Psychotropic Drugs

The term psychotropic drug refers to any chemical substance that affects mood, perception or consciousness following changes in the nervous system functions. Psychotropic drugs are also called psychopharmaceutical or psychoactive drugs.

Generally, there are four types of psychotropic drugs. These include depressants, which slow down the central nervous system, such as alcohol and tranquilizers; stimulants, which excite the nervous system such as cocaine and nicotine; opioids such as morphine and heroine; hallucinogens, which distort perceptions such as LCD and so-called "magic mushrooms."

As some individuals consider drug-induced changes in the functioning of the nervous system pleasant or advantageous, psychotropic drugs are largely abused, which often leads to the development of psychological and physical dependence, known as addiction. According to a 2002 World Health Report, 8.9 percent of the total disease burden has been caused by psychoactive drugs, with alcohol and tobacco accounting for approximately 4 percent each. Neuroscience research from the early 21st century has demonstrated that addiction to psychotropic drugs can be chronic. Advanced neuroscience research has proved that substance dependence is a disorder of changed brain functions, similar to any other neurological or psychiatric illness.

The use of alcohol, tobacco and controlled or illicit drugs has become a major social and health issue in the 21st century. Alcohol and tobacco are both legal and available substances in almost all countries worldwide. Their consumption is significantly enhanced by the aggressive marketing campaigns of transnational corporations, particularly aimed at young people. According to data by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), approximately 200 million people used some kind of illegal drugs at the beginning of the 21st century.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has made serious efforts to examine the contribution of psychotropic drugs to the global burden disease (GBD). The statistics show that more than 2.1 million people in 100 countries live with HIV or AIDS and inject psychotropic substances. An average 5 percent of HIV carriers worldwide were infected by injecting a psychotropic drug.

Psychotropic drug abuse is likely to have harmful effects on people's health and social status. The adverse consequences of psychoactive substances can be structured into four basic groups:

- Chronic diseases. Psychotropic drugs can cause different diseases. For example, alcohol can cause liver cirrhosis, while tobacco consumption in the form of cigarettes can lead to lung cancer. Injected psychotropic substances, on the other hand, run a risk of infection with HIV or hepatitis B and C;

- Accidents or injuries and acute diseases. Short-term adverse effects of psychoactive substances include overdose and injuries caused by weakened coordination and concentration. Car accidents caused by drunk drivers are also a major problem;

- Acute social problems such as relationship break-ups or arrests;

- Chronic social problems, including workplace default and family roles neglect;

According to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), there are six criteria for substance use dependence, as follows:

- A strong desire or feeling of compulsion to use the drug;

- Difficulties in controlling drug-usage behavior;

- Drug quitting or lower doses inflict a psychological withdrawal state, which is characterized by a substance withdrawal syndrome or the use of a similar drug in order to avoid such symptoms;

- Doses need to be increased seeking the effect initially produced by lower doses;

- Progressive abandoning of other sources of pleasure or interests. Both the time necessary to use the drug and the time needed for recovery increase;

- Keeping up drug use despite its obvious adverse effects.

At least three of the above criteria must have been experienced in the previous year in order to establish dependence. Despite being a serious threat to the health of people worldwide, the issue of psychotropic drugs is not easy to tackle as it also represents an entire business industry and because of certain legislative controversies. For example, the U.S. Prohibition banning the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol was introduced in 1920 and revoked in 1933.

In 1961, 73 nations signed the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of the United Nations, which set up schedules for the legality of drugs. The treaty represents an international agreement to crack down on addiction to "recreational" drugs and to fight the sale and trafficking of "scheduled" drugs. All countries that signed up to the convention had to pass legislation regulating drug sale and use, although some member states such as the Netherlands have more liberal laws on psychotropic drugs.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Better Than Prozac: Creating the Next Generation of Psychiatric Drugs
Samuel H. Barondes.
Oxford University Press, 2003
Your Drug May Be Your Problem: How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Drugs
Peter R. Breggin; David Cohen.
Perseus, 2000
Mental Disorders, Medications, and Clinical Social Work
Sonia G. Austrian.
Columbia University Press, 2000 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "Psychotropic Medications"
Humanistic Perspectives in Medical Ethics
Maurice B. Visscher.
Prometheus Books, 1972
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Medical Ethics and Psychotropic Drugs"
Women and Health Psychology: Mental Health Issues
Cheryl Brown Travis.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1988
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Introduction to Psychotropic Drugs" and Chap. 4 "Psychotropic Drugs: Treatment Issues"
Disorders of the Schizophrenic Syndrome
Leopold Bellak.
Basic Books, 1979
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Pharmacological Treatment of Schizophrenia"
Psychotropic Medication in Adolescence: Psychodynamic and Clinical Considerations
Masi, Gabriele; Marcheschi, Mara; Luccherino, Luciano.
Adolescence, Vol. 31, No. 124, Winter 1996
The Medicalization of Unhappiness
Dworkin, Ronald W.
The Public Interest, Summer 2001
A Different Kind of Drug War
O'Meara, Kelly Patricia.
Insight on the News, Vol. 15, No. 46, December 13, 1999
A Hill and Tip Trip
O'Meara, Kelly Patricia.
Insight on the News, Vol. 16, No. 22, June 12, 2000
Doping Kids
O'Meara, Kelly Patricia.
Insight on the News, Vol. 15, No. 24, June 28, 1999
Out of Bedlam: The Truth about Deinstitutionalization
Ann Braden Johnson.
Basic Books, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "May the Sales Force Be with You: Psychotropic Medication, the New Magic Bullet"
Advances and New Directions
Silvano Arieti; H. Keith H. Brodie.
Basic Books, 1981 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 18 "Withdrawal Effects from Psychotropic Drugs"
Toward Healthy Aging: Human Needs and Nursing Response
Priscilla Ebersole; Patricia Hess.
Mosby, 1998 (5th edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 23 "Psychotropic Drug Management"
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