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Posts Tagged ‘antidepressant’

Addiction Stories: Buzz Aldrin’s Alcoholic Buzz and Recovery

August 1st, 2010

In the whole of human history, only twelve lucky, and brave, men can claim to have walked on the surface of the moon. Buzz Aldrin is not only one of those twelve, but the second ever, a West Point graduate, PhD from MIT and Korean War fighter pilot whose accomplishments place him firmly at the forefront of great Americans.Still, for all his fame, success and vast intelligence, Buzz Aldrin had another title that put him on the same plane as millions of Americans: alcoholic.

At a recent talk at UCLA, Buzz Aldrin reflected on the painful (and all too common) series of personal tragedies and setbacks that put him on the path to addiction, foremost in his mind being the suicide of his mother. Though he now counts himself as a recovering addict and strong supporter of AA, to which he credits his recovery, the fact remains that for even this strong American icon, the lure of the bottle and its ability to temporarily numb the crippling pangs of clinical depression were for a long time too powerful to ignore. When it comes to inspiring addiction stories, it’s hard to find one as inspiring as that of Buzz Aldrin.

Buzz Aldrin is far from the only addict struggling with depression

Depression is amazingly common among addicts, reaching levels as high as 80% in some addict populations (though it more commonly shows a still staggering 30-55% range). As compared to the standard population depression prevalence of about 7%, it becomes impossible to deny what might already be seen as a common sense conclusion: many, many addicts struggle mightily with depression. Because the causes of depression are so numerous, it’s understandably inexact to determine whether the condition precedes or is caused by addiction. Nevertheless, it’s clear that among active users, not using is linked with greater depression rates, but also that successful treatment often resolves both the substance use and depression issues. In fact, when it comes to a number of common antidepressants, their utility in treating addiction problems is often related to whether or not the patient has a separate depression issue – if they do, antidepressants often do a great job on both. But the bottom line is that depression, just as serious an issue as addiction in its own right, can combine with addiction to keep even a great American hero like Buzz Aldrin floating in the void.

As I’ve said numerous times here in relation to the addiction stories we share on All About Addiction, the point of sharing successes, and failures, related to addiction is to humanize, and de-stigmatize the typical vision of an alcoholic, or addict that people have. Addicts are all among us and they’re like every single one of us – They are lawyers, judges, politicians, and store owners. The addiction stories we share try to put a human face on the problem, a face full of hope.

Posted in:  Addiction Stories
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Brittany Murphy dead at 32 – Anemia, pneumonia, and yes, drugs…

February 4th, 2010

Toxicology update

Well, it seems the toxicology reports are in and Brittany’s death was, at least partially, caused by her taking of multiple prescription drugs. Still, it seems that she was trying to medicate a host of conditions brought on by her underlying anemia and pneumonia. It’s sad to think that this death could have likely been prevented had she simply taken better care of herself and gone to seek emergency care rather than loading her body with those pills. Unfortunately, this seems to be another in a string of medically preventable deaths… Sad.

Original post:

Brittany Murphy, the actress from “Clueless,” and “8 Mile” died last night at Cedars-Sinai in Beverly Hills at the age of 32. Brittany has been rumored to be suffering from severe eating disorders, and recent pictures seem to support that notion. Given that she apparently died from cardiac arrest, I’m wondering if drugs (even prescription drugs) played a role in the death as well… I’ll keep updating the story as more becomes available.

My heart goes out to her family and friends. Certainly a loss suffered far too early.

