Overview of Psychotropic Drugs and Mental Illness
Psychotropic drugs are prescribed to treat a variety of mental health problems when these problems cause significant impairment to healthy functioning. Psychotropic drugs typically work by changing the amounts of important chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Some mental health issues show improvement when neurotransmitters in the brain are increased or decreased. Psychotropic drugs are usually prescribed by a psychiatrist, a psychiatric nurse practitioner (PMHNP), or a primary care physician, although in some areas clinical psychologists with prescriptive privileges may prescribe drugs to clients.
Many people experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. Depression and anxiety are among the most common issues, and these issues affect people regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or background. Researchers still cannot say with certainty what causes most instances of mental illness. Environmental factors and genetics often combine to predispose someone to a particular problem. In other cases, traumatic events or serious injuries result in psychological symptoms that persist for years.
Psychotropic drugs are often not enough by themselves to help someone overcome a mental health issue. Social support from family and friends, structured therapy, lifestyle changes, and other treatment protocols can all be highly important. Severe mental health issues may require rehabilitation before the person can return to everyday life.
Psychotropic Drug Categorys
The following is a list of the major categories of psychotropic drugs.
- Antipsychotics: These drugs fall into two categories: typical and atypical. Both are most often prescribed for the treatment of psychotic issues such as schizophrenia. The typical antipsychotics have been around much longer than atypical antipsychotics and are more prone to cause undesirable side effects.
- Antidepressants are a broad category of psychotropic drugs used for treating depression.
- Antidepressants; selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): These medications gradually increase the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.
- Antidepressants; monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): A less common variety of antidepressant drugs, MAOIs are often a last option with complex, treatment-resistant depression.
- Antidepressants; tricyclics: These older antidepressant medications have been pushed to the sidelines by newer, generally safer medications. Still, some people do not respond to the new antidepressants, and tricyclics may be prescribed.
- Antidepressants; selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): These medications work by slowly increasing the amount of norepinephrine in the brain.
- Anti-anxiety/anti-panic medications: These medications treat a variety of chronic and acute anxiety disorders, from panic attacks to generalized anxiety.
- Stimulants: Typically, stimulants are prescribed to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They help regulate disorganized behavior.
10 Most Frequently Prescribed Psychotropic Drugs
Based on 2009 data, below is a list of the ten most prescribed psychotropic drugs in the United States. The number following each drug name indicates how many prescriptions were written during the year 2009. Cymbalta (duloxetine) showed the strongest growth, with 200% more prescriptions written in 2009 than four years earlier.
- Xanax (alprazolam), 44 million
- Lexapro (escitalopram), 27.7 million
- Ativan (lorazepam), 25.9 million
- Zoloft (sertraline), 19.5 million
- Prozac (fluoxetine), 19.5 million
- Cymbalta (duloxetine), 16.6 million
- Seroquel (quetiapine), 15.8 million
- Valium (diazepam), 14 million
- Adderall (amphetamine salts), 10.8 million
- Abilify (aripiprazole), 8.2 million
- Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Depression (major depression). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/antidepressants/MH00071
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). InfoFacts: Stimulant ADHD medications - methylphenidate and amphetamines. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/infofacts/stimulant-adhd-medications-methylphenidate-amphetamines
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Mental health medications. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/mental-health-medications/compelte-index.shtml#pub8
- Grohol, J. M. (2010). Top 25 psychiatric prescriptions for 2009. Retrieved from http://www.psychcentral.com/lib/2010/top-25-psychiatric-prescriptions-for-2009/