Chemical imbalance? Considerations Regarding Psychotropic Drugs

Women on psychotropic drugs can be insistent that they have a chemical imbalance. For example, the depressed woman insists that a serotonin imbalance is causing her depression. Having a physiological basis may be very important to her because it validates that the problem is not of her own making, validates the money she is spending on drugs. It may contribute to perceiving herself to be unique. She may tie her identity to it. Someone might even obtain a blood test showing low serotonin levels. What a woman in this situation does not realize is that the blood test is useless for diagnosing her problem (see item 5 below), but is handy for shifting responsibility away from herself. Sadly, belief in having a chemical imbalance binds her in her anger and conflicts. Until she takes responsibility for herself, she will not change and will continue in the unpleasant consequences from which she wants relief.

Until a few years ago, the theory of a chemical imbalance as the cause of an emotional problem not otherwise medically diagnosable was ubiquitous, especially for depression. Today, though, an internet search will show that what is still a common belief in the populace is no longer so widely accepted in the profession that promoted the idea in the first place. More and more voices are rising to oppose it.

I would like to offer a few considerations regarding the chemical imbalance hypothesis. Nothing in this post is intended to be medical advice or to encourage someone to take herself off of a drub. Terminating use of a psychotropic drug can be dangerous, so it should be done only under medical supervision.

Regarding Psychotropic Drugs:

  1. The taking of a psychotropic drug does not make someone an inferior person. The Word of God tells us to respect all people. Nothing in this post is intended to demean anyone on a psychotropic drug. It is intended to inform.
  2. The body can influence the mind. People can have physical problems that can tempt them to negative emotions and foolish or sinful behavior. Physiology can even cause symptoms like misperceptions, dementia, and depression. We need medical doctors to treat our physical maladies.
  3. The promotion of counseling in addition to medication subverts the claim that medication is needed. If chemical imbalance is the problem in depression or bipolar or other so-called illnesses, then why do people need counseling? If the problem is a medical condition, then medication should solve the problem.
  4. As yet, no one has discovered what is the normal “chemical balance” of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain. Without a standard of normal, there is no basis for determining what constitutes an imbalance. Therefore, there is no proof of a chemical imbalance.
  5. There is no blood test to determine brain levels of neurotransmitters. Therefore, chemical balance in the brain cannot be determined by a blood test. The reason is that neurotransmitter molecules are too large to cross the blood-brain barrier into the body’s bloodstream, and it is the bloodstream (no brain biopsy!) from which a blood sample is drawn. (By blocking entry to the brain, the blood-brain barrier protects the brain from the kinds of hormonal and potassium fluctuations that occur in the the bloodstream. It also protects the brain from some harmful substances like some toxins and bacteria.) Practically speaking, for a woman in a situation such as described in the opening paragraph above, that means that her blood test measures serotonin levels only in her bloodstream, but not in her brain. Such “proof” is bogus.
  6. Diagnoses of psychological disorders are not based upon medical evidence but upon types and degrees of behaviors and subjective statements of how the person feels and thinks. A psychiatric label is a description of a set of behaviors, emotions, and thoughts. The label does not define or explain the cause or lead to a cure.
  7. When there are legitimate physical causes for emotional symptoms, these cases are scientifically diagnosable and hold medical labels of medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease or hypothyroidism. Such a case does not fit under a psychological category but a medical one. For example, depression that is a symptom of hypothyroidism is not an emotional disorder; it is a symptom of a physical illness.
  8. Assuming for the sake of argument that a neurotransmitter like serotonin in a depressed person is low, no one has proven whether the low serotonin caused the depression or the depression caused the low serotonin.
  9. Researchers do not know exactly how psychotropic drugs actually affect mood. Their explanations are theoretical, not factual. Evidence for this point is in their own literature. On the Package Insert, which comes in the box with the drug when you purchase it, read under the heading “Clinical Pharmacology.” This is the section that explains how the drug works. You will find use of terms of uncertainty, indefinite phrases such as, “it is supposed that” or “it appears that” or “is thought to” or “is believed to be.”

This list will be continued in Part 2. Meanwhile, I repeat that nothing in this post is intended to encourage a person to take herself off a psychotropic drug. Anyone on such a drug should consult her doctor.


For your own research:

Below are some links to get you started. Listing these links does not imply that I endorse these websites or any other views on them.

France Christopher M., Paul H. Lysaker, Ryan P. Robinson. The “Chemical Imbalance” Explanation for Depression: Origins, Lay Endorsement, and Clinical Implications

Thomas, Kas. The Chemical Imbalance Myth

Lacasse, Jeffrey R and Jonathan Leo. Serotonin and Depression: A Disconnect between the Advertisements and the Scientific Literature


About Linda

Wifing, Singing, Studying, Counseling. I counsel at Gateway Biblical Counseling and Training Center. M.A. in Biblical Counseling. Certified by Association of Certified Biblical Counselors
This entry was posted in Christian Living, Depression, Psychology/Psychiatry and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Chemical imbalance? Considerations Regarding Psychotropic Drugs

  1. angela says:

    I wouldn’t choose it. In fact we tried very hard to deal with Missy’s daily screaming, raging, crying misery and have done everything we know to do on our knees praying for guidance – for 6 years. I’m burned out and exhausted (there are two adopted RAD children with crazy all day behaviors. They are now 12 yrs old). I finally asked the doctor for something for this child. In 6 weeks we have had one rage. She is still RAD and still developmentally delayed and still has serious behaviors but I am grateful that she’s not wasting away in screaming rage day after day. I have a thread of hope now.

    • Linda says:

      You have given love, home, and family to (at least) two non-biological children. Thank you for the hard work, the exhausting all-day-and-night work you are doing in your efforts to raise them well. In the midst of it all, it can seem like it saps the life out of you with no relief or end in sight. Drugs can slow thoughts and settle emotions. I hope that the child you took to the doctor will be able to receive what you are saying and begin changing thoughts and behavior, choosing to cooperate with your leadership over her. Most of all, may she submit to love, trust, and obey the Lord Jesus.
      The Lord, not circumstances, is the source of true joy. He is so delightful! Any time spent choosing to rejoice in the Lord in the midst of hardship will never be regretted. Continue “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

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