Robin Williams’ tragic death has left a void along with many questions: What kind of depression could be so severe? Did his past drug or alcohol use have anything to do with it? Could a change in common treatment practices have prevented this tragedy?
Robin Williams’ life shows that alcohol and drug addiction and depression have nothing to do with one’s intelligence or talents. Rather, it is tied to the brain’s neurotransmitters. Usually at the source of severe depression, there is a genetic neurochemical imbalance, often within the serotonin, dopamine, and/or noradrenaline neurotransmitter systems. People struggling with these imbalances are more inclined to become addicted to certain kinds of substances.
Robin Williams’ history of cocaine addiction and heavy drinking are strong indicators of a dopamine neurochemical deficiency. People who suffer from depression due to a dopamine neurochemical deficiency easily become addicted to alcohol and other dopamine stimulants. Cocaine is one of the most powerful dopamine stimulants out there. Additionally, a euphoric dopamine release occurs after extended heavy drinking. Studies with rats show tracks that excite the nucleus accumbens to release dopamine and cause an imbalance are formed in the brain with even just one dose of cocaine, meaning the brain immediately gets ready for the next dose. Once those tracks have been placed and the imbalance created, individuals crave more drugs to help stay one level above depression. It can be an endless cycle.
But the dopamine neurotransmitter system is not an isolated entity. Understanding the connections that exist among the eight neurotransmitter systems involved in chemical dependency is absolutely vital to finding solutions to most chemical dependency problems that exist in our society. Why does this knowledge matter in cases like that of Robin Williams and millions of others who suffer from depression and alcoholism or perhaps cocaine addiction? Because once doctors know the source of the problem, they have betters odds of prescribing the best-suited corrective medication the first time. This, along with intense therapy, can then pull them out of their severe depression. If more psychiatrists and other doctors focused on the vast influence that neurotransmitters have in behavioral and mental health, there would be a lot more successful detoxifications and treatments, with fewer relapses and more lives saved.
Many of us could identify with Mr. Robin Williams because, in spite of being a wonderful person, he still faced the same struggles many of us encounter. One out of ten Americans struggle with some form of substance abuse and many more suffer from depression. Robin Williams suffered from severe depression and had bouts with alcohol and drug addiction, yet he was known for his incredible career, kindness and extraordinary personality. Robin Williams’ life reminded us to not let our struggles define us, but rather continue to overcome them and strive to be something better. May Robin Williams’ death remind us of the necessity to seek help and reach out to those in need of our support.
Note: This is an abridged version of Dr. Von Stieff’s article which can be found in its entirety in on The Sober World website, the October edition. You can also learn more about his treatment methods and Brain In Balance book on his YouTube Channel.