Psychiatric drugs generally fall into four
sleeping medication (Anxiolytics and hypnotics)
Benzodiazepines are used to treat insomnia (short-term), anxiety disorders, and as
adjuncts to antipsychotics to reduce agitation. In addition they are also used to
treat alcohol withdrawal, some side effects of antipsychotics, and are occasionally used
as a muscle relaxant for those with bone and muscle problems.
The major difference between most sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication is simply
the time it takes for the substance to act and wear off.
Benzodiazepines are also used to get intoxicated, particularly when other substances
are not available. Other times, clients become addicted without realising it.
Sudden withdrawal can lead to agitation, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, hallucinations,
delirium and seizures.
When mixed with other depressants, particularly alcohol and heroin, they can be lethal.
It is for this reason that cognitive behavioural therapy is generally the first line of
treatment in anxiety disorders.
An alternative to benzodiazepines for the treatment of anxiety is buspirone which
does not seem to have the same addition potential.
Click here for a list of common benzodiazepines (from Infoxchange)
Antidepressants are not only used in the treatment of depression, they are also used to
treat anxiety disorders (particularly obsessive and panic disorders) and chronic pain.
Clients should be instructed that the full effects of antidepressants may take two to
four weeks and that they usually should continue taking antidepressants for a month after
normal mood returns.
Some of the newer antidepressants have fewer side effects and are less likely to cause
overdose. However, overdose risk is increased in those who are also drug dependent
and prescriptions should be limited to one week at a time.
Antipsychotic drugs are primarily used in the treatment of psychosis to reduce the
symptoms of hallucinations, delusions, and thought disorder. They have also been
shown to help prevent relapse in schizophrenia.
They are also used in the treatment of acutely disturbed states such as in alcohol
Some of the side effects of these drugs include:
- muscle stiffness and spasm (dystonic reaction)
- feelings of agitation and restlessness - (akathisia)
- Parkinson like symptoms of fine tremor of the hands and rigidity
- Reduced libido
These side effects may be treated by reducing the dose or by another group of
medications called anticholinergics. These also have side effects of dry mouth,
constipation, blurred vision and urinary retention.
Lithium is the most common substance used to treat bipolar affective disorder
At therapeutic levels it may also cause a fine tremor, muscle weakness, problems with
memory and concentration, weight gain, increased thirst and increased urination.
Toxic levels can cause increased tremor, nausea and vomiting, painful joints,
difficulty in walking, and confusion. Dehydration from illness or sweating in hot
weather can cause toxicity.
Carbamazepine is also use to manage mania, particularly those who do not respond to
lithium. However, this drug reacts with many substances including
dextro-propoxyphene (Doloxene) which is sometimes used by drug addicts. This
drug also reduces the effects of oral contraceptives which can result in pregnancy.