Since that terrible day in December 2012 when Adam Lanza killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, we have heard a lot about gun control, mental illness, security, advance recognition of violent tendencies, and a lot of other factors that might explain tragedies such as Sandy Hook and prevent similar events from happening again.
These are all good and worthwhile conversations. There is one potential contributor to violence, however, that is very rarely talked about. In light of violent events such as Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Columbine, and even as far back as the tower shooting at the University of Texas at Austin, maybe a look at prescription drug use and abuse is warranted.
Potential Causative Link Between Psychotropic Drugs and Violence
In other words, is it possible that the very drugs prescribed to help people cope with mental disorders produce side effects that make their problems worse? Do these drugs cause previously non-violent people to become violent?
Murderers on Drugs
It is unclear whether Adam Lanza was taking anti-psychotics or any other kinds of medications when he committed a horrible act of violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School. However, consider another highly publicized school shooting, the one that killed 13 at Columbine High School in 1999: one of the two shooters, Eric Harris, was taking the antidepressant Luvox, and the other, Dylan Klebold, had previously taken Zoloft and Paxil. There are other examples:
- Doug Williams, who killed five people and wounded nine at Lockheed Martin in Mississippi in 2003, was taking Zoloft and Celexa.
- Kip Kinkel was on Prozac when he killed his parents and two others, in addition to wounding 25, at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon in 1998. He was 15.
- Charles Whitman, the perpetrator of the UT Tower shootings in 1966, was on Valium.
- Jeff Weise, who killed nine people in 2005—including seven at a high school—before killing himself, was on Prozac. He was 16. His case drew attention to FDA warnings, published in 2004, about links between Prozac and violent or suicidal tendencies.
Are Doctors Aware That Psychotropics May Be Associated with Violence?
Certainly they are! Think about television commercials for pharmaceuticals. A significant portion of the commercial’s air time is spent on warnings about possible side effects of the advertised medication. The warnings for Celexa, for example, mention that the drug can increase thoughts of suicide, and instruct the patient to tell his/her doctor if they begin to act reckless or feel angry, restless, or violent. If you listen to the commercials for antidepressants and related drugs, you will note that these warnings are common.
In early 2011, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices published the results of a study into the relationship between medications and violence, and named the top 10 most dangerous drugs in terms of producing violent tendencies. The list included antidepressants Pristiq, Effexor, Luvox, Paxil, and Prozac, as well as amphetamines commonly used to treat ADHD.
Why Are These Drugs So Dangerous?
One of the possible issues related to antidepressants is that drug studies are commonly conducted using adult subjects. Antidepressants can be prescribed to children as young as 5, but not many studies have been done to investigate their effects on children and adolescents.
A commonly reported side effect of psychiatric medications is akasthesia, which is a feeling of being overly restless or unable to sit still. Some report feeling invincible or experiencing a manic-type high. Others describe feeling desires that can only be described as suicidal or homicidal.
Psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants, anti-psychotics, and mood stabilizers reduce the ability of people to process emotions. They care less. This lack of caring can equate to loss of conscience or lack of realization that their behavior is harmful or abnormal. They are less able to control their emotions and actions.
This is not to say that these drugs, and ONLY these drugs, caused people such as Adam Lanza and Eric Harris to commit such terrible crimes. But these drugs could very well be a factor in explaining violence and mass murder.
What Are the Alternatives to Psychotropic Drugs?
Considering the above information, you may have reached the conclusion that doctors are too quick to prescribe medications. In psychology and psychiatry, there is no lab test to confirm a concrete diagnosis that then leads to a prescription – physicians have to guess which medication might work and then hope for the best. Many patients try several antidepressants, for example, before hitting on one that seems to work.
This does NOT mean that you should stop taking a drug you have already been prescribed! In many cases, stopping a medication abruptly can lead to withdrawal symptoms and even long-term, severe adverse effects. Talk to your doctor before stopping any medication.
Dallas Brain Changers utilizes the qEEG or Brain Map as an assessment tool to analyze brain function and patterns which could explain violent tendencies NOT caused by medications. Then, through Neurofeedback, brainwaves can be adjusted and neuroplasticity improved, thereby calming the violent urges. In addition, cognitive behavioral therapy, or Counseling, is used to identify thoughts and behaviors which are unhealthy and work toward improved coping skills.