The widespread availability of medicines has made it possible for us to avoid suffering in a way that no previous generation from any era could. But in many cases, drugs just mask the symptoms of our illnesses, discomforts and disorders without addressing the underlying disorder that cause them. This is not to denigrate pharmacological psychiatry and its many successes and advances, or clinical psychology, or molecular medicine. The alleviation of suffering is a natural and worthy aim, and often the only thing we can do.
But drugs can cause their own problems consequences: getting rid of heartburn with omeprazole and other proton-pump inhibitors, for example, can hide serious gastrointestinal issues, and might allow us to continue eating foods that are ultimately harmful. Benzodiazepines such as Valium dull anxiety but also create profound dependence, and they also can sidetrack investigation and treatment of underlying causes. Antidepressants, though often necessary and life-saving, have side effects including weight gain, constipation, drowsiness, nausea, blurred vision and sexual dysfunction; more worryingly, many appear to double the risk of suicidal ideation. And so on.