Friday, February 8, 2008

A pill for every ill, it seems

In an attempt to bring some content back to this site, I tooled around a few of my geekily-interesting sites (they'd be the links under the "get informed" heading on the right hand side) to see what was going on in the world. There's always the election, but I've been pissed about that for the last few weeks and haven't quite worked the "frothing at the mouth with rage" elements out of that post yet...

So I gravitated toward the less overtly political side--Live Science, Arts and Letters Daily, SciTech Daily. Ah, SciTech yielded this gem from National Geographic: "Early Birds, Night Owls: Blame Your Genes." A study found that yes indeed, genetics affected people's schedules. Fairly obvious, it seems, but hey, sometimes we need science to prove the obvious.

What got me was some info at the end of the article:

The research may lead to new treatments for people suffering from sleep disorders, the researchers said.

"Such treatments could potentially be used to reset a patient's 24-hour cycle to more sociable hours, so they wouldn't find themselves awake watching TV in the wee hours."

This would probably be done with drugs that target the circadian clock pathway, Brown said.

It's quite a leap to go from wired sleep patterns to "sleep disorder," I thought. So I checked the authority of all known knowledge: Wikipedia. Sleep disorders include things like teeth grinding, night terrors, sleep apnea, sleepwalking. OK, sleep walking, sure. Night terrors, it's possible. Or this: delayed sleep phase syndrome is described as "a chronic disorder of the timing of sleep, peak period of alertness, hormonal and other rhythms. People with DSPS tend to fall asleep well after midnight and also have difficulty waking up in the morning."

Yep, it's a syndrome, along with shyness, caffeinism, oppositional defiant disorder. I could name more ridiculous "syndromes," but I don't have a copy of the DSM-V at hand. A few years ago, I had time to kill between classes and spent the time in the library (social avoidance syndrome?). The reference section had any number of fascinating topics from mythology to psychology. At the time, I flipped through the psychological diagnostic manual and realized I could diagnose myself with approximately half of the disorders within its pages.

I don't mean to suggest that there are no such things as mental disorders; I know enough people with depression and a range of other problems to say otherwise. But when we're at the point where there's a pill and a treatment for any behavior that deviates however slightly from the dominant paradigm, I think we need to pause and consider the ramifications (the Boston Tea Party would have been a prime act of oppositional defiance disorder, wouldn't it? And that American Revolution. Pity it was so long ago; a pill could've quelled that impulse nicely). There are points at which such behaviors do interfere with daily living (I could probably easily land a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, and my anxiety has gotten in my way by spells, but I can work through them with some--OK, a lot--of effort and much trembling of the hands), but I think it's dangerous to be so quick to medicate. Pills can easily become crutches if they're allowed, or worse still, maintainers of a predetermined status quo.

Besides, the world needs its night owls. Life doesn't just shut down at 10 p.m. We can't all be extroverts; someone has to listen. And if we're going to label caffeine as addiction worthy, I'd like to see Television Addiction added to the list of diagnosable disorders. And I hope they never find a pill for "oppositional defiance disorder." That just sounds like something straight out of Orwell or Huxley.
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