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Taking beta blockers for auditions

Competitions: Auditioning with or without taking beta blockers? What is your experience with using beta blockers while playing; any bad experieces? I have heard that there are no side effects, but one has to wonder,...

From Autumn V
Posted May 18, 2005 at 09:18 PM

Auditioning with or without taking beta blockers? What is your experience with using beta blockers while playing; any bad experieces? I have heard that there are no side effects, but one has to wonder,...

From nate r
Posted on May 18, 2005 at 10:19 PM
If you need them, you don't know what you are doing bottom line. Stay away from drugs. BTW one of the main side effects of beta blockers is impotence.
From Preston Hawes
Posted on May 19, 2005 at 12:43 AM
Nate...common now. We've had this discussion before and how such comments are not constructive in the least.

Autumn, beta blockers are a last resort. They should not be used as a crutch but to deal with debilatating problems. They do not get rid of nerves, they only help your body control and deal with excess adrenaline rushes. Ask your doctor, do a search in the archives here, look it up on the net, and ultimately decide for yourself, but try everything else first.

There...that's a contructive answer.

Preston

P.S. Nate, the impotence is not lasting. Only while the drug is in the system. With a name like Autumn I doubt she has much to worry about.

From nate r
Posted on May 19, 2005 at 01:19 AM
Preston I don't see how my comments are/were non-constructive. My comment about the side effect of impotence was directed for everyone. It indeed is a side effect among many others which I think are good to know about. This might sound rather absurd but I even think for athletes a controlled cycle of anabolic steroids monitored by a doctor is more legit and makes an actual positive difference in performance more so than using these beta blockers for a musician.

It is good to get nervous and the only way to deal with nerves is to get up there and face them. Going out on stage and playing the Brahms concerto is not like performing surgery. There is nothing on the line, no one's life at risk. The best way to deal with insomnia is to sleep much as the best way to deal with tension and nervousness is to relax. None of the teachers I have studied with used these beta blockers drugs or for that matter supported them in any way cause they knew what they were doing.

I know some professionals that have taken them but I don't think they really have a technical understanding of what they are doing so they take these drugs to sweep the dust under the carpet so to speak. Having a problem performing is all mental and I think it is even a good idea to talk to specialists much like athletes talk about their problems with sports psychologists if there is an issue about performing. I think a great teacher or coach can sometimes be that solution, someone who has not just taught in the classroom but someone who has had the performance experience.

From Preston Hawes
Posted on May 19, 2005 at 04:59 AM
Nate,

"This might sound rather absurd but I even think for athletes a controlled cycle of anabolic steroids monitored by a doctor is more legit and makes an actual positive difference in performance more so than using these beta blockers for a musician."

You're right, that is absurd.

Perhaps you didn't fully read my post. Beta blockers DO NOT take the nerves away. If you are nervous about a performance, you are still going to be nervous on beta blockers. It does not remove nerves. At least not in my experience.

The only thing that beta blockers do is help level out too much adrenaline which can be very detrimental to one's playing. A complete lack of adrenaline is just as bad. Beta blockers, when taken in proper dose, level out that burst of adrenaline that causes debilitating shakes or muscle locks. There are certain performances where I will be nervous because there is someone in the audience that I care about, or it is a competition (I always get butterflies for those) etc. Beta Blockers DO NOT rid one of nerves if they are going to have them about the performance. They DO rid one of nerves if the only thing they are worried about in the performance are the muscle spasms.

Anyway, I know this is a pointless discussion because we've had it before yet you continue to argue that those of us who use beta blockers don't know what we are doing with a violin.

Nathan, I use beta blockers and I can assure you it has NOTHING to do with lack of preparation or lack of technique. I can post a sound clip if you like...

Preston

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on May 19, 2005 at 05:13 AM
Post one with spasms and then take the blockers and post that too like a before and after.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on May 19, 2005 at 05:27 AM
I will don my bullet proof vest and enter the fray again. Please don't shoot to kill.

