Is Prozac Good for the Soul?
Do antidepressants improve or impair your spiritual life?
BY: Peter R. Breggin, M.D.
Mental-health professionals and a variety of religious ministers and counselors sometimes claim that psychiatric drugs, such as the newer antidepressants, can enhance not only the quality of a person's emotional life but also his or her spiritual life. In my professional opinion, these drugs--Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, and Luvox--can dull self-understanding and derail spirituality.
Antidepressants frequently impair the brain and mind, interfering with the functions we associate with spirituality, including self-discipline, insight, empathy, love, and the full appreciation of life, nature, and God. These drugs not only inhibit sexual function by interfering with physical performance, but more important, they reduce the desire for intimacy or spiritual connection with a loved one. They do this by blunting the brain's capacity to respond emotionally. Individuals have the right to risk impairing their awareness with psychiatric drugs in order to reduce their personal suffering, but I don't believe it's the best solution.
At first glance, it might seem that the drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) as antidepressants should affect spirituality positively rather than negatively. However, when the F.D.A. tests antidepressants in clinical trials, little or no consideration is given to the subjective experience of the individual receiving the drug. Self-ratings by the patients in clinical trials often disclose negative or indifferent reactions to the drugs. To make the drugs seem effective, evaluators rely on their own ill-defined overall impression of whether the individual "improved." Checklists of specific items are also used, but they tend to emphasize clinical symptoms, such as reduced sleep problems or improved eating, which have little or nothing to do with self-awareness or spiritual insight.
Conventional wisdom sees antidepressants as improving biochemical imbalances in the brain of depressed people. If true, we might expect the drugs to enhance spirituality instead of impairing it. But this argument has no merit because there is no available technology to measure these imbalances. We do know from innumerable animal studies, however, that psychiatric drugs work by causing severe and potentially lasting biochemical imbalances. These drugs, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (S.S.R.I.s), block the removal of serotonin from the space between brain cells which, in effect, causes a flood of serotonin. The brain treats this as a toxic intrusion and in response shuts down the serotonin system to compensate for the increased presence of this neurotransmitter.
This chemical process affects, among other things, the limbic system and frontal lobes of the brain. The latter are the flower of human evolution, and their proper functioning is a basis for spirituality development, including the capacity for self-discipline, love, and inspiration. Impairing these functions with psychoactive drugs leads to the antithesis of spirituality, to more concrete, narrow, and simplistic ways of thinking and feeling.