The Rebound Effect

Last night, I wondered why I had suddenly started breaking out in a rash. I started to get worried – great, just what I need, another ailment. Then I remembered that I had run out of my allergy medicine last week. I was experiencing the Rebound Effect.

This effect occurs when you have been medicated for so long that your body develops a dependency on the medicine. If you stop taking it, your symptoms whiplash back, flaring up at a greater extent than they would otherwise. My rebound was easily addressed by picking up the OTC allergy medicine that I have been dependent on since 9/11 – correlation, not necessarily causation.

Sometimes the remedy is not that simple, especially when you experience a rebound effect from self-medication. The current issue of Psychology Today features an article about the possible use of video games to treat ADHD, because it teaches the child to focus intently on something. It’s tempting to think this will help – just like it was tempting to think that spinners would help – but I know kids with ADHD who use video games to self-medicate for precisely this reason – it feels so good to lose themselves in the game. (Heck, even those of us who don’t have ADHD find it hard to put games down. That is a deliberate ploy by the gamemakers – and you can’t blame them.) It probably feels good, if you have ADHD, to feel like you’re in the flow, completely focused on something, and to be good at something that requires such concentration, a concentration that most of us find challenging to achieve in, for example, math class or Western World History (my high school bugaboo, which I think I slept through).

Speaking from experience, it is certainly challenging for my ADHD nephew to pull himself out of his games. And his parents will say that his behavior is far worse after he’s been playing for awhile.


I find I have the same problem with work. I hate detail work – I am efficient at it, much of the time, because I hate it so much I want it to go away as soon as possible, but just because I excel at it doesn’t mean I like it. And, when I am unhappy or worried about something, I disappear into it, focusing on each detail, working and reworking plans that are already just fine, distracting myself with busy work instead of focusing on the source of my stress.

Because the source of my stress is chronic anxiety and depression. Most people wouldn’t guess this of me because I am so functional, much of the time. If you see me disappearing into details at a ridiculous level, endlessly reworking plans, or written documents, or reports, you will know that I am self-medicating.

And get ready for the rebound. Once I am not actively distracting myself with endless details at a ridiculous level, I have to keep the plates in the air with TV or internet or chain-reading or compulsive closet-cleaning – anything, to help me avoid the rebound where, instead of disappearing into work, I disappear into depression, negative thoughts, and worry.

I have come to this realization late in life. Now that I am aware of it, I am attempting to avoid disappearing into detail-work. Unfortunately, I am too good at managing details; so training others to not give me detail work is almost as challenging as not volunteering for it.


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