn from the market because of serious safety concerns supports the concern that DTCA may contribute to public harm…..There is ample evidence that DTCA has increased consumer awareness of advertised prescription products and that this has affected consumer behaviour and physician prescribing practices.”
    In contrast, advertising of alcohol is prohibited in Canada.
    I’m off to have a large G&T.

  4. It seems that diet pills can shorten life expectancy quite severely by affecting areas of the body. Diet pill advertising has caught out women who want to lose weight. Apparently, it is being considered, to have these pills, prescription only, as they appear to be quite dangerous.

    Surely, with ssris, they have all shot themselves in the foot, by not being allowed to sell ssris over the counter. If they were safe, we could go and buy them in our local chemist. But, no, it is only our doctor who is allowed to give them to us and according to the leaflet, the doctor is warned that if the patient experiences akathasia,1 in 1,000, see your doctor, or serotonin syndrome, 1 in 10,000, see your doctor, or, even worse, frequency unknown, thoughts of harming or killing yourself, see your doctor.

    Well, I think, we all agree, seeing your doctor, is the shifty tactic deployed to put all onus on the doctor. The doctor, the doctor, the doctor, the doctor, this is what the leaflet says, and we all now know that that is about as much use as using a wet hankerchief to wipe your nose.

    My point is, frequency unknown, are the most deliberate, sabotaging two words, that these corrupt pharma companies have put together. Frequency unknown, is known, and poor little doctors are not quite up to our expectations in seeing beyond frequency unknown.

    Frequency unknown, has put a lot of people in an unknown and unquantifiable loophole, almost schizophrentic situation, whereby heavy numbers of people are in this ‘frequency unknown’ category which we really have to quantify. It is not good enough that we are unknown, we are known, so ………………………………………..?

  5. Reinventing the wheel:
    Benzodiazepine use and risk of dementia: prospective population based study
    (Published 27 September 2012). BMJ 2012;345:e6231
    “In this prospective population based study, new use of benzodiazepines was associated with increased risk of dementia. The result was robust in pooled analyses across cohorts of new users of benzodiazepines throughout the study and in a complementary case-control study. Considering the extent to which benzodiazepines are prescribed and the number of potential adverse effects of this drug class in the general population, indiscriminate widespread use should be cautioned against.”
    Over thirty years ago we knew not to give BZPs to the elderly, not because of “dementia” but because they developed delirium. Dementia, usually meaning Alzheimer disease, is very poorly diagnosed leading, of course, to the use of the “new” anti-Alzheimer drugs – whether you had AD or not.
    There is a little bottle in front of me with a label saying “Drink Me”. I wonder…….

  6. I once met a woman who’d grown up in one of the more hardcore South Side Irish enclaves of our fair city. She recalled an old saying back there that, “Some people are just born a couple of drinks below sea level.” Yikes, I thought. A folk theory of chemical imbalance. I was grateful I hadn’t grown up in HER neighborhood or I would have been hitting the sauce from the age of seven. It hardly needs saying that we met at an AA meeting …

    The point being that there are strong parallels between those who become addicted to alcohol for its anxiolytic and mood-elevating properties, and long-term takers of “legitimate” antidepressants. Both may begin their drug careers in a similar state and for similar reasons. Both may become all the more firmly attached to their drug as its benefits diminish and its ill effects mount – in part, because trying to quit becomes ever more daunting. And both may be convinced that they need their drug “every day, for the rest of their lives, like a diabetic needs insulin, not to get high but just to function normally.” There was a time years ago when that was exactly how I saw my antidepressants – and my drinking.

    “That’s just your disease talking,” would have been the reaction of many of my friends in AA. Maybe, maybe – but when one’s inner “disease” does such a pitch-perfect imitation of one’s psychiatrist, it’s not easy to tell it to just shut up. The psychiatrist is likely to say, “The drinking has got to stop; you are just self-medicating.” But when his alternative is to keep “medicating” for life on psychiatry’s terms, including taking ever higher doses of ever more meds as the symptoms worsen, “self-medication” looks less and less like a vice or a cop-out, and more like simple do-it-yourself psychiatry.

    The knowledge bases of those studying drug and alcohol addiction, and those studying depression, anxiety, mania etc. have grown far apart in recent decades. If psychiatrists could be honest enough to admit the possibility of overlap between the physiology and psychology of the “bad drug” and the “good drug” experience, we could learn a tremendous amount. Instead, I’m afraid psychiatry is simply determined to muscle addictionology aside. It’s becoming all too common for people hospitalized for drug and alcohol addiction to emerge with prescriptions for multiple antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs.

