First Psychotropic Medication? What It Is and What to Expect

What is psychotropic medication? These medications are commonly used to treat mental health conditions, but there’s a lot of information people need to know before they take them. This guide reviews the definition of psychotropic medication, how it’s used and what you need to know about potential side effects.  

The Rising Popularity of Psychotropic Medications 

Our mental health is just as important as our physical health. Reduced stigma over mental health conditions has resulted in more people seeking the care they need, but this has also resulted in the proliferation of psychotropic medications. While these medicines have many potential benefits, it’s important to consider how side effects, drug interactions and dependency issues may impact your life.  

You may have been prescribed psychotropic medication and feel you need more to make you feel normal again. This could be a sign of dependency, and addiction to psychotropic medications is a real concern for many people. You’re not alone.  

What Are Psychotropic Medications? 

Psychotropic medications are drugs used to alter brain chemistry by either increasing or decreasing the production of certain hormones or neurotransmitters. Most of these medications are widely recognized by the public, but the term psychotropic can be confusing to people who aren’t in the know. Psychiatrists may prescribe a medicine designed to alter brain chemistry when trying to help a patient suffering from depression, anxiety, psychosis or ADHD, for example.  

Chemicals altered by psychotropic medications include dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). Doctors are beginning to prescribe these drugs more frequently due to a rise in the number of people seeking treatment for mental health disorders. According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 47 million Americans over age 18 suffer from a clinical mental health condition, and 11 million consider their mental health concerns to be serious.  

What Types of Psychotropic Medications Are There? 

Psychotropic medications work in different ways to treat a wide range of mental health conditions. They may increase the production of chemicals that help with mood and sleep or inhibit chemicals that cause hyperactivity or psychosis. There are several classes of psychotropic medications.  


There are three types of antidepressant medications. Doctors are more likely to prescribe SSRIs than SNRIs because of the way the two drugs work and the likelihood of side effects. MAOI inhibitors are rarely used but may be an option for people who don’t respond to any alternatives.  

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) 

SSRIs increase serotonin production in the brain. This hormone elevates a person’s mood and energy levels and can also help them get more restorative sleep. When someone suffers from depression, they may also have low serotonin levels in their brain, causing them to feel fatigued all the time and sad for irrational reasons.  

Serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) 

When a patient is placed on one or two SSRIs and doesn’t show any signs of improvement, the prescribing doctor may try placing the patient on an SNRI. This is also an option for people who are having trouble with side effects while using an SSRI. The way these medications work is by increasing the production of dopamine and norepinephrine.  

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) 

MAOIs increase the production of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain to elevate a person’s mood. The primary reasons they’re not used as often today is that more effective medications have been produced, these drugs have a higher chance of interacting with other prescription medications and patients have reported unpleasant side effects.  


People who suffer from anxiety disorders or insomnia may be given anti-anxