Myth: Anxiety Is Caused By A Chemical Imbalance In The Brain
Since the late 1980s, society was told that anxiety disorder, depression, and many other mental illnesses were caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Big pharma’s mass marketing was so convincing, the public and many in the medical and mental health professions believed it to be true. The persuasion was so convincing that medications recommended to ‘correct’ this imbalance saw multiple billions of dollars in sales each year. Many of these medications were in the ‘top ten’ most sold medications year after year.
Yet, the chemical imbalance notion was never proven. It had always been hypothetical.
After independent research found the chemical imbalance cause for mental illness was false, and after finding medications used to treat this ‘imbalance’ were largely ineffective, opinions began to change. Due to pressure from the independent research and from those in the mental health profession that knew mental illness wasn’t caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, the truth was finally allowed to come forward.
In 2011, the chemical imbalance cause for mental illness was put to rest by Dr. Ronald Pies, the editor-in-chief emeritus of the Psychiatric Times. Shortly after, pharmaceutical companies admitted the chemical imbalance theory was to be used as a ‘metaphor’ only and not to be understood as real. Thus ended the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory cause for anxiety (and many other mental illnesses).
So, no, anxiety disorder is not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It never was.
You can learn more about the demise of the Chemical Imbalance theory:
How can believing this myth hamper recovery?
Believing anxiety unwellness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain places the solution outside of our control. This puts the solution in a pill rather than in changing behavior where it belongs. Medication has already been shown to be limited in its ability to reduce symptoms. Settling for a reduction in symptoms is not, in our opinion, success.
Anxiety is a physiological, psychological, and emotional state that occurs when a person behaves apprehensively. So, anxiety is a result of a certain style of behavior, it's not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that requires medication to fix. If a person is applying a remedy for the wrong problem, it's unrealistic to expect the problem to be resolved. Dealing with the true cause of anxiety unwellness –the underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety - resolves it, and for good.
How can believing this myth make things worse?
Drugs used to ‘treat’ the chemical imbalance often make people feel much worse. Moreover, many people are also taking a ‘cocktail’ of medications in an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. These drugs and cocktails can be difficult to come off of, and have been shown to have the potential to even cause long-term harm.
If these medications aren’t actually ‘fixing’ anything, why risk the potential for an increase in problems and long-term harm?
Many of our members and coaching/therapy clients have had horror stories about their medications, with many having great difficulty breaking free of the very medications their doctors said would help.
Based on the latest research and practical evidence, it’s no wonder these medications have caused so many problems. First, they don’t work because the entire premise for using them is false. And second, no one, not even the drug manufacturers themselves, know what they are doing in the brain.
Treating a real problem with the wrong solution isn’t our idea of a solution. This is why medication for anxiety disorder has had such a failed reputation. It doesn’t work because there is no problem that the drugs are supposed to ‘correct.’
The entire chemical imbalance theory has been a ruse.
If you want success over anxiety unwellness, it’s best to treat the real cause of the problem – unhealthy behaviors, situations, and circumstances. Anything other will not lead to success, and especially, lasting success.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - we call these core causes the underlying factors of anxiety - a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.
For more information about our Anxiety Counseling option; our Available Anxiety Therapists; to Book An Appointment with one of our anxiety therapists; common Anxiety Signs and Symptoms; common Anxiety Attack Symptoms; the symptoms of panic attack disorder; anxiety Recovery Support area; information about Anxiety; and our Anxiety 101 section; or click on the appropriate link or graphic below:
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Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated September 2016.