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Psychoactive Drugs and TEOTWAWKI

Tuesday, 29 January 2013 00:51 Written by 

According to a recent article published in USA Today, one in ten Americans (about 35 million) are prescribed psychoactive medications. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates another 25 million Americans are taking these drugs illegally. An honest question that preppers should be asking is; what happens in the event there is a short or long term supply shortage / stoppage of these drugs? Perhaps an even more serious question we may need to address is; what should we expect if a member of our family, or prepper group, is suddenly cut off from these medications / drugs when the SHTF?

Please note: I am not a doctor and I am in no way qualified to provide medical advice. Therefore, it would be equally logical to discuss the previously mentioned plan with a medical professional in order to obtain the best advice.

The Technical Stuff

A psychoactive, psychotropic or psycho-pharmaceutical drug is a chemical substance that crosses the blood-brain barrier and acts primarily upon the central nervous system where it affects brain function, resulting in alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition and behavior. These substances may be used recreationally to purposefully alter one’s consciousness. However, many are recognized for therapeutic uses as anesthetics, analgesic, and for the treatment of psychiatric disorders.

Psychotropic drugs are divided into three groups according to their pharmacological effect:

  • Stimulants
  • Depressants
  • Hallucinogenic

Psychiatric medications are psychoactive drugs prescribed for the management of mental and emotional disorders. There are six major classes of psychiatric medications:

  • Antidepressants: which are used to treat disorders such as clinical depression, dysthymia, anxiety, eating disorders and borderline personality disorders
  • Stimulants: which are used to treat disorders such as attention deficit disorder, narcolepsy and to suppress the appetite
  • Antipsychotics: which are used to treat psychotic symptoms associated with schizophrenia or severe mania
  • Mood Stabilizers: which are used to treat bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder
  • Anxiolytics: which are used to treat anxiety disorders
  • Depressants: which are used as hypnotics, sedatives and anesthetics 

In Plain Talk

There are only two things that separate a drug addict, who obtains pharmaceuticals illegally, from a patient who is under a doctor’s care; a prescription and common sense.

Dependence to psychoactive medications / drugs can cause changes to the brain that counteract their effects, making the effects temporary, and leading to physical dependence.

So, let’s get to the point. There are approximately 35 million people in this country who are prescribed medications that artificially manufacture certain desired personality traits that help them to function well in society. And there are at least another 25 million people who are obtaining and taking these drugs illegally.

Regardless of whether a person is taking these medications / drugs under a doctor’s care or not, really isn't the relative issue of this discussion. What is the relative issue, though; suddenly stop the medication / drug and you are faced with the very dark down side to psycho-pharmaceuticals… Dependency Withdraw!!!

It really doesn't matter if we are talking about a patient who is taking 80 mg. of Zoloft once a day for an extremely mild anxiety issue, or a drug addict who is dropping handfuls of Xanax like Skittles; cut off the drugs and within a fairly predictable time frame, the results will be the same.

Should some event cause the medication / drug flow to come to an abrupt halt, we will be faced with approximately 60 million Americans who are going to behave very unpredictably and in many cases, suffer an inability to rationally control their own actions. Within a few short hours, for some, and within a few days for others, the onset of withdraw will occur and then begin to mass coincide in a cascading wave. And that wave can be drawn out over a long period of time.


Now please understand, I am not promoting the idea that there would be sixty million people running helter skelter through the streets, chewing the faces off of folks, if all drugs were suddenly cut off. Although, I am semi sure there would be a few such cases. What I am trying to convey here is; there will be widely varying symptoms ranging from individuals simply feeling physically ill, running the gambit from there to Hannibal Lecter out of chains and holding a get out of jail free card.

Looking at the more mild side of it, try to imagine millions of people not being able to go to work and all at the same time, due to a sudden onset of drug withdraw symptoms. Or, try to imagine the millions of family members who might be forced to stay home to care for them; and thereby doubling the numbers of those not reporting for work. Looking at it on a mass scale, it is an event with the potential of severe economic repercussions throughout the country.

I will note here that caffeine and nicotine (coffee, many soda beverages, etc. and cigarettes) are psychotropic drugs and I am sure many of us can attest to the withdraw effects experienced upon quitting either of these cold turkey. What one needs to understand though; everyone is different. Some people may experience very minor, easily adjusted to, withdraw symptoms. Unfortunately, other people will, due to various psychological and / or physical make-up reasons, react differently and possibly quite unpredictably.

I know from experience, that aggression is common during withdraw. Though a fairly mild case, I experienced agitation bordering on aggressiveness when I stopped smoking, cold turkey. When I quit taking Zoloft, cold turkey, I had a very serious attitude swing. I became extremely verbally abusive to everyone, and I felt very agitated to the point of almost wanting someone to “poke me with a stick.” Try to imagine thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of similarly effected people driving in even moderate traffic.

My symptoms started two days after I quit the pills, and ended gradually about a week after going back on them. Even prior to being prescribed Zoloft, I was not one to become unjustly physically aggressive toward people. It wasn’t like I was merely a little “grouchy” from feeling out of sorts. The truth is, I felt physically fine. Oddly though, during my outbursts, I was fully cognizant of the fact I had no reason, real or imagined, for acting out like a total schmuck. Now, imagine millions of people just like this out amongst the public in a crowded shopping mall.