    Twenty years ago it was at least recognized that the benzodiazepines were “close to alcohol in pill form”, as David Healy says, and alcoholics should be strongly cautioned against their use. Now, for instance, the VA finds itself in a bind where its psychiatrists are putting at least one benzo, sometimes two, in the medication “cocktail” of each soldier treated for major PTSD, almost all of whom are abusing alcohol or drugs. Then, when the soldier applies for a VA residential substance abuse program, they are rejected because of a longstanding no-benzo rule. The solution being advocated of course is for the substance-abuse people to join the 21st century and dump their outmoded ideas for “evidence-based medicine.” The results will be grim, I’m afraid, for the long-term health and happiness of the soldiers involved.

    Behind the satire in this column is some real wisdom, and a warning that I wish psychiatry would heed.

  7. Basically, undeniably, unequivocably, it is the ‘sit down and shut up’ pill.

    Shall we call it ‘sd-su’s (sit down-shut up) rather than ‘selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors’ which means ‘absolutely nothing at all’ as far as I can make out.

  8. Gee, it must be a total joy to be a patient of this guy. His therapeutic tools of Sarcasm, Irony and deep cynicism would provide nourishment and a nice warm glow to anyone suffering from a mental illness. Not.

  9. Honestly, I think alcohol is safer than prescription anti-depressants. Just one single SSRI pill permanently ruined me and my ability to enjoy alcohol permanently.

    I used to get a euphoric, happy, and relaxed feeling from drinking alcohol. I was 20 years old at the time when I first began drinking alcohol and in America that’s too young to buy alcohol. I had a hard time getting alcohol for myself because most everywhere required ID when purchasing alcohol. This prevented me from drinking more than a couple times a week.

    I was having some anxiety at this age and I was led to believe that alcohol was bad for you and was addicting anyway. I thought to myself that maybe I shouldn’t drink alcohol anymore and get some medical help from a doctor for my anxiety as that would be the healthier route.

    Well, after talking to a general practitioner for about 15 seconds about anxiety, led them to prescribe me Escitalopram. I was told it was mild and non addicting and takes weeks before you can notice a difference.

    This made me think that this drug must be really mild which is perfect because I didn’t need something strong anyway. I took the pill and had the worst reaction in my life. Day long panic attacks and vomiting. I threw the medication away immediately. After recovering from the reaction I felt better, but…slightly different.

    I noticed I didn’t really get excited or happy about anything anymore. Sex drive was lower as well. It was like my emotions were a little flattened.

    A few months go by and I try and drink alcohol again. The alcohol didn’t give me that happy feeling anymore. It just made me tired and maybe a little relaxed, but no more euphoric happy feeling. I miss the happiness that came with drinking alcohol. Now I have no incentive to drink it anymore. It makes me sad.

    I blame the SSRI for causing this. All it took was one of these pills to cause my permanent side effects.

    In my opinion, these SSRIs should not be handed out like candy from doctors and should only be used as last resort treatment to patients. I think the only people that should be prescribed them are people that are forced into mental hospitals, patients on verge of suicide, or after all other healthier treatment options have been tried.

    Another thing that could have prevented my problem is lowering America’s alcohol drinking age. I have no idea why 21 is the legal age to drink, when 18 is the legal age to join the military or buy cigarettes. America is one of the few countries where its illegal to purchase alcohol at 18. So pointless.

    I would have much rather been a happy drunk than what I am now.

    • I’ve never commented on an article before but after many occasions of searching for a similar experience or explanation on the Internet, I came across this site and thread – this is almost identical to my relationship with alcohol now:

      I’ve never been a huge drinker, but always enjoyed going out for drinks with friends at the weekend – alcohol always (like with most people) was an enjoyable experience of relaxation; warm buzzy sensation, social ease, enthusiasm to dance/chat and feeling of wellbeing etc etc

      About three years ago I had a lot of stress at work and one of my siblings fell ill, I started to have, what I later understood to be, panic attacks and then suddenly developed acute anxiety (which lasted for a couple of weeks). Even when I could barely leave the house, was a sweating mess and wasn’t eating, on the occasion I had a couple of glasses of wine, I still had the familiar pleasurable sensations from alcohol.

      I started Sertraline for anxiety (after a few days of Citalopram – which significantly heightened my anxiety) and remained on this for about 9 months.

      While on the the drug I noticed that on the rare occasion I drank it did nothing, I would remain stone cold sober, without any warm buzzy feelings. This was a little annoying at the time, especially at parties or even worse on stag weekends, but put this down to being on medication which was the priority at that point.