I just did a Google search on "beta blocker performance anxiety," and I found a very good discussion of the subject here

Here are a few excerpts:

"Beta blockers can significantly worsen some medical conditions. As a general rule, beta blockers should not be used in asthmatic people. Beta blockers can worsen congestive heart failure, Raynaud's syndrome, and diabetes."

"Musicians who take beta blockers often do so in small doses and only on special occasions, so they may experience no side effects at all from their use. However, many side effects have been reported."

"Beta blockers don't make you play better by themselves; they just relieve physical problems resulting from the fight or flight response. On the other hand, some musicians feel that adrenalin helps their performing, giving them an edge that adds intensity to the performance."

"Beta blockers have not been shown to directly improve a musician's emotional state, except to the extent that some musicians feel better when their physical problems are relieved. If your performance anxiety shows itself mainly in psychological ways (e.g. negative inner voices), beta blockers will not help you."

There are a lot more references to discussions on this topic.

From Jessica Hung
Posted on May 19, 2005 at 05:41 AM
I recall reading some of these arguments in the archives. I agree with Preston, and while Nate is certainly entitled to his no drug tolerance opinion, I simply don't agree with his statement that "If you need them, you don't know what you are doing bottom line." People consider using beta-blockers for very different and personal reasons, and to say that everyone who uses them doesn't know what they're doing is to diss a very large number of musicians, frankly.

It also sounds to me like Nate is using the impotence side effect more to scare people away from the drugs than to give them helpful information. As Preston pointed out, this side effect (which is probably generally less of a problem for women) lasts only while one is under the influence of the drug. Some anti-depressants also have similar sexual side effects.

I agree that it is important to work on one's mental strength, and it would be wonderful if every musician in the world could perform without shakes or spasms. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Performance anxiety is a complex psychological issue, and everyone experiences it in a different way. As Preston pointed out, the drug does not affect your nerves or your mental state in any way; it merely reduces the physical side effects of the body's fight or flight response. It is still up to every musician, with or without drugs, to learn to foster a positive mental state, to silence the inner critic, to become more in touch with the zone, or whatever you want to call it. Beta-blockers merely serve as an aid, not a cure.

Also, kudos to Pauline for her above post. That sounds like quite accurate information.

From Preston Hawes
Posted on May 19, 2005 at 05:53 AM
Jim,

My offer of a sound clip post would be to demonstrate technical proficiency. Not that my playing is really needed as a demonstratin of technically proficient performers out there that use beta blockers. I think we would all be VERY surprised to find how many of our modern "idols" use them.

Anway, I don't believe I have a recent recording of my playing that shows muscle spasms...either using or not using beta blockers (as I don't use them for every single performance by any means).

Preston

From Evelyn Ray
Posted on May 19, 2005 at 10:34 AM
I'm a real introvert. My shyness has been close to dibilitating throughout my life. For me a beta-blocker has been a God send. I will never, ever know how I rang my teacher's doorbell for my first lesson, but I did. I wanted to learn that badly. The first few lessons were sheer torture, though, until I consulted my doctor. We found what works for me.

If I were younger, perhaps I would work on trying to figure out an alternative. But I have the luxury of being senile now, so I can cheat, take the easy way, or cop out, which are a few phrases we will see enter the discussion soon.

From Sarah Benedict
Posted on May 19, 2005 at 11:33 AM
Nate...I will side with you.
I don't like the idea of people taking drugs so they can perform better. It is different if you have been diagnosed with a real issue by a doctor or psychologist and this helps with everyday life. But there is a problem that needs to be fixed, and I am not sure popping pills...the easy way out...is going to really cure you.
I get practically sick with panic attacks prior to any performance, so I understand anxiety. But I am also learning it is because I have some perceptions in my mind about self image and this idea of "perfection" and my fear of failure, fear of success...these are things I feel should be looked at and talked over before I take drugs to control them.
Do you watch Dr. Phill? I feel this situation is kind of like he approaches dieting...you can't fix an emotional or mental block with a quick fix. You need to find the actual problem and start there.
I just feel strongly about not taking the drugs. But people are free to do as they wish I suppose.
From nate r
Posted on May 19, 2005 at 03:55 PM
"People consider using beta-blockers for very different and personal reasons, and to say that everyone who uses them doesn't know what they're doing is to diss a very large number of musicians, frankly."

