Psychotropic drugs are used to alleviate symptoms from minor anxiety to major psychoses. They are extremely useful in today's stressful society and often enable people to function normally on a day-to-day basis, while under extremely stressful situations.

Psychotropic drugs affect brain chemicals or chemical systems called neurotransmitters, which mediate such basic functions as sleep, wakefulness, and memory, by increasing or blocking their effects. There are three major classes of psychotropic drugs: antianxiety drugs, antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants.

Antianxiety Drugs

These drugs, including Diazepam [Valium], Chlordiazepoxide [Librium], Oxazepam [Serax], and related benzodiazepines and meprobamate, are used to treat anxiety or stress related symptoms.. It is also used to treat symptoms of apprehension, tension, sudden fatigue, and even panic. Some of the most common signs of stress or anxiety are, sweating, rapid heartbeat [palpitations], weakness, dizziness, and irritability, which are defenses set up by the brain to avoid "overstressing" the body or mind. In a manner of speaking, these are "signals" the body and mind give off to a person who is under a great deal of stress or anxiety. Formally known as minor tranquilizers, antianxiety drugs generally direct their activity at the brain centers involved with emotion.

The benzodiazapine tranquilizers can also be used as an anticonvulsant drug. In fact, one of that class, Clonazepam [Clonopin] is used solely for that purpose. Its other effects are similar to Valium and other members of that group.

Special care should be used by patients with a family and or personal history of alcohol or substance abuse when taking these drugs. Recent research studies indicate that these people are at greater risk to becoming psychologically dependent upon these drugs.

Antipsychotic Drugs

The antipsychotic [neuroleptic] drugs alter the activity of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain, with a profound effect on psychotic disorders. People with psychotic disorders show severe personality changes, mental disintegrating, and distortion of the world around them, have difficulty separating reality from fantasy, and often suffer from hallucinations and delusions.

The major group of antipsychotic drugs, formerly known as major tranquilizers, are the phenothiazines, such as Chlorpromazine [Thorazine], Trifluoperasine [Stelazine], and Thioridazine [Mellaril]; the butyrophenones, such as Haloperidol [Haldol]; and the thioxanthenes, such as Thiothixene [Navane]. All antipsychotic drugs tend to exhibit more side effects than antianxiety drugs and are reserved for more severe situations.


Depressed people tend to be self-critical, self-depreciating, brooding; they have a feeling of extreme helplessness. Loss of self-esteem, withdrawal from personal relationships, and inhibition of normal aggressive activity may result. Those suffering from depression also frequently suffer from anxiety. Here the depression is thought to be a defense against the underlying anxiety and is accompanied by physical complaints of tiredness, headache, loss of appetite, and constipation.

The three classes of antidepressant drugs are the tricyclic antidepressants, such as Amitriptyline [Elavil and Endep] and Imipramine [Tofranil], the tetracyclic antidepressant Trazodone [Desyrel]. Each class is effective in relieving depressive symptoms, but they do not cure depression; they only help the patient to deal more effectively with his or her problems.

Information taken from the "Pill Book"

(c) copyright 1997


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