320. What to Say to Drugs

When I was in college, most people I knew smoked marijuana, and many tried lots of other drugs that altered their moods and perceptions. I didn’t. Not because I thought it was evil, although I’d heard propaganda to that effect. I stayed away from drugs because I didn’t want my moods or perceptions altered by chemicals. Life was doing a fine job altering my mind, and I liked the way life seemed to be going. I had some psychological trouble adjusting to college, but I never got suicidal or otherwise dangerous.
As a teacher, I sometimes encountered children who were taking drugs that altered their moods and behavior. Ritalin was the most common one, but there were others. It always bothered me when medication seemed to be the first thing tried. Bypassing diet and other less invasive approaches, doctors seemed to prescribe drugs at the drop of a hat. Parents often brought their children to doctors hoping that some drug would solve whatever problems they had in mind.
Sometimes it worked. Children who had seemed to have no self-control were able to function well in school while under the influence of ritalin. And during occasional two-week periods when they were taken off the drug (by their doctors), there were very conspicuous changes in their behavior. I did not like those two weeks. Parents tended to time it so that their children were in school at those times – maybe so they wouldn’t have to deal with it so much, but maybe so that vacation time could be pleasant family time.
Sometimes ritalin didn’t work, and doctors, rather than looking at other possible approaches, prescribed other drugs, or increased the dosage of ritalin. Just as some teachers try to solve reading problems by switching basal readers, some doctors really rely on their repertoire of drugs. It’s what they know, and after years of medical school and years of practice, they don’t like to deal with the possibility that their expertise isn’t providing solutions.
When I read The Eden Express, by Mark Vonnegut, I was impressed that the author’s moods and behavior, which seemed to be part of his identity throughout most of the book, turned out to be symptoms of schizophrenia, and were significantly altered through medication. He went from being depressed – suicidal – to settling down, going to medical school, and living a life that, so far, seems to be working for him.
I am quite skeptical about the drugs that are being discovered as possible cures or treatments for multiple sclerosis. I try to use diet, exercise, acupuncture, reading, and talking to people who have found ways to manage MS. I’m not totally committed to saying “no” to drugs, but I’ve come to realize that doctors, for all their studying and experience, are still just people. ¬†and the drugs they prescribe may or may not have effects I want.

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