Jessica I'm not insulting anyone but I certainly do believe the people that resort to these drugs don't have a real understanding of the physical effects the body takes under performance pressures. I have never studied with anyone that uses these drugs and find it rather amateurish and wimpy to have to use these drugs in order to perform well. I don't think getting shakes is a complicated pscychological issue. If one has prepared properly in the practice room before the concert the performance will go well and vice versa. Heifetz used to say to students that they had to be prepared 150 percent before going out on stage because according to him there would be an approximate 40 percent decrease and reversion when out on stage. Auer even suggested in his book if one could not face the pressures of performing that that person should think of something else to do. In the long run it takes nerves of steel to be a performer and getting nervous and using that adrenaline the right way can add to the whole excitement of a performance. I've heard stories of people also saying their worst performances were after they took Inderol.

From Christina Wilke
Posted on May 20, 2005 at 03:24 AM
I have actually taken Inderol, as has my father (who is also a musician).
I hadn't done many auditions or competitions before my college auditions. My father suggested trying them- so I did. I can't tell you that they helped or didn't help. I'm in college and I know that I had four very good auditions. I've never been a terribly nervous person but I do (or, rather, did) have a problem with really cold, clammy, shaky hands before events. The Inderol did take that away. It did not take away the excitement or energy and I knew what I was doing at all times. It does not affect your thoughts or anything like that.
I also do not think it enhances the performance, neccessarily. Let's face it- if you can't play a particular passage while you're practicing then you won't play it when the time comes. Yes, it will make it easier for you to achieve it, but it's not going to make anything work suddenly. Some people eat a bushel of bananas which is proven to help calm nerves. It's not through the exact same process, but chemicals from those bananas are affecting your brain's chemistry. That's not considered wrong is it?

I'm not trying to say that it's wrong to believe that they are wrong. I think we can all agree to disagree on that. However, I don't think we need to be resentful towards those who decide to take them. I decided to never take them again. I didn't want to become dependent on them to make me feel safe. I didn't have a bad experience with them but I feel that it was better, for me, to learn how to do without them.

From Kelsey Z.
Posted on May 20, 2005 at 04:26 PM
http://www.cbc.ca/studiosparks/features.html

The last item on this page talks about dealing with nerves and the anxiety of performing. It even touches on the exact issue of clammy and cold hands.

From Bill Platt
Posted on May 20, 2005 at 05:42 PM
As Huxley said, "Brave New World."
From Sarah Benedict
Posted on May 20, 2005 at 08:41 PM
Bill-- I got a good laugh over that! :)
From John Lanceley
Posted on May 20, 2005 at 09:06 PM
Bananas are a fantastic cure for nerves, just like a good run is a cure for depression. I have turned into bananaman, I cant get enough of them now.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on May 20, 2005 at 09:20 PM
Speaking of which, I've got to point out a flaw in Christina's logic. The argument isn't over consuming things, but their effect, known and unknown. You could just as meaningfully argue people smoke tobacco, so why not crack?

I don't have a position on drugs. But I'm somewhere between Puritan and junkie.

From Bill Platt
Posted on May 20, 2005 at 09:21 PM
If Bananas calm nerves, then I must be the calmest on the planet!/not!:^)

I have frequently eaten 8 bananas in one day. (I have also eaten 1/2 pound of Macadamia nuts in one sitting, a whole loaf of challa in one afternoon, a dozen oranges, 8 cups of tea, 5 apples in one afternoon, an entire 2 lb bag of pretzels after lunch, 6 yogurts for lunch, a wheel of camembaert in one sitting, 1/2 pound of raisins........and no I am not fat.)