In a very worst case scenario, dependent upon the severity of a particular psychological disorder and the dosage of the medication prescribed, imagine such a person cut off from their medication and who has access to a firearm.

Of Hoarders and Preppers

Another down side to consider is the number of people who have stock-piled psychoactive medications / drugs as an insurance against possible “hard times.” In a long term event that exceeds the limits of the meds / drugs stored, the cascading wave of people suffering withdraw symptoms will be drawn out even further.  We could be looking at many months before the number of people suffering from withdraw begins to subside, along with a few periods of resurgence due to hoarding.


Let’s imagine some catastrophic event that not only thrusts us into a prepper’s worst nightmare, but the situation becomes exacerbated by a total shut down to the psychoactive medication / drug distribution channels. You, a family member, or prepper group member is now cut off from their prescribed psychoactive medication. Or, what if someone has been hiding an illegal addiction problem? It’s bad enough you may have to deal with the withdraw problems created by loss of cigarettes, coffee, soda beverages, energy, and power drinks.

Although the withdraw symptoms may be short lived by most people, a few days to perhaps a few weeks, we need to seriously consider the effects upon the dynamics of the family or group as a whole. All involved are already under the most extreme psychological stresses as a result of the “event.” What is likely to happen if one or two members begin to suffer withdraw symptoms when they are cut off from their routine amounts of cigarettes, coffee, soda or energy / power drinks. Maybe worse; what happens if a member succumbs to medication / drug withdraws?

Verbal and physical throw-downs will be inevitable. These clashes could be severe enough to cause members to split away from the group. Illness from the withdraw will likely result in a loss of group productivity, or strain relations when others are required to pick up the slack. And, if the symptoms are bad enough to require near constant monitoring; two group member jobs are going to suffer or become a burden upon the others. 

Other highly possible and very negative situations might include a withdraw afflicted member violating rules of operational security; giving away the retreat location, or talking about the amount of stored food, guns, or ammunition around outsiders. Or, what if the member becomes overly aggressive at an inappropriate moment toward outsiders?  

Of course, there is the very real possibility of a member, who has been cut off from antipsychotic medications, attacking and killing fellow group members.

Whatcha Gonna Do

Things could potentially become so chaotic within your group, when the SHTF, that you will want to pass out antidepressants like jellybeans at Easter. But I suppose that would be just a wee bit counterproductive (Alcohol isn't a good suggestion either. It can send a bad situation to hell in a heartbeat).

I suppose we could rigorously screen non-family members who we invite into our groups, in at least the hope of determining who is or isn't prescribed, or illegally using, psychoactive medications / drugs (without a pee test, let me know how that works out for ya). On the other hand, most of us are not going to screen out our own family members.  

As far as getting off the medications in advance of any possible event, you will have to consider the unique disorders of each member and then speak with a doctor about the best options. For some, there is no quitting without severe consequences that may never subside. Schizophrenia, for example, can be controlled but not cured. End the control, and the schizophrenia will remain for the life of the patient; as will the unpredictable and potentially violent actions associated with the disorder.

As long as we have advanced knowledge of a member’s preexisting psychological disorder, and provided it is one of the more unpredictable and chronic types, we may have to consider more extreme measures to insure the safety of the group. It might be necessary to secure all weapons under lock and key when not in use. During times when the member is becoming particularly agitated, you may need to consider the use of some form of restraints. This would be especially true when operational security is at a highest priority level.

In the case of the more common, milder types of disorders, we could take control of the member’s medications at the onset of a supply disruption, and dispense them in a manner that would “wean” the member off the meds over a period of a few weeks. Logically, this would be the gentler of what would be the only two alternatives. The other alternative being the member taking the full brunt of a cold turkey withdraw.


If / when we are faced with group members who are withdrawing from caffeine or nicotine, along with members who will be experiencing acute situational anxieties of their own, we should have plans in place that will help distract our members from focusing too intently on those anxieties. We might consider entertainment avenues such as games, or perhaps tactical training routines and the assignment of jobs to keep otherwise idle minds busy.

We have to keep in mind though; someone has to remain mentally strong enough to keep their head about them while those around them are loosing theirs. Be aware and prepare.

Last modified on Tuesday, 09 April 2013 22:20
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  • Comment Link Dan Lester Tuesday, 29 January 2013 20:10 posted by Dan Lester

    Speaking as a drug and alcohol counselor, I submit this is a valid piece. Perhaps what we should all take from it is the necessity of "knowing" who the people in your group are.

  • Comment Link mombo Tuesday, 29 January 2013 20:47 posted by mombo

    don't forget ahout TECH WITHDRAWEL.....WHEN THE GRID GOES facebook...texting.....emails.....blah ..blah...this will as well be quite interesting.....people may actually talk to one another...WOW ...

  • Comment Link synthia freemyer Tuesday, 29 January 2013 21:57 posted by synthia freemyer

    Cyclops, this was a great article you wrote. You pointed out some very real dangers people should be made aware of. It is very important all preppers to heed your advise. I will be graduating in August with a BS in psychology, and I have to say I agree with you 100%. Thanks for posting the article. It was a very interesting read.

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