Drug therapy, also known as psychopharmacology, involves the administration of medications designed to improve or ameliorate the symptoms of mental illness or significant behavioral health issues.
There is a great deal of research and physiological (imaging) data indicating that many significant behavioral health concerns, as well as chronic and severe mental illness, are associated with biochemical dysfunctions and abnormalities. In these cases, drug therapy is often a significant aspect of the treatment protocol. Drug therapy is used for a variety of psychiatric and psychological conditions, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mood disorders, psychosis, schizophrenia, Tourette's syndrome, anxiety disorders, autism, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among others. Pharmacotherapy can be effective when clients are likely to be compliant in following a dosing schedule, even when there may be initial, sometimes rather aversive, side effects. The effectiveness of various medications has enabled many people to lead relatively full and active lives or to exist at a higher level of independence functioning than would occur without the availability of drug therapy.
Along with the benefits derived from drug therapy, virtually all psychotropic medications have accompanying side effects, some of which can be challenging or unpleasant, at least at the outset. Among the more common side effects may be dizziness, gastric upset, diminished or increased appetite with accompanying weight loss or gain, irritability, agitation, nausea, headache, and the occasional sense of blunted affect (more often reported with individuals being treated for bipolar I disorder). The stimulants commonly used to control ADHD, for example, may suppress growth and significantly suppress appetite for many individuals. Psychosis, when it is treated with first generation or newer antipsychotic agents, can produce tardive dyskinesia with long-term use. This is a movement disorder usually primarily affecting the mouth and facial regions, causing involuntary tongue and mouth movements as well as stiffness and tremors. Many antidepressant drugs, including those effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder, can produce dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, rapid heartbeat, sexual dysfunction, and urinary retention. Muscle stiffness is a side effect of many drugs used to treat chronic and serious mental illness. Antidepressants nearly all carry some risk of triggering a manic or hypomanic episode, as well as suicidal ideation or significant suicidal thoughts, particularly in children and adolescents.
When individuals consider taking any type of psychotropic medication, it is important for them to be knowledgeable about the possible side effects, dosing regimen in order to reach therapeutic levels, and any potentially 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. Decades of research have clearly illustrated that drug therapy is most effective when used in conjunction with appropriate choices from the broad spectrum of group and individual psychotherapies and behavioral health programming or interventions. In the early history of drug therapy, clients in psychiatric hospitals were often deeply medicated, frequently without receiving any other form of treatment. Subsequently, it was common for clients to participate in a range of activities and therapies, such as group therapy, art therapy and music therapy, as well as targeted individual therapies and skill-building activities while they are on medication. The goal of many drug therapies is to stabilize clients sufficiently so as to render them fully able to participate in the therapeutic process, enable them to tap into their own resiliency, maximize recovery, and return to independent living.
See also Antianxiety drugs ; Antidepressant drugs ; Antipsychotic drugs ; Clinical psychology .
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