From John Lanceley
Posted on May 20, 2005 at 10:07 PM
Oh no what have I done. Please use bananas responsibly and in moderation :-)
From Kelsey Z.
Posted on May 20, 2005 at 10:10 PM
Lol, Bill! I just finished reading that book last week. What a bizarre ending....
From Anna Rose Lawrence
Posted on May 22, 2005 at 03:34 AM
wow, do bananas really help with nerves? because i played (according to my teacher) the best i have ever have (for a competition, and i don't like competitions), after practically living on bananas for several days..... hmmmmm.......
From Adam Crane
Posted on June 9, 2005 at 08:14 PM
Beta Blockers are not the solution. Helpful Audition MAstery Guide and Mentor network available. Visit www.craneclassical.com
From Patty Rutins
Posted on June 9, 2005 at 08:27 PM
Any time you consider taking a medication, you should most certainly consult your doctor -- and your pharmacist. Different beta blockers have different interactions with other drugs, and taking them regularly you'll certainly experience side-effects. It probably won't be apparent with incidental, tiny dosages, but the side-effects that various family members have had include increased sensitivity to heat/humidity, swollen feet, significant weight gain, headaches, mild to severe mood swings, and potassium deficiency.

Please be cautious with any pharmaceuticals, especially if you're self-medicating for undiagnosed issues.

From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on June 9, 2005 at 10:53 PM
"I don't like the idea of people taking drugs so they can perform better. It is different if you have been diagnosed with a real issue by a doctor or psychologist and this helps with everyday life. But there is a problem that needs to be fixed, and I am not sure popping pills...the easy way out...is going to really cure you."

Um...so you are saying that if you have a psychological problem, go to the psychiatrist, get a prescription for the legit problem, take them regularly, but for some reason, don't take them to perform? Or go to your medical doctor, find out you have a problem such as tachachardia or arithmia or an adrenal gland problem...and take prescription medication for it, which is fine, but to take it to control your health on stage is wrong? I just don't get it. Popping pills. I don't know anyone who has abused a beta blocker for recreational high. It doesn't affect you like that. I think that it is very offensive and quite closed minded to make statements about whether or not someone should take a medication or not. I show up at my doctor's office and say "I quit taking my medicine" and he says why, that is dangerous, and I say "because people thought it made my playing a lie. That it was performance inhancing..." Picture? Besides. Life is full of performing. Every day we have to perform every minute. Quality of life depends on how well we can perform tasks to emotions to thought. Playing violin in front of people is a portion of that. Would you tell a diabetic not to take his insulin because it makes him healthy enough to play well? If an anemic takes iron pills, is that "popping pills" in order to get an edge on the competition? No. It enables them to function where they would, if they didn't have a problem. Remember. Beta blockers are PRESCRIBED BY A DOCTOR. I think that they should be the ones to decide if you need them, to weigh the pros and cons, and to consider possible side effects. Just because none of your teachers had to take them, doesn't mean that the whole world is the same way. I hate these discussions because, really, there are so many cheap shots in them. The stigma that one should be able to control their body and mind and emotions without medication and if you can't then you are a flawed human being...the idea that it is a weakness of will or character to need antidepressants and not just snap out of it by changing your lifestyle...it is all part of the same societal misunderstanding of illness. Anyone who has been sick or who has had to deal with the very real and very HARD issues associated with being sick, might not appreciate being told by someone who has not had that struggle, that they aren't competant, are weak, or should dig deeper into the "real" issues underlying the problem. Sometimes a medical/mental illness IS what is the underlying factor. And to deny treatment for it because the medication is MISTAKENLY viewed as a drug which gives an unfair advantage or which plays the violin itself...he he....
anyway. If you've ever taken the drug, you'd know that it is not like that at all. And there are side effect sometimes, yes. And you can react badly from it, yes. But...so? THat is everything you put in your body. You have to be smart and do what your body needs. As for bananas, if you don't have a deficiency in potassium to start out with, I don't see how putting more than the needed amount in would help. I haven't heard people discuss much about the many violinists who drink alcohol before they perform. Why is a medication more of a hot topic than something that really IS what some people think beta blockers are? I'll stop now, because I'm just riled up. I'll be honest and say that I have been very offended from a few posts on this thread and greatful for some of the ones which try to inform. I just wish that if people can't answer the question that pops up over and over with decency and respect and honesty, then they shouldn't say anything. By the way....anxiety IS considered a REAL psychological problem for which treatment is sought. It isn't just the biproduct of negative thinking.
Sals,
JW

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on June 10, 2005 at 12:56 AM
The fact that it's prescribed by a doctor is meaningless. You can ask a doctor for whatever you want, from whatever ad you saw on tv for instance, and he'll prescribe it if it's used for your condition. He'll also recommend a prescription or operation instead of a simple but difficult change in diet or behavior, which he isn't really interested in dealing with.

If you wanted to try the blockers, you'd ask him for them. You wouldn't just sit there and hope he'd prescribe them.

The people who are opposing them might be doing it for puritanical reasons, or they might be considering personal development and character. What happens to those concepts when you short circuit them, and what growth has occured? Everyone has their problems and all of them probably have a physical basis, ultimately.

I don't support or oppose them. The only important thing to me is thoughtful informed choice.

From Christina Wilke
Posted on June 10, 2005 at 02:22 AM
There are some doctors who have suggested it to me (when I was younger) and there are some doctors who I've heard have turned it down. However, that being said, I also find it a bit offensive that people consider it wrong or false to use them. I prefer not taking them anymore but I did take them before I got into college. In fact, I took them for my auditions into college. I don't think that I was cheating and that it gave me an unfair advantage. Yes, it did make me more comfortable, but I can tell you I still missed a lot of notes and that I still didn't play like I do when practicing. Now, I prefer chocolate to do the job- some would prefer lots of caffeine. But for some it may be a HUGE help. I don't think it's fair for any of us to judge anyone. We're all different- some of us are very confident and some are very nervous. I think it's fair for anyone to use whatever they need.
On the subject of side effects- they are fairly rare, at least anything major. Some people will get a headache while on the medication and will say it's due to the inderol. It may be, but it could be for many other reasons. If you take it as prescribed, it shouldn't create any unwanted side effects. Let's just be fair to everyone- some violinists here may not feel it's right for them, but don't put others down. It doesn't make any of the violinists (taking inderol) any less of musicians.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 10, 2005 at 02:59 AM
Discussions get heated when people view taking or not taking medications as a moral issue. I'd like to return to the biological considerations. Beta blockers do not affect performance anxiety. Rather, they affect some of the symptoms of anxiety: rapid pulse, sweaty hands, reddened face, etc. Some people feel much more comfortable, focus better, and therefore play better, when they don't have these bodily manifestations of anxiety. There are other medications which affect anxiety directly.

There is often a burden of guilt attached to taking meds that affect the mind/brain. I would not preach for or against taking any meds that affect the mind. I would encourage people to learn about meds and give careful thought to taking them.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 10, 2005 at 03:23 AM
As I said in an earlier post, I recommend reading this for a good discussion of beta blockers.
From Pieter Viljoen
Posted on June 10, 2005 at 04:48 AM
Personally I think there is nothing morally wrong with it, however if you want to be a performer I say get over it.

It comes with the territory. Those who came before you did it, so there's no reason you can't either. It's a fear that should be conquered, not something that should have its physical manifestations slightly pacified.

