Psychopharmacology is the field of psychology and psychiatry dedicated to the study of drugs’ effects on mood and behavior. Of particular interest in this field is the study of the effectiveness, dosing, and indications for psychoactive drugs.

Role in Psychology
Many mental health conditions are treated with psychotropic drugs. Mental health conditions as diverse as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be effectively managed with psychoactive drugs as part of treatment. Talk therapy in addition to medication almost always increases the medication’s effectiveness.

Therapists and psychologists cannot prescribe medications unless they have a medical degree. This role is typically reserved for psychiatrists, who may work with a person’s therapist to understand his or her illness and recommend medications.

However, the role of medication in psychology is not strictly limited to the prescription of medication. Psychiatrists and other medical doctors also monitor the ways in which a psychoactive drugs affects a person’s overall health. Amphetamines might, for example, greatly improve memory and concentration, but can have negative effects on the cardiovascular system over time. When a particular medication is ineffective, most doctors will examine if there are other medical factors that could be influencing its effectiveness. Substance abuse, diet, exercise and sleep may all affect psychoactive drugs.

Psychopharmacologists may practice as psychologists in hospitals or clinical settings. They may also be researchers studying the effects of chemical substances on the brain.

Chemicals Commonly Studied
In recent years, psychopharmacology has turned its attention to neurotransmitters. These chemicals carry signals in neurons throughout the body and play a significant role in mood. Psychopharmacologists may also study the role controlled substances such as marijuana, LSD, and heroin play in psychology and the effects these chemicals have on behavior. Hormones often play an important role in psychopharmacology because hormones carry and accelerate signals throughout the body.


  1. Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  2. Fundukian, L. J., & Wilson, J. (2008). The Gale encyclopedia of mental health. Detroit, MI: Thomson Gale.

Last Updated: 04-18-2016

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