Blue Dreams

Narrated by: Betsy Foldes Meiman
Length: 13 hrs and 33 mins
4.1 out of 5 stars (277 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A groundbreaking and revelatory history of our major psychotropic drugs, from "a thoroughly exhilarating and entertaining writer." (Washington Post).  

Although one in five Americans now takes at least one psychotropic drug, the fact remains that nearly 70 years after doctors first began prescribing them, we still don't know exactly how or why these drugs work - or don't work - on what ails our brains. Blue Dreams offers the explosive story of the discovery, invention, people, and science behind our licensed narcotics, as told by a riveting writer and psychologist who shares her own intimate experience with the highs and lows of psychiatry's drugs. Lauren Slater's account ranges from the earliest, Thorazine and lithium, up through Prozac and other antidepressants, as well as Ecstasy, "magic mushrooms", the most cutting-edge memory drugs, and even neural implants. Along the way, she narrates the history of psychiatry itself, illuminating the imprint its colorful little capsules have left on millions of brains worldwide, and demonstrating how these wonder drugs may heal us or hurt us.

©2018 Lauren Slater (P)2018 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"Weaving together the history of psychopharmacology and her personal experience as a patient, Slater offers readers a candid and compelling glimpse at life on psychiatric drugs and the science behind them . . . Intriguing and instructive." (Booklist)

"Smart, charming, iconoclastic, and inquisitive." (Peter Kramer, author of Listening to Prozac)

"Slater is more poet than narrator, more philosopher than psychologist, more artist than doctor.... Every page brims with beautifully rendered images of thoughts, feelings, emotional states." (San Francisco Chronicle)

"Betsy Foldes-Meiman's clear, down-to-earth narration complements the author's personal approach to her subject... The well-paced narration aids the listener in following the myriad historical events and scientific details." (AudioFile)

What listeners say about Blue Dreams

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Sobering

Lauren Slater was very thorough in her research of the history of mental health treatments. Her reviews of psychotropic drugs have extra meaning, since she is also a "client" who has experienced many of these drugs herself. I work in the mental health field as a counselor so the science of how each drug works in the brain was immensely helpful. I finished the book with more caution about the use of any drug than I was before (hence my review tile), and more open to hallucinogenics for certain cases. Very interesting read.

63 people found this helpful

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Interesting personal and historical perspective on mental health:

Overall, I enjoyed and would recommend this book, but was a bit off put by the too personal perspectives and constant bashing of the pharmaceutical profession (disclosure: I work in this industry but also have personal experience with severe mental ‘variation’.). I agree with many of the authors perspectives, including the potential value of holistic and non-traditional therapies, but hope the economic bias inherent in our profession remains a minor and manageable issue. For those of us involved in bringing ethical, safe and effective treatment options to our patients, their wellbeing is always the highest priority. I also believe we’ll-conducted research is necessary before recommending any therapy to a patient since all, even psycho-, behavioral and regression, therapies carry risks which need to be understood and weighed against benefits for each individual patient. Enjoy this journey...

52 people found this helpful

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If it were fiction she'd be an unreliable narrator

The author has been on pysch meds for 40 years and says they've destroyed her health, yet she keeps piling them on and trying new ones. But the most disturbing part is when she's interviewing a man who's conducting one of the only legal studies on MDMA (Ecstasy) if he'd give her two pills so she and her husband can take them together to save their marriage. Wow. Bad judgment and boundaries. She's asking this man to risk his career and really? One dose is going to save their marriage? He says no because she's taking an SSRI (bet that easy out was a relief). But she goes to a therapist and tries to convince her to give her Ecstasy. The therapist won't. Yet the author won't get it from the street? Seriously? She's taking/has taken everything under the sun. She's worried about illegal Ecstasy? So she doesn't get any and remains convinced that even though she and her husband are now divorced that one day they'll take it together and hopefully get back together. The author's writing was excellent and it seems like her research at least seemed sound, but I had a hard time trusting what she said. I'm just not sure someone who worships at the alter of any available drug is someone I can trust.

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Pronunciation!!

Please make sure readers know how to pronounce all the words, and please tell editors to step their game to catch the glaring errors. There were several throughout the book, and my ears hurt so much I could barely make it through the Ketamine section.

5 people found this helpful

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update on the state treatment for mental illness

story is told from both the personal and historical perspective. a useful reality check for those of us managing mental illness of our loved ones.

