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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Overuse of 'happy pills' reveals social structures


For the last 50 years, the medical industry has infatuated with mood altering psychiatric drugs, also known as wonder drugs.

???In his new book, Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac, David Herzberg, assistant professor of history, explores the false notions of happiness and social changes these drugs create.

???Herzberg describes his book as a cultural history of medicine. He writes about how even today, these drugs are often prescribed by physicians and take a strong hold on American culture.

???"[The book is] not a medical history where I try to look at the experience of being ill and going to seek treatment by doctors...but it's about how the availability of these pills and the way they are marketed engaged public debates about happiness and identity," Herzberg said.

???Herzberg explained that during World War II, physicians began to use antibiotics, expanding their ability to cure disease. Various psychiatric pills, such as steroids and tranquilizers also came to the fore. Influenced by marketers and advertisers, according to Herzbergmany came to view these pills as having an amazing ability to rid the body of illness.

???According to Herzberg, society's obsession over these drugs has gone too far.

???"These are amazing new tools, but calling them wonder drugs conjures up more than the fact that they can cure illness," Herzberg said. "It suggests that there is this cultural hoopla about them."

???Herzberg believes that much of the hoopla results from modern commercial advertising of prescription drugs.

???"Most of the medical world is saturated with advertising," Herzberg said. "This is a system structurally tilted towards prescribing medicine."

???Herzberg has found several reasons why doctors might prescribe these psychiatric drugs. He acknowledges that, in many cases, the pills can produce a positive effect but doctors often prescribe the pills when they are not certain of the best treatment.

???"Physicians often prescribe these pills to a kind of patient whose problems are difficult to pin down," Herzberg said.

???In his book, Herzberg focuses on the specific effect these psychiatric drugs have on middle-class Caucasian housewives. Herzberg noted that women are often consumed with raising children. In turn, they may face anxiety and the desire to get out in the world and do something for themselves, like furthering their careers.

???Herzberg explained that many physicians might interpret this anxiety as something abnormal that needs medical treatment. In order to pacify women, physicians would frequently prescribe these "wonder drugs" as a quick fix, he said.

???He pointed out that these types of drugs are prescribed to women two times more often than men. He believes this could be because women succumb to medical authority more than men, possibly a result of sexist attitudes towards women in the medical field.

???Many physicians have found that when they prescribe these psychiatric drugs to women, they report feeling better and do not return to the doctor, Herzberg said. However, he thinks that prescribing these pills is not the best option and that encouraging lifestyle changes would be a better alternative.

???"Instead of prescribing a tranquilizer, you should be encouraging them to go get a job," Herzberg said. "Tranquilizers are an agent of [a] sexist society that's keeping women artificially happy in situations that many of them don't find satisfying."

???Consumers should be as informed as possible about these drugs to avoid overusing them, according to Herzberg.

???"Learn as much as you humanly can from objective sources," Herzberg said. "Use critical thinking skills and be ready to experiment over time. Make an effort to use knowledge that doesn't come out of the marketing machinery."




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