What are Psychotropic Drugs?

Find out about this class of medication and the illnesses they treat.

Black Woman Patient Holding Prescription Drugs, Looking at Pill Medication
YinYang/Getty Images

Psychotropic drugs are medications that affect the central nervous system, changing how the brain processes information, such as altering your mood, thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and behaviors. Most psychotropic drugs are prescribed by your therapist or healthcare provider to treat a diagnosed mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. Other psychotropics, such as marijuana or cocaine, are taken illegally for recreational purposes.

Why Are Psychotropic Drugs Prescribed?

According to a recent survey, one in three patients currently in therapy takes some kind of psychotropic medication. Medications should not be used by everyone and should only be used in consult with a doctor. 

But for those with disorders like borderline personality disorder, appropriate medications can be a useful tool during therapy. If you have trouble handling daily tasks or getting out of bed, medication may even be a necessity for you. 

The National Institute of Mental Health found that patients with depression who were prescribed a psychotropic drug showed more recovery in two months than other patients who went without treatment showed their whole lives. They can be an important tool in helping you feel better. 

Psychotropic drugs are not meant to be a crutch or instant solution; they are intended to be an adjunct to continual therapy. If you're struggling with intense mood swings or violent episodes, it can be difficult to focus on your therapy.

Psychotropic medications just take the edge off so you can begin working on your coping skills and better manage your symptoms. 

What are the Side Effects of Psychotropic Drugs?

Psychotropic drugs can have significant side effects. While they can be useful, they carry the risk of minor annoyances like dizziness, fatigue or weight gain.

More severe side effects are possible as well, such as cardiac issues, stroke, and even death. That's why it is so important to only take medications under the direction and observation of a licensed healthcare provider. 

Before taking a drug, be sure to share with your therapist any known medical issues, such as heart conditions, diabetes or high blood pressure. That information can help her choose an effective medication that won't aggravate these preexisting conditions. 

What Do I Need to Know Before Taking These Drugs?

When you first start taking psychotropic drugs, you may expect it to work instantly and you might get frustrated when you don't notice a difference. Some medications take several weeks to begin to work effectively, so be patient and keep your therapist updated on how you're feeling. Since every person is different and may respond to medications differently, many people have to try several different medications before they find the right fit. 

While psychotropic drugs can help regulate your emotions and mood, it can negatively impact your emotions as well.

Some people report having difficulty crying when they are truly sad or laughing when they're happy. Others report loss of sexual interest and decreased interest in favorite hobbies. If the medication makes you feel just not like yourself, share this information with your doctor so she can help identify an appropriate alternative. 


Gorman JM. The Essential Guide to Psychiatric Drugs, Revised and Updated . St. Martin's Griffin; 2007.

Grohol, J."Top 25 Medications Psychiatric Prescriptions for 2013." Psych Central, 2013. 

National Institute of Mental Health. "Mental Health Medications." 2016. 

Also Known As: psychoactive drugs

Continue Reading