Psychotropic Drugs Exploring Psychotropic Drugs

Exploring Psychotropic Drugs: Benefits and Uses

The class of psychotropic drugs is large, and you may be surprised by some of the substances included in this group. Psychotropic drugs affect your mental state, including your thoughts, perceptions, mood, and behavior.

When you hear the words “psychotropic drugs,” what comes to mind might be something like LSD or mescaline. These drugs generally fall into this category. But so does caffeine.

What are psychotropic drugs?

For the most part, when we talk about psychotropic drugs, we are talking about drugs used to treat various mental disorders. These include anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and stimulants. These drugs are also used to treat sleep disorders and in some cases to treat pain. A few widely used psychotropic drugs are Adderall, Ritalin, Ativan, Xanax, Elavil, Lexapro and Cymbalta – and these are just a few of the long list.

Psychoactive drugs

Most psychoactive drugs work by changing the brain’s neurotransmitters. These chemicals carry messages from one neuron or brain cell to another. Serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine and norepinephrine are several neurotransmitters in the body.

Imbalanced neurotransmitters

Health problems can occur when neurotransmitters don’t function properly—for example, when too much or too little of a neurotransmitter is produced, or when the cell receiving the chemical message doesn’t perceive it properly. Unbalanced neurotransmitters are behind many health problems, including depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Read more: 5 essential neurotransmitters for everyday life

Psychotropic drugs

Psychotropic drugs work in several ways to restore neurotransmitter balance and, hopefully, health. These drugs can block enzymes that break down certain neurotransmitters, helping keep these neurotransmitters in the system. Here’s how some Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s drugs work. When it comes to depression, some drugs prevent receptor cells from taking up a neurotransmitter.

Depression and serotonin levels

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and others are examples of this type of medication. (They’re called “selective” because they act selectively on serotonin rather than any neurotransmitter.) They prevent serotonin from being reabsorbed by neurons, leaving more in circulation to deliver chemical messages.

Read more: These 5 animals also travel with psychedelic and psychoactive drugs


Antipsychotics are commonly used to treat schizophrenia and delirium. Sometimes these drugs are used to treat depression, mania as well as dementia. Like other psychotropic drugs, antipsychotics work by messing with neurotransmitters. They block specific dopamine receptors and certain serotonin receptors while stimulating others. Antipsychotics are sometimes used to treat bipolar disorder. Lithium, although not an antipsychotic, has long been used to treat bipolar disorder. It works by blocking the release of norepinephrine.


Stimulants are also classified as psychotropic drugs. Stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall are sometimes used to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that causes people to fall asleep unexpectedly. Ritalin and Adderall are better known for treating ADHD. These drugs increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain by blocking their reuptake.


Benzodiazepines, such as Ativan and Xanax, are used to treat anxiety and insomnia. They have a sedative effect and work by increasing a neurotransmitter known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA calms the nervous system.


Opioids are also often classified as psychotropic drugs, but they work in a slightly different way. Opioids bind to opioid receptors in the brain and block the pain signals sent by the body. These pain receptors then release dopamine, which produces a feeling of euphoria. So yes, psychotropic drugs definitely mess with your mind, but for the most part it’s all for a good cause.

Read more: Important habits to keep your brain healthy

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