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Psychotherapeutic Medications: An Overview 

Medication will not cure mental illness, but it can help keep symptoms under control.  Your treatment may involve medication, therapy, or both.  Medication can help make therapy more effective.  Psychotherapeutic medications may be used for short periods of time or indefinitely, depending on the individual and the condition.
There are several different types of medications for various conditions.  When you meet with your psychiatrist, you should bring a list of the medications that you are currently taking, including herbal supplements and over-the-counter medications.  Your psychiatrist will discuss the medications that are the most appropriate for you.  Your psychiatrist will let you know about the possible side effects and how long it should take before the medication is working adequately.  Frequently, it takes time for medication to build up in your system before you begin to feel better. 
Because everyone is different and every medication works differently, it may take a few attempts to determine the best medication for you.  Some people may need several trials of different medications and dosages.  If you experience side effects or have concerns about your medication, you should contact your doctor.  You should never alter the dose of your medication or stop taking a medication without talking to your doctor first.  Certain medications need to be tapered off, and stopping them abruptly may cause bad reactions.
Psychotherapeutic Medication Categories
New medications are constantly being researched and developed in this promising treatment field.  Your doctor will work closely with you and monitor your medications to ensure that you receive the most appropriate prescription at all times.  It is common to receive more than one type of medication and for medication needs to change over time.  Further, as new medications are approved, your doctor may want to switch you to a different prescription.
Antidepressant Medications
Antidepressant medications are used for people with mild to severe depression.  The medications are not “uppers” or stimulants, but work to relieve the symptoms of depression.  They can help people feel the way they did before they experienced depression and help improve their quality of life.  There are several different types of antidepressant medications, all with different side effects and levels of effectiveness.  Most people can be successfully treated with one type of antidepressant.
There are several types of antidepressant medications.  Tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) were the first types of medications used to treat depression.  Tricyclic medications affect two brain chemicals, serotonin and norepinephrine.  MAOIs are used for people that do not respond to other types of antidepressant medications.  MAOIs may also be used to treat panic disorder and bipolar disorder.  People that use MAOIs must comply with dietary restrictions and be aware of dangerous drug interactions.  Tricyclic antidepressants and MAOIs may still be used today, but newer drugs with fewer side effects may be preferable.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were developed in the 1990s.  SSRIs affect one brain chemical, serotonin.  SSRIs work as well as older types of antidepressants, but they have fewer side effects.  In the late 1990s, new antidepressants were developed that target serotonin and norepinephrine.  But unlike the tricyclic antidepressants, the new medications have few side effects.  Even newer more recently approved medications are chemically different from other antidepressants and have even fewer side effects.
Antianxiety Medications
Symptoms of anxiety disorders can be mild to severe and occur most of the time or every now and then under certain circumstances.  When anxiety is not manageable, it can cause debilitating symptoms and interfere with daily life.  Antidepressant medications, antianxiety medications, or a combination of both can relieve anxiety symptoms. 
Benzodiazepines are a type of antianxiety medication that can combat the symptoms of anxiety quickly.  They are typically used on a short term or “as needed basis,” but may be used long term in select situations.  Benzodiazepine use can lead to drug dependence, abuse, or withdrawal symptoms.  They should not be stopped abruptly or used with alcohol or illegal street drugs. 
Beta blockers are medications used to prevent the symptoms of anxiety under during certain predictable situations, such as giving a speech or during important social or business situations.  Beta blockers are used to treat heart conditions, such as high blood pressure, but are useful for relieving the symptoms of “performance anxiety.”
Antimanic Medications
Antimanic medications are used to treat bipolar disorder.  Lithium is commonly used to level out the mood swings associated with bipolar disorder.  Lithium requires regular blood checks for dosage maintenance.  Some people respond well to lithium treatment, and unfortunately, others do not respond at all.  With regular monitoring, lithium treatment is safe and effective.  Without regular monitoring, lithium by itself or combined with other medications can cause life-threatening medical conditions.  If you receive lithium, it is very important to make and keep all of your appointments and to let your doctor know if you experience any difficulties.
Anticonvulsants are medications that are commonly used to treat seizures, but are also useful for treating bipolar disorder.  Anticonvulsants may be an alternative for people who cannot or choose not to use lithium.  Research indicates that anticonvulsants are more effective for the short-term treatment of mania than for the long-term treatment of bipolar disorder.
Antipsychotic Medications
Antipsychotic medications are used to treat people with psychotic symptoms such as seeing things, hearing things, or having paranoid thoughts or illogical ideas, such as believing that people are trying to harm them or that they are a famous person.  Antipsychotic medications cannot cure the illness that is causing the psychotic symptoms, such as schizophrenia, but it may reduce the symptoms or shorten the course of the symptoms.
There are several antipsychotic medications.  They affect the brain chemical dopamine.  Medications that were developed in the 1990s can be as effective as older antipsychotic medications but have fewer side effects.  This new line of medications are called atypical antipsychotics.  Each of the atypical antipsychotics has different side effects and may require regular blood testing; however, they are much better tolerated than the older forms of antipsychotic medications.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.