Psychopharmacotherapy is the treatment of emotional, behavioral and cognitive (intellectual) symptoms with medication. Although medication cannot cure psychiatric illness, it can often control symptoms sufficiently to allow more normal functioning.
Medications influence the ongoing electrochemical activity of the brain. It is easy to observe changes in feelings, behavior, and alertness after the use of alcohol, caffeine, opium, or other substances. These are chemicals that reach brain cells and alter their functioning by altering the brain chemistry itself. Psychiatric medications also work to alter brain chemistry. They accomplish this by their effects on chemical messengers that brain cells use to communicate with one another.
All cells in our bodies release small quantities of chemical messengers that act on their neighboring cells. It is this chemical “communication” between cells that regulates many different body functions.
Psychiatric medications are given in order to influence chemical messengers in a specific area of the brain, to achieve a therapeutic effect. However, medications affect these messengers everywhere they are active throughout the brain and body, which can lead to side effects. Individuals differ in which medications will be most useful to them, and what doses will be most effective. It is therefore not unusual for a given patient to be prescribed several different medications before an optimal treatment is found. While this can be a discouraging time for the distressed patient, persistence and regular treatment review can usually achieve the desired result.
Answers to the following questions can help guide medication choice: What has been your response to previous medications? If parents, siblings or children have been treated with psychiatric medications, what experiences did they have? What side effects might be most or least tolerable, based on your current condition and circumstances?
Common classes of psychiatric medications are:
Antidepressants: These medications are used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. They may also be helpful in treating chronic pain, attention problems, drug dependence, as well as to augment the effects of other classes of medications.
Examples of the dozens of antidepressants are: Nefazodone, Nortriptyline, Prozac, Effexor, Cymbalta, Welbutrin and Emsam.
Tranquilizers or Anti-anxiety medications: These drugs are most commonly used to treat anxiety disorders and sleep problems, but can also be used to augment other medications, help with withdrawal from addictive drugs, and for some movement disorders. These medications have some potential to be addictive themselves.
Examples of Anxiolytic (Anti-anxiety) Medications are: Xanax, Valium, Klonopin or Ativan.
Mood Stabilizers: These medications are used to treat Bipolar Disorder (also known as Manic Depressive Disorder), to augment antidepressants and can also be helpful in impulse control problems, anger management problems, and movement disorders.
Examples of Mood Stabilizers are: Lithium, Depakote, Lamictal and Tegretol.
Psychostimulants: These drugs are used in attention problems, wakefulness disorders, some mood disorders, and some symptoms of dementia. These medications have the potential to cause addiction.
Examples of Psychostimulants are: Ritalin and Amphetamines. Provigil is not a true psychostimulant but is used in many of the same conditions.
Antipsychotics: These medications are used to treat Schizophrenia and other conditions in which hallucinations and delusions are prominent. They are also used for mania control and to augment antidepressants. Occasionally they are also used to treat severe anxiety and reactions to emotional trauma.
Examples of antipsychotic medications are: Trilafon, Moban Seroquel, Geodon and Abilify.
Brand Name Medications vs. Generics.
Most people have equally good results from generic and brand name medications, and generic versions usually cost considerably less than the brand name. The active ingredients in brand name and generic medications are identical. However, the way the pills or capsules are compounded is different. This difference can sometimes cause different versions of the same medication to be taken into your body at different rates. While only one company makes the brand name drug, several different companies make generic versions of that same medication. The manufacturer of the generic medication you receive at your pharmacy may change from time to time as supplier contracts change. If your symptoms return when you change from a brand name to a generic, or from one generic manufacturer to another, you should discuss this with your physician.