by David B. Stein, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology and Criminal Justice
Virginia State University
One of the subjects that I have taught for over twenty-five years is psychopharmacology. It might be helpful to challenge one of the great myths about mental disorders, namely that they are caused by chemical imbalances. This myth is founded on some of the tricks that are pulled in so-called scientific research in psychology and psychiatry. First, there is a large volume of research claiming to discover all kinds of chemical imbalances in a wide variety of psychiatric disorders. The manipulation of research has become one of the most powerful and most unethical marketing tools ever devised. Not one study can be replicated at the testing labs of hospitals or by laboratories involved in clinical patient care. All that one needs to do is ask his or her doctor to order a blood or urine test to confirm any psychiatric disorder, and the response will be, “I’m sorry, but no such test exists.” Replication is a basic step for all sciences.
The second manipulation is a bit trickier to follow. An unethical researcher, earning grant money from the pharmaceutical companies, injects test subjects with a radioactive sample of a nervous system hormone, such as dopamine, serotonin, nor-epinephrine, and so on, and then trace, using either CT scans, MRIs, or PET scans, exactly to what parts of the brain the chemicals go. They can even trace the hormones to microscopic receptor sites on the ends on neurons. They then repeat the injection process with a radioactive sample of one of the drugs that supposedly correct chemical imbalances, such as antidepressants that elevate serotonin, or amphetamines that effect serotonin and dopamine, and so on and so forth. By golly the drugs go to the same exact parts of the brain and receptor sites as the hormones. Conclusion, the drugs are correcting chemical imbalances!
Not so fast. The part they do not tell the public, and even professional psychiatrists, psychologists, and practicing physicians, is that we can precisely measure hormone levels in all people, and diagnosis does not matter. We can measure the metabolites in the blood, which are the residue left after the hormones are metabolized i.e. used by the nerve and body cells. This tells us the precise amount of hormones carried in anyone’s body. When that is done, as it has by numerous honest researchers, we discover that the amount of hormones are exactly the same for anyone with a diagnosis, such as depression, attention deficit disorders (ADD/ADHD), bipolar, and schizophrenia, as with anyone diagnosed as perfectly normal.
There is a third part to the perpetuation of scam information. We are told that when a drug alleviates certain psychiatric conditions, such as depression and anxiety, that the drug is therefore correcting obvious chemical imbalances. However, this type of logic is not permitted in true science. This is called “allopathic logic”, which is a no no.
A quick analogy will help clear this up. If one drinks alcohol, then one experiences a relief from anxiety. Alcohol is a drug, a sedative. Can we say that alcohol clears up chemical imbalances that cause anxiety? If that were so then the entire human race is running around with chemical imbalances. The same is true for any drug used for any purpose, such as antidepressants for depression, tranquilizers for anxiety, mood stabilizer drugs for bipolar disorder, and even antipsychotic drugs for schizophrenia. This type of logic is not permitted within proper scientific circles. Sadly, proper scientific circles are evaporating within psychiatry and psychology. Those who are ethical researchers make no such claims.
Dr. David B. Stein is Professor of Psychology and Criminal Justice at Virginia State University. He is a best-selling author, and his books include: Ritalin is Not the Answer: A Drug-free, Practical Program for Children Diagnosed with ADD or ADHD; The Ritalin is Not the Answer Action Guide: An Interactive Companion to the best-selling Drug-Free ADD/ADHD Parenting Program; Unraveling the ADD/ADHD Fiasco: A Guide for Successful Parenting; and Controlling the Difficult Adolescent: The REST Program (Real Economy Program for Teens).