A new study of 233,144 patient records from 1996 and 2007 found more Americans are popping antidepressants than ever before to deal with everyday stress, and Prozac, Paxil and Lexapro are now the third most widely prescribed group of drugs in the U.S. HealthyDay reports the following from the study, which is published in the August issue of "Health Affairs":
The drugs prescribed to patients without a diagnosed mental health condition were more likely provided to white women between the ages of 35-64 and patients with public insurance and chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. The data also suggested that people complaining of nervousness, sleep problems, sexual dysfunction and an inability to quit smoking may be taking antidepressants, the study said.
Americans are turning to drugs to deal with everyday stress more frequently as the stigma of using antidepressants decreases, said [study lead author Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore], noting more than 10 percent of Americans now take antidepressants in any given year.
Direct marketing to consumers and reports of fewer side effects may help explain why patients and doctors are more open to antidepressants, he said.
But there may be consequences to that choice.
Some research has shown that withdrawal from antidepressants after many years "is not pleasant," said Mojtabai, who added that a possible link to diabetes has also been found. Not enough is known about how their use plays out in the long term, said Mojtabai.
"Pharmaceutical companies aren't interested in long-term effects because they don't need that for FDA approval," said Mojtabai, referring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which approves drugs for use in the United States.
Another expert agreed that Americans are turning more to prescribed pills to deal with the ups and downs of life, but he noted that in the past, alcohol and other drugs served the same purpose.
"Before antidepressants came along, many people simply turned to drinking and smoking to cope with minor stress," said Tony Tang, adjunct professor in the department of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
Although the study did not "solve the mystery" of why antidepressant prescriptions are increasing, it showed "how antidepressants are actually used in the real world," and on a "national scale," said Tang.
Doctors are likely more aware today of the symptoms of depression, which has "increased substantially in the past decade," he said.