UPDATE: According to the police report, a number of prescription drugs were discovered in Brittany’s bedroom including (read past the list for my take on this):

  1. Topamax –  While TMZ reported this drug to be used as anti-seizure medication, it is also used to reduce weight-gain associated with the use of many other prescription drugs on this list. Lastly, it is considered to be a mood stabilizer.
  2. Methylprednisolone – An anti-inflammatory that may be used to treat bronchial infections
  3. Prozac – A commonly prescribed SSRI anti-depression med.
  4. Klonopin – A benzodiazepine anti-anxiety prescription medication that is also used to help with insomnia. Like most benzos, the probability of overdose is low if used properly, but overdose would lead to cardiac arrest.
  5. Carbamazepine – Another anti-convulsant mood stabilizer often used to treat bipolar disorder. This prescription drug can be very dangerous when combined with other medications due to its actions on GABA and extensive alteration of Sodium channel activity. It is also a bipolar med.
  6. Ativan – Once again a benzodiazepine that is often used to treat anxiety and insomnia.
  7. Vicoprofen – A pain reliever that includes an opioid (it sounds like vicodin for a reason).
  8. Propranolol – Prescription med used to treat hypertension and as an alternative, less habit-forming anti-anxiety drug.
  9. Biaxin – An antibiotic.
  10. Hydrocodone – Same as Vicoprofen, an analgesic (pain reducing) prescription drug.

What do I think killed Brittany?

With 2 benzodiazepine medications, 2 opiates, and antidepressant, and a drug that is made to lower one’s heart pressure, it’s no wonder that Brittany was found not breathing. I’m going to wait until the final toxicology report to draw a definite conclusion, but from this list, it seems highly likely that a dangerous combination of these prescription drugs was taken, which resulted in Brittany’s heart stopping. Even when taken at their prescribed strengths, these medication, when combined, can form a lethal cocktail.

You should ALWAYS check with your doctor regarding interactions between different prescriptions you’re taking, especially when those medications haven’t all been prescribed by the same physician!

Posted in:  Addiction Stories
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Depression medication – Evidence and usefulness

January 10th, 2010

Depression medication has been widely prescribed since the early days of Prozac (Fluoxetine) and the discovery that depression can be helped by taking a pill. A new study shows that in reality, only those who suffer from severe depression may actually benefit from taking the meds though.

Depression is commonly seen in addiction treatment so I think the topic is relevant for us. But before I explain the details, a little review of depression medication would be useful.

A review of depression medication

The type of medication has gone through some major changes, starting with TCAs and MAOIs and ending up at SSRIs and SNRIs. MAOIs blocked an enzyme from breaking down Serotonin, which increased the levels of this emotion-enhancing neurotransmitter (MDMA, or ecstasy effects Serotonin as well). SSRIs and SNRIs block the recycling of serotonin (SSRI means Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) and a broader group of neurotransmitters (SNRI = Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor).

The problem with MAOIs was that their side effects were often worse than the depression the patients were suffering. The same side effect problems were also common with TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants) because of the numerous effects they had on many systems in the brain.

MAOIs and TCAs are essentially gone from the U.S. market but are still prescribed in other countries to some extent. SSRIs and NSRIs are the most common drugs for depression treatment here, but there are still major differences between different specific pills.

New study results – Pills good for severe depression

This new meta-analysis (a combined analysis of a bunch of older papers), seems to show that Tofranil (a TCA) and Paxil (a SSRI) are only more effective than a placebo sugar-pill in patients who suffer from severe depression. The problem is that most people who are prescribed anti-depressants today suffer from mild or moderate depression. This brings into question the wide use of the drugs.

It even seems possible that the reason side effects are worse than the depression for some patients is because the depression itself was simply not that severe in the first place and would have been better helped by the use of psychotherapy without medications.

Some limitations of the study

It’s important to realize that this study looked only at two different medications, both of which are known to have a significant problem with negative side-effects. Future studies will most likely cover more of what’s available and since depression and addiction are so closely associated, you can count on me revisiting this again!


Jay C. Fournier; Robert J. DeRubeis; Steven D. Hollon; Sona Dimidjian; Jay D. Amsterdam; Richard C. Shelton; Jan Fawcett (2010). Antidepressant Drug Effects and Depression Severity: A Patient-Level Meta-analysis. JAMA, 303(1):47-53.

Posted in:  Education, Medications, Treatment
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