The thing about medication

A while ago I wrote about my reluctance to take anti-depressant medication. I do not doubt that the right medication, properly managed, can make a positive difference in one’s life. But these medications do not always work; or they work for a while and then you need to switch to something else; or, in what I hope are uncommon cases, they actually make the problem worse (thoughts of suicide are sometimes mentioned as a rare side effect). Even if it does work out, then you are locked into a long-term relationship with the healthcare system, which can get very expensive in the United States.

I will admit that I have medicated with myself with alcohol at times. It is certainly more convenient in that you do not need a prescription. It all works pretty much the same way: a pint of beer or glass of wine or shot of whisky. The effect is immediate: you do not have to take it daily for several weeks to feel different. You do not need to take it daily at all. In fact, it works better if you do not take it daily. And if you lose your job and can no longer afford it, it is possible to be fully functional without it unless you are dependent on it (which is a completely different story).

My aunt died yesterday from a stroke. The cause of the stroke was an overdose of anti-depressant medication. It is not clear if this was a suicide attempt — but she does have a history of overdoses and one definite suicide attempt by other means. I have not seen her in more than thirty years and we were never close, so this is not a major source of grief, although I always remember her as my favorite person when I was a little girl. She was quite a bit younger than my mother, still in high school and living at home with my grandparents. When I went to visit, I slept in her room and she did not seem to mind at all having her little niece around. I enjoyed watching her get ready for school in the morning — she spent a lot of time on her hair and makeup and I found it fascinating.

Anyway, I was struck by something I had not considered before. When you are on medication of any kind, your prescription generally fills a thirty-day supply. And if you get your prescriptions by mail order, as many people do in the United States, you can save money by getting a ninety-day supply.

I do not think I have ever had a thirty-day supply of alcohol in my house. Even if I did have a thirty-day supply of alcohol in my house, I very much doubt I could drink it all at one go.

There is such a thing as alcohol poisoning, when you consume enough alcohol in a short enough period of time to raise your blood alcohol content to a lethal level. This happens all too often amongst college students — but it takes a concerted effort, almost always with the assistance of other people (e.g. someone to hold the funnel while someone else props you up) to physically get that much alcohol into you before you pass out. If I were alone at home with a case of wine, I would pass out somewhere in the middle of the second bottle — and it would have taken me many hours to get there. In theory, I could choke on vomit in my sleep, but in all likelihood I would wake up feeling like crap rather than ending up dead.

I do not know what medication my aunt was on or how much she took. It might not have been strong enough to kill even with a freshly refilled thirty-day supply to pop all at one go. But it is something I would worry about for myself. Perhaps if I WERE on a medication that worked for me, I might not wake up each morning wishing I had not. But what if I were still waking up feeling that way? And had a bottle of pills in the house? Who knows where that might take me…

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