      So when it came to titrating down off the Sertraline, I thought the feelings from alcohol would return. However it has now been about 18 months since stopping and still I feel ‘immune’ to the effects of alcohol.

      My only conclusion is that something has neurophysiologically altered (?endorphin/chemical release) due to the SSRI, and this seems to be permanent.

      Was very much interested to see that someone had a similar experience – thank you for posting.


      • Dominic,

        I too am in a similar situation, but the drug i was taking was a pain pill, opiates.

        I had a 7 month addiction and during that time alcohol stopped working too.

        I have been off pain pills for almost 2 years and still alcohol does nothing.From what ive read it is the receptors in the brain that become desensitised, not damaged, just numbed. hence the numbed feeling from alcohol.

        what effects, if any, do you get from alcohol? i get slurred speech, some stumbling, i will say some daft things, i’ll wake up the next day and cant remember what i did. i can drink silly amounts of alcohol and be sick, but still no euphoria! i get every effect apart from the good buzz

        would love to hear your reply

        • Hi Dan

          Yes, similar to you – when going out for a night out I compensate by drinking more than I normally would (shots). I can feel the alcohol and definitely am not ‘sober’, but the old warm euphoric sensation is far less than it used to be, and is absent if I only have a few drinks.

          Like you I’ve been searching the web in the hope that this attenuation is temporary – seems duration varies person to person. I’ve tried taking L-Tyrosine to try support dopamine but think this is unlikely to help.

          Let me know how you get on, and if you find an revelations


          • thanks for the update dominic

            so you do get ‘some’ warm buzzy feeling? i get none at all. all i get is slurred speech and stumbling no matter how much i drink, including shots.

            when did you notice some of the buzz returning?

            all i have found is that the ssri’s desensitize the serotonin receptors, so the effects are almost non existent

            would love to hear a reply

  10. joe, i think i am similar to you

    i took tramadol for 7 months for back pain, it has an SSRI, i havent taken any for 12 months now and it also ruined alcohol for me. its like drinking water now.

    are you sure you’re permanently damaged? i hope not, i hope im not either!

  11. I think this is one of them most ignorant perspectives, written from somebody who has never suffered from addiction or mental illness. No shit alcohol makes you feel better, its an intoxicant.. SSRI’s don’t intoxicate you. Do a follow up study for over a year? See where each individual is at. There is widespread research that indicates that alcohol is neuro-toxic, damages every organ in your body and more. Yes they are all band aids in one way or another, but SSRI’s you wont stay up all night destroying your life. Benzo’s are even worse for depression, sure they will work for a bit in that context but just like alcohol, tolerance will form at 100 fold rates compared to anti-depressants.There’s no way someone could properly self regulate and medicate with the half-life of alcohol properly unless they in a hospital. And the withdrawals? You can literally die from both alcohol and benzo withdrawal. This article is hardly based in reality and is some fools justification to be a drunk. If you don’t want to take an SSRI and your concerned about depression try diet and exercise, counseling. Then drink in moderation with friends for the right reasons.

  12. I agree w/ the naysayers. I haven’t read this guy’s other materials, but this piece seemed like a satire (about 98% of it). If not satire, then it is probably an elaborate rationalization to normalize one’s own use of alcohol. If I’m mistaken then please post the links to the abstracts of your research.

    After treating clients for 7 years, I have no reason to believe that alcohol and depression don’t go together: alcohol and depression are best buds. One perpetuates the other.

    Ask yourself, how many genuinely happy and deeply-fulfilled daily drinkers have you met? My experience has taught me that people self-medicate with alcohol to control anxiety and symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and that anxiety and depression are yoked together.

    Having no fancy research immediately on hand, I quote The Little Prince:
    “Why are you drinking? – the little prince asked.
    – In order to forget – replied the drunkard.
    – To forget what? – inquired the little prince, who was already feeling sorry for him.
    – To forget that I am ashamed – the drunkard confessed, hanging his head.
    – Ashamed of what? – asked the little prince who wanted to help him.
    – Ashamed of drinking! – concluded the drunkard, withdrawing into total silence.
    And the little prince went away, puzzled.
    ‘Grown-ups really are very, very odd’, he said to himself as he continued his journey.”

  13. I suffer with social anxiety/stress. Realised as getting in my 30s it is more physical than mental. Over stimulated/arousal. Was on anti depressants for 12 years. Turned me into a zombie. Alcohol works for me at times,. in a way it numbs my body even 24hrs after. Which means I feel calmer and less stressed. Maybe there s a fine line between chasing the high and using when needed.

Leave a Reply to Ken Spriggs