From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on June 10, 2005 at 05:50 AM
O.k. Get over it? Let me share something briefly (for once). I went to a summer music camp and was determined to overcome my use of inderal for playing (I'm talking about even practicing...playing at all). So I didn't get my refill. I didn't take any. My first lesson, my teacher there asked what about my playing would I like to focus on, what I thought the biggest issue was. He is a very reputable and accomplished violinist. I said that I shake and would like to find some way to technically compensate for it. He had me put down my violin and hold out my arms. I'm not exaggerating when I say that my whole body shakes. My hands and arms the worst. Sometimes my neck, which shakes the violin. Sometimes even my lips shake, and my legs shake so my whole body is unstable. He kind of paused and then I tried playing. Now, I was also nervous. I wanted to make a good impression. I really badly wanted to learn to play without it. I couldn't play anything. So we stopped and he said that he couldn't help me with it, I should see a doctor. He mentioned that he had another student who had tremors and nerves and that she took a beta blocker, but that he'd never seen someone with shaking as hard as mine. I had not said a word to him about anything personal. THat I had been on them. Or anything like that. I refused to give up. THis was a competitive camp. I'll spare the specifics, but it was such a failure, and I failed to be able to play for anything, that I ended up so discouraged. Actually, I ended up in the emergency room where I was transferred away and ended up leaving camp with all my stuff there. I had to come back and get it later. It totally ruined my reputation there. They would not accept my application any other time I submitted it. So. Get over it? It comes with the territory? THat isn't the only time I've tried to stop using them. Every time it has been disasterous, so I no longer see the point because I don't have to prove anything to anyone. I want to be more focused on the joys of playing and where I might take myself with it. So I will post nothing else on this thread. And if another one comes up in a few months, I am not going to read the responses because I know that it is o.k. for me to take them, and I also know that I anger easily when someone says that if I want to be a real violinist and performer that I must stop taking them. As for doctors prescribing anything you ask them to, that is as personal as the person coming into the office. I've seen both sides of that. There are good doctors and bad doctors just like there are good mechanics and bad mechanics. Judge it on how well your car works, not at the reasons behind the decision or method.
Sals,
JW
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on June 10, 2005 at 06:34 AM
You have every right and at least if it's a physical issue no one here would disagree if they had the facts. Regardless, you can't let things people say bother you, here or offline.

I had a friend and co-worker and as I passed through the lab sometimes I'd see him soldering something, I'd pay attention because it's interesting to see how people work, a bit like guys and a car with the hood up, and he would be shaking, but of course not nervous at all. If he hadn't been able to do the work, no one would tell him to get over it and say he shouldn't take medication to stop it. Some people just shake for some reason. Nothing wrong with taking something to stop it if need be. You shake when you aren't nervous, so I think it's the same as your situation. I would just be keeping my fingers crossed about the long term side effects, if any.

From Patty Rutins
Posted on June 10, 2005 at 03:31 PM
I don't think the discussion here is really about people for whom beta blockers are a legitimate answer to an ongoing problem -- high blood pressure, migraines, shaking, or other conditions for which they're commonly prescribed.

My understanding is that many performers keep a small supply that they don't take every day, but will use to overcome the specific symptoms of performance. Whether to do this is a personal decision, which has to be based on each person's experience.

I've never taken beta-blockers, and if I can help it, I never will. That isn't because I'm puritanical (okay, I sort-of am -- I prefer not to take an aspirin if I can help it, though I do), but because I've had close personal experience with people who have taken beta-blockers for things like tachycardia, migraines and high blood pressure.

They were legitimately prescribed, of course, and medication is absolutely necessary in their cases. The side effects, however, were in one case absolutely unmanageable. I'm certainly overreacting; he was on the medication for more than five years before it got really bad. But to say that side effects aren't an issue when prescribed by a doctor is misleading -- you just accept the side effects and deal with them.

Yes, you can request just about any non-dangerous medication from your doctor; s/he might or might not give it to you, but many will. I've self-diagnosed, gone to the doctor and said "this is what I have, give me the cure", and it worked. (I was right. :)) Beta-blockers, though prescription drugs, are hardly controlled substances and, as was stated above, aren't recreationally abused... (I'm trying to imagine that...)

