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What Is Psychiatric Pharmacology?

By Glyn Sinclair
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Psychiatric pharmacology is a medical field dealing with diagnosing and treating psychiatric illness with medication. From the Greek, pharmakon, pharmacology deals with the effects of drugs on the human body. Psychiatry is the investigation and treatment of aberrant mental behavior. Most often it is a psychiatrist who will dispense the medication, although some psychologists are able to prescribe drugs as well. Antianxiety, antidepressant, and antipsychotic drugs are just a few of the wide range of medications available for an equally wide range of mental afflictions.

Although these medications often help patients by alleviating many of the negative symptoms, they are not able to actually cure the illness. The patient is typically required to take the medication in a consistent fashion and over a length of time for it to be effective. Whether or not the patient responds to the medication depends on a number of variables, including the particular disorder being treated and the patient himself. One of the very early tests employed by psychiatric pharmacology to check the effectiveness of antipsychotic drugs, was to actually record the time it took a medicated laboratory rat to climb a length of rope in search of food.

The drug chlorpromazine, or Thorazine™, was discovered and synthesized in the 1950s, and was considered a breakthrough by the psychiatric pharmacology community for treating psychosis. An American pharmacologist named David Macht first coined the term “psychopharmacology” in 1920, but prior to the 1950s there was no unified psychiatric pharmacology field to speak of. In fact, there were very few effective drugs to treat mental disorders until the 1950s. Up until the advent of chlorpromazine, drugs had primarily been used to sedate anxious or disorderly patients.

Psychiatric pharmacology is not without controversy. Studies claim that there are literally millions of children that have been prescribed some kind of psychiatric drug. In 1998 alone, four million children took the drug Ritalin™ for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although these drugs undoubtedly do save lives, many people, including some within the psychiatric pharmacology community, are concerned with what is perceived to be an over-medicating of the population, especially when it comes to children.

It is well known that psychiatric medications can sometimes negatively impact a patient; however, here are other medications that can be prescribed to combat these detrimental effects. Very often, once the patient discontinues taking the drug, many of the original symptoms reappear, especially if the drug is suddenly stopped. Because of this, the medication is usually slowly discontinued.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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