11 people found this helpful

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It's autobiographical & it's incredibly education

I worked in psych for my career. I found this book highly educational and was a great review of psych meds. though I disagree with the author on Timothy Leary politicizing LSD. I believe it was a political assault by Nixion on the counter culture. Otherwise her courage and lose are clear. An getting an education on psycho active drugs is priceless.

15 people found this helpful

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Hardly objective

I read this after hearing an NPR interview with the author. Thinking it would offer a valuable perspective on the future of the treatment of mental illness. Instead, while it includes a seemingly comprehensive history of the treatment of mental illness, the author goes on to paint a damning picture of modern psychiatry. Though I don’t know enough to identify the specific flaws in her logical, it seems obvious that she cherrypicked her information to present a particularly frightening perspective of psychiatric medications. Read this book with caution.

46 people found this helpful

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Very informative book

Very informative book and I appreciate the objectivity in which it was written. I also appreciated the mixture of historical information and the author’s personal journey. That said, at times, the language was a bit too flowery for me. Still a very good book!

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Hope for Help

Lauren Slater is both a psychologist and a patient. She writes about the development of the drugs psychiatry has used to treat people with mental illness, spending a chapter on each type beginning with Thorazine in the 1950s, but also interspersing the book with her own personal experience with depression. We know at least the basic causes of most chronic diseases and therefore we can develop drugs that can directly focus on the fundamental problem, blood thinners to reduce the risk of strokes, insulin to treat diabetes, and we can continue to develop drugs following similar strategies to do an even better job while reducing the side effects. But, even though there are many promising theories, no one really knows what causes mental illnesses. We can know that certain areas of the brain do control certain things, but what’s the underlying cause. Some people with chronic depression are helped by drugs that increase serotonin, but some people with high serotonin levels also have chronic depression, and some people with low serotonin levels have no chronic depression.  For decades, mental illness was thought to be caused by external factors, distant parents, clinging parents, fears, traumatic (even minor ones) events in childhood or adulthood. It was not until the mid-20th century that the idea that mental illness could be caused by a chemical imbalance. But, we still don’t have a deep understanding of how that works. So, all the significant drugs for mental illness have come about by accident--in testing another drug for some other illness, they found that it affected a person’s mental state. And, often they must be taken for life, while gradually losing effectiveness over time, thus requiring ever stronger doses while also causing serious side effects that may be shortening the patient’s life significantly.  The author takes a fairly balanced view of the problems and solutions, which I think would be hard to do when you are also a patient. She agrees that mental illness is often due to external factors, often during childhood, though also due to traumatic events as an adult (PTSD, for example), and also is often a chemical imbalance, and even more likely is a combination of both. She believes in talk therapy and also believes in medication, but also thinks that our society often goes too far in one direction or the other and that currently we are too willing to rely on medication. She herself has been dependent on medication for 35 years and is still not confident that she is better because of it, at least when looking at the long term. She says, “Thanks to psychiatry’s drugs, I have a mind that can appreciate the beauty around me, but on the other hand, thanks to psychiatry’s drugs, I am dying faster than you are.” She also spends a bit of time discussing natural ‘drugs’ like lithium (not a chemical composition but a natural element) and “magic mushrooms.” She also looks at the hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD and Ketamine that were misused and put under strict control such that they can’t be effectively studied anymore, even though there is evidence that under controlled doses they can help certain mental illnesses to the point that they problem goes away and the drugs can be discontinued. She does push for bringing them back into the research stream and believes that they may become the future of psychiatric medication.  If you’re interested in a deep understanding of mental illness and psychiatric therapy, this book won’t satisfy you, but if you just want to understand it better, it does a pretty good job. Sometimes the transition between the science and history to her own personal history is a bit abrupt, and yet I’d like to have heard more of her personal experiences. She does describe vividly her own breakdowns, lapses into paranoia, and departures from reality. She had been hospitalized five times between the ages of 13 and 24. But, the book begins with her walking through an abandoned mental institution as a reminder of what we used to do with people with mental and psychotic disorders. Everything had been left in place after it closed down. In one room she picked up an old dusty pillow on a bed and found a note under the pillow with one word, “Help.” The book is not really a book of answers, but of some partial answers and lots of questions. But, at least there is now some hope of help. 

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Very interesting and useful book

I listened the book with great interest. The history of development of psychoactive and therapeutic drugs is amazingly fascinating. Author combines historical perspective and personal struggles with mental desease with great skill. I also liked philosophical aspect of the book.