Biomedical therapies include drug therapy, electroconvulsive therapy, and
Drug therapy, or psychopharmacotherapy, aims to
treat psychological disorders with medications. Drug therapy is usually combined
with other kinds of psychotherapy. The main categories of drugs used to treat
psychological disorders are antianxiety drugs, antidepressants, and
Antianxiety drugs include a class of drugs called
benzodiazepines, or tranquilizers. Two commonly used
benzodiazepines are known by the brand names Valium and Xanax. The generic
names of these drugs are diazepam and alprazolam, respectively:
- Effects: Benzodiazepines reduce the activity of the
central nervous system by increasing the activity of GABA, the main
inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Benzodiazepines take effect
almost immediately after they are administered, but their effects last
just a few hours. Psychiatrists prescribe these drugs for panic disorder
- Side effects: Side effects may include drowsiness,
light-headedness, dry mouth, depression, nausea and vomiting,
constipation, insomnia, confusion, diarrhea, palpitations, nasal
congestion, and blurred vision. Benzodiazepines can also cause drug
dependence. Tolerance can occur if a person takes these drugs for a long
time, and withdrawal symptoms often appear when the drug use is
Antidepressants usually take a few weeks to have an effect. There are
three classes of antidepressants: monoamine oxidase inhibitors, tricyclics,
and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors(MAOIs): Include phenelzine (Nardil).
- Tricyclics: Include amitriptyline (Elavil).
Tricyclics generally have fewer side effects than the MAOIs.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors(SSRIs): The newest class of antidepressants, including
paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), and sertraline (Zoloft).
Antidepressants are typically prescribed for depression, anxiety,
phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Effects: MAOIs and tricyclics increase the level of
the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain. SSRIs
increase the level of serotonin.
- Side effects: Although antidepressants are not
addictive, they often have side effects such as headache, dry mouth,
constipation, nausea, weight gain, and feelings of restlessness. Of the
three classes of antidepressants, MAOIs generally have the most side
effects. People who take MAOIs also have to restrict their diet, because
MAOIs interact negatively with foods that contain the amino acid
tyramine, such as beer and some cheeses and meats. SSRIs have fewer side
effects than the other two classes of antidepressants. However, SSRIs
can cause sexual dysfunction, and if they are discontinued abruptly,
withdrawal symptoms occur.
Antipsychotic drugs are used to treat schizophrenia and other
psychotic disorders. They include chlorpromazine (Thorazine),
thioridazine (Mellaril), and haloperidol (Haldol). Antipsychotic
drugs usually begin to take effect a few days after they are