So my point is:
1) if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Yeah, I could probably fix my bow shakes with drugs, but they're really not bad enough to worry about.
2) if is *is* broke, go to a doctor and find out what it is.
3) if the above doesn't work for you, do as you please. But please be careful. :)

From Jesse Irons
Posted on June 10, 2005 at 04:32 PM
I find it vaguely creepy to watch someone perform who uses beta-blockers to calm performance jitters. It's difficult to put my finger on exactly what... but something just seems off. I suppose it is only detectable and disturbing when I know the performer personally and they seem like someone else entirely while on stage. Does anyone else feel this way about watching Inderol-assisted performances?

For those considering beta-blockers for performance, please please please be careful with the stuff (Inderol has been nicknamed "end-it-all") and only consider it after you have explored all other options - there are many.

From Christina Wilke
Posted on June 10, 2005 at 06:59 PM
I've never noticed this. Perhaps it seems this way because you know they are on it. My father is a conductor and uses inderol- it doesn't change him at all, except for the fact that it helps him with his nerves. He has it prescribed medically due to some extreme physical problems without them. There are probably a lot of performances we see that are with the help of inderol and we may not realize it. I'm not saying that it doesn't affect anyone in that way, but medically all it does is relieves the physical effects. I've seen videotapes of myself using it (from many years ago, I don't use it anymore) and I look just as normal and passionate about the music as I do now.
From Pieter Viljoen
Posted on June 10, 2005 at 07:30 PM
I said get over it not knowing that you have some horrible mini earthquake going on in your body.

To be brutally honest, I don't see how one could be a good performer with such a dihabilitating trait. If the beta blockers help you and don't have any negative side effects, then I'm sure it's the best option for you.

From Jesse Irons
Posted on June 10, 2005 at 11:16 PM
No - I have actually had a hunch that someone was using inderol and been correct about it 5 or 6 times. Only with people I know already. It's not like the performances are worse - they just seem somehow "easier" but not necessarily in a good way... hard to put into words.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 11, 2005 at 03:34 AM
I wish my doctor would prescribe whatever I tell him to.

Beta blockers, like all drugs, have side effects. Most musicians who use beta blockers take relatively small doses and only take them before performances or auditions, so they are less likely to have adverse reactions than people who take them chronically. However, if you have asthma or take potassium supplements, it would be prudent to avoid taking beta blockers.

Beta blockers reduce the physical symptoms of performance anxiety. There are other medications and nondrug treatments for anxiety itself.

I would say that if you really need beta blockers or any other drugs, you should take them. Don't make yourself miserable. Just be aware of what you're doing and how it may affect you.

From Gregg Michalak
Posted on June 11, 2005 at 04:01 AM
Dear Pauline,

Yes, I concur completely. I take 10 mg.(which is a very small does) only for events which I know are big enough or important enough that I will be nervous for. As I stated in another response, the more you perform, the more de-sensitized you are apt to become. There is no danger of getting hooked on this type of drug. Gregg

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on June 11, 2005 at 04:28 AM
Pauline, your doctor would prescribe anything you asked him for if he knew it was used to treat a condition you had.
From Neil Cameron
Posted on June 11, 2005 at 03:11 PM
"The fact that it's prescribed by a doctor is meaningless. You can ask a doctor for whatever you want, from whatever ad you saw on tv for instance, and he'll prescribe it if it's used for your condition. He'll also recommend a prescription or operation instead of a simple but difficult change in diet or behavior, which he isn't really interested in dealing with."

Sorry Jim, but that's just an out and out generalisation with only minimal basis in fact. Most doctors I know take all aspects of patient care seriously. Certainly very few would ever prescribe anything simply because the patient asked them to.

That doesn't preclude a patient discussing a set of symptoms or condition with a doctor and asking to be prescribed something to treat that condition. However, if the doctor believed the requested drug inappropriate or didn't believe that the symptoms or condition warranted treatment of that nature then they are very unlikely to accede to the patient's request.

As to those pushing (and it is the right word) to use beta-blockers for some minor performance anxiety, I wonder how many of them get up in arms when an athlete is busted for steroids. Exactly the same concept; different methods, different actions, different side-effects, but exactly the same concept. In fact, beta-blockers are, I believe, on the banned list for sports; specifically target shooting. (I think)

Personally, I would prefer to avoid any drug for which I don't have a specific MEDICAL need.

Neil

From Evelyn Ray
Posted on June 11, 2005 at 04:43 PM
"The fact that it's prescribed by a doctor is meaningless. You can ask a doctor for whatever you want, from whatever ad you saw on tv for instance, and he'll prescribe it if it's used for your condition. He'll also recommend a prescription or operation instead of a simple but difficult change in diet or behavior, which he isn't really interested in dealing with."

If you have such an irresponsible doctor, run out the door now.

I'm quite an introvert. Shyness has been like a disease for me. Strangely ehough, at my job I can stand up and give a presentation in front of a bunch of suits without breaking a sweat, but put me in a social situation and I'm in real pain and misery.

It took all the will I could muster to attend my first lesson 2 years ago. A month into it, I was still sweating bullets and shaking. I went to see my doctor and discussed it with him and asked if there was a drug that would help me. I had thought of Paxil, since it is prescribed for anxiety. He already knew about beta-blockers being used by performers (not only musicians). After a lot of dicussion he left the room and then returned and gave me some websites to take home and do some research. I was to come back in a month to discuss it.

I returned and told him that the nervousness was debilitating and was threatening my continuing the violin. I have been on blood pressure medication for 5 years. A lot of beta-blockers are just the meds that were used for lowering blood pressure before more effective meds came along. Together, we decided to try it. He prescribed a low mg bb (not Inderal).

I took one 2 hours before my lesson 2 weeks in a row. I called and told him that it appeared to have no effect at all. I was still struggling. He told me to try 2. That did it. I was calm for my lessons and the horrible shaking went away. Some shaking was still there but it was manageable. I also used them when I knew I was playing for a group of family and friends. I'd say I was taking 10 of them a month.

As I've gotten to know my teacher and gained some confidence I have begun to relax. I don't really use them that often, but for 6 months they were a Godsend. I could never have continued with the violin as I was.

BTW, I will soon be 54 and I have no intentions of "performing" as a soloist (nor do I have any dellusions that I ever could) but I would like to play in a community orchestra someday. I wouldn't hesitate to return to them at that time until I could relax.

Personally, I would not still be playing were it not for them. Of course, if i were 21 and had my life before me, I may have sought alternatives, but this was the route for me.

Make no mistake, my doctor was very careful about my mindset and dug deep before prescribing them. It was never an "open" prescription.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on June 11, 2005 at 07:24 PM
There's enough of a basis in fact that huge money is spent advertising prescription drugs to consumers. (Most often without saying what it's for, so he has time to mull the attractive images over.)
From Henry Flory
Posted on June 11, 2005 at 08:29 PM
I had a banana last summer before performing the Sibelius, and frankly it was too much-I wasn't as energetic as usual, and the performance lost something
From Preston Hawes
Posted on June 14, 2005 at 01:29 AM
I had an omelette once before performing in a competition and I almost barfed on stage.

I think the effect bananas have physically as a beta blocker is quite minimal. I think the effect bananas have psychologically as a beta blocker is greater.

Preston

From Holly Mulcahy
Posted on June 14, 2005 at 02:25 AM
This is a great article on Beta Blockers with industry expert Drew Mcmanus, also I think there is a radio archive link interview with him about the beta blockers. Article goes into the how, the why, and the why nots.

http://www.artsjournal.com/adaptistration/archives20041001.shtml#89942


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