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Drug Therapy

Medications administered to help people suffering from psychological illnesses.

Because research has shown that many psychiatric illnesses are biological in origin, drug therapy is often the prescribed treatment. Drug therapy is used to treat a variety of psychological disorders, including attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), major depression, schizophrenia, Tourette's syndrome, anxiety disorders, autism, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among many others. Drug therapy can be very effective when the patient shows a high level of compliance to the recommended course of treatment. The effectiveness of various medications has enabled many people to lead a full and active life, or at a higher level of functioning than would otherwise be possible without drug therapy.

Along with the benefits derived from drug therapy, however, medications can also evoke side effects such as irritability, agitation, nausea, and headaches. The stimulants used to control ADHD, for example, can suppress growth, particularly weight gain. Schizophrenia is treated with antipsychotic agents such as chlorpromazine, thioridazine, haloperidol, and thiothlxene. Long-term use can produce tardive dyskinesia, an involuntary tongue and mouth movement disorder, stiffness, and tremors. Clomipramime, an antidepressant effective in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, can produce dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, rapid heartbeat, and urinary retention. Muscle stiffness often accompanies the drug haloperidol when it is taken for Tourette's syndrome. Antidepressants such as nortripty-line (brand name Pamelor), imipramine (Tofranil), desipramine (Norpramin), fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), and paroxetine (Paxil) all carry a small risk of triggering a manic or hypomanic episode. When a person considers taking medication for a psychological condition, it is important to be aware of the possible side effects, as well as knowing the proper dosage, and any harmful drug interactions.

When drug therapy was first introduced, many people, including some mental health professionals, considered medication a simple solution to controlling undesirable behaviors. Research has shown, however, that drug therapy is most effective when used in conjunction with traditional therapy. In the early history of drug therapy, patients in psychiatric hospitals were often medicated, sometimes without receiving any other sort of treatment. Today, it is more common for patients to participate in a range of activities and therapies, such as group therapy and music therapy, while they are on medication. Indeed, sometimes medication makes it possible for some patients to participate in the therapeutic process at all.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaTherapy and Treatments