Can Medication Cure Depersonalization?
Note: I am not a medical professional and the information in this article is presented purely as advice. I am basing this advice on ten years of experience, both with taking anti-depressants myself and dealing with thousands of DP sufferers who have (and have not) used them. However, the decision to take or not take medication is strictly between you and your doctor.
Ok, so there is a lot of confusion around the effect that medication can have on depersonalization. Do they help it? Can medication cure depersonalization? Can they make it worse? There’s a huge amount of conflicting information out there on the topic. Why is this?
Well firstly, and most importantly, in the field of medication, there are a huge number of variables involved in any given case, for example:
How well the individual responds to medication
How quickly the individual finds a medication that works for them
To what extent is the individual’s condition treatable by medication
….to name but a few. And even with all of these variables, you still must be very patient to see if the medication will work for you since most SSRIs require at least 2-3 months of taking them before any discernible improvement can be seen.
There’s also the fact that since depersonalization can often be so difficult to describe and therefore diagnose, antidepressants are typically prescribed as a very general treatment by doctors who may assume that the patient is suffering from some sort of generalized anxiety or malaise. While this isn’t necessarily an incorrect prescription, it’s extremely broad and non-specific to the condition.
As a result, there are entire discussions online -- I’m sure you’ve come across them! -- on the questions of
A) Can medication cure depersonalization and
B) What drug or combination of drugs works best for dealing with DP / DR.
The implication is that, somewhere out there, waiting to be found, is a very specific combination of drugs that will cure depersonalization totally.
People tend to get into a pattern of trying different medications and combinations thereof, hoping against hope that this one will be the one that works. Unfortunately, that type of thinking is completely counterproductive to achieving results in anxiety-based conditions.
The fact that this drug hasn’t been found has its roots in the fact that there has been no drug discovered that can immediately cure anxiety itself, or OCD, or smoking, or anything that’s based on habits of thought and behaviour.
Let me break this down for you:
What SSRIs can do, if you find the right drug that works for you, is to lessen extreme anxiety levels by chemically increasing the amount of serotonin in your brain (the depletion of which is associated with anxiety / stress / depression).
Since depersonalization is a symptom of anxiety, it can be lessened as the anxiety is reduced. So SSRIs can, temporarily at least, diminish DP. I took SSRIs for a while and found that they had that effect.
However -- and this is extremely important:
Medication alone will not change the thought-habits of DP.
I also found this out, to my great dismay, when I came off medication and the depersonalization came back.
This was due to two reasons:
- With the SSRIs I had temporarily reduced the anxiety / DP but not actually dealt with the behaviours and thought habits that were causing and perpetuating it.
- The side effects of coming off medication can often include anxiety, dizziness etc -- all of which contributed to setting off the thought habits of DP again, and feeling that I was back to square one.
Now that is certainly not to say that this will happen to you. As I’ve said, there are so many different variables in every case that it’s impossible to predict what medication will do for any one person. But it’s something that I’ve seen again and again with DP sufferers on medication, so much so that I feel it’s worth mentioning as something to look out for.
The most important thing to remember about medication -- and I’m confident that this sentiment would be echoed by most doctors -- is that you should not depend on them as a ‘cure’. That is to say that if you are prescribed a course of medication, the last thing you should do is ‘sit back and wait to get better’. That’s a recipe for failure, especially with any condition that’s on the anxiety spectrum (these conditions invariably need to be actively overwritten with new thoughts-habits, hence the now-common use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and exposure therapy).
So, here’s what you should do:
If you are prescribed medication, look at it as a crutch. A helping hand.
It might lessen the most extreme anxiety, but you must still address the thought habits and behaviours that have allowed the DP to persist in the first place. Medication or no, you must address that in order to get better. Otherwise you at risk of simply putting off a relapse.
I always think of it like this:
Medication can help to open the door for you, but you still must stand up and make the effort to walk through it yourself.
Is it possible to recover without medication?
Yes, absolutely. That’s what I did and what I have helped many thousands of people to do. And personally I tend to advise people to not rely on medication if possible as it overcomplicates the DP recovery process (which is actually quite simple).
Is it possible to recover with medication?
Yes, but you must be extremely vigilant to not depend solely on the medication. And remember that when you come off it you may be facing a different set of challenges, including dealing with temporarily increased levels of anxiety and DP because of the stress your body goes through when readjusting to the absence of the chemical.
The bottom line is that recovery is 100% possible, whether you decide to use medication or not. Personally I believe that it’s easier without medication. But the important thing is that with either approach, you are actively and consistently changing your behaviours and thinking patterns to overwrite them with positive habits.
NB: If you decide to go on or come off medication, change your dosage etc, make sure that you consult your doctor before doing so. And when coming off medication, don’t just stop the dosage. Taper the dosage off slowly based on your doctor’s instructions.