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Guide to Pharmacology Terms

Psychotropic drugs are substances that affect a person’s mental processes, behavior, or emotions. Psychotropic drugs can be grouped into four major classes based on their purpose for administration:

Central nervous system or CNS stimulants promote functioning of the central nervous system. Some examples of CNS stimulants include caffeine, amphetamines, and methylphenidate. Most CNS stimulants are known to have a high potential for abuse and must be used for diagnosed medical conditions under medical supervision.

Antidepressants are used to treat patients suffering from various types of depression, a condition frequently caused by chemical imbalances of chemicals in the brain. These chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, include dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Three classes of antidepressant medications include:

Almost all antidepressants can have serious interactions with other drugs and foods that can include lightheadedness, arrhythmias, and hypertensive crisis.

Antianxiety medications are also known as anxiolytics or minor tranquilizers. They are used to treat such conditions as anxiety disorders, neurosis, insomnia, and nausea and vomiting. Some types of anxiolytics include benzodiazepines, buspirone, and hydroxyzine. Many of the minor tranquilizers can only be taken for the short term because the risk of physical and psychological dependence and tolerance increases with prolonged periods of time. Potentiation of effect is an interaction that is possible when benzodiazepines interact with certain other drugs like CNS depressants, digitalis, and phenytoin, as well as grapefruit juice.

Antipsychotic medications are also called major tranquilizers or neuroleptics. These drugs help to relieve nausea and vomiting and symptoms of neuroses and psychoses such as delusion, agitation, combativeness, and hallucinations. Antipsychotic medications are generally divided into two classifications: typical and atypical antipsychotics. Antipsychotic medications work by blocking dopamine receptors in the brain, while atypical antipsychotic medications block dopamine and serotonin receptors. If used with CNS depressants or anticonvulsants, interactions may include potentiation or seizure activity.

Alcohol is another substance that can be considered a psychotropic drug, as it is a CNS depressant. Alcohol causes loss of judgment, memory, and emotional and intellectual function. Motor areas of the CNS are affected next, causing incoordination, slurred speech, and unsteady gait. Prolonged use of alcohol can cause permanent damage to almost all systems of the body. Some of these conditions include peripheral neuritis, convulsions, liver damage, pancreatitis, digestive disorders, cardiovascular damage, and much more.

Alcohol and other psychotropic drugs are obviously not the only substances that lead to abuse and permanent damage to the body. Other classes of drugs that are commonly abused and lead to drug addiction include:


Addiction: Physical and/or psychological dependence on a substance with use of increasing amounts or tolerance and withdrawal reactions.

Analgesic: Medication that relieves pain.

Chemical dependency: Condition in which alcohol or drugs have taken control of an individual’s life and affects normal functioning.

Controlled substance: Drug controlled by prescription requirement because of the danger of addiction or abuse.

Convulsions: Violent, involuntary contractions or series of contractions of the voluntary muscles.

Dependence: Acquired need for a drug after repeated use; may be psychological with craving and emotional changes or physical with body changes and withdrawal symptoms.

Drug: Chemical substance taken into the body that affects body function.

Drug abuse: The use of a drug for other than therapeutic purposes.

Hypnotic: An agent that induces sleep.

Interactions: Actions that may occur when two or more drugs are combined, or when drugs are combined with certain foods. The combination may alter the expected response of each drug.

Neurosis: Category of mental disorders characterized my anxiety and avoidance behavior.

Neurotransmitters: Substances that travel across the synapse to transmit messages between nerve cells.

Peripheral neuritis: Inflammation of one or more peripheral nerves with pain and tenderness, anesthesia and paresthesias, paralysis, wasting, and disappearance of the reflexes.

Psychosis: Mental disorder characterized by gross impairment in reality, as evidenced by delusions, hallucinations, incoherent speech, or disorganized and agitated behavior, usually without apparent awareness on the part of the patient.

Physiological dependence: Physical adaptation of the body to a drug and withdrawal symptoms after abrupt drug discontinuation.

Potentiation: Increased effect; action of two drugs given simultaneously is greater than the effect of the drugs given separately.

Psychotropic: Any drug that acts on the mind.

Sedatives: Controlled substances used to promote sedation in smaller doses and to promote sleep in larger doses.

Tolerance: Decreased response to a drug after repeated dosage; greater amounts of the drug are required for the same effect.

Withdrawal: Cessation of administration of a drug to which a person has become physiologically and/or psychologically addicted; withdrawal symptoms vary with the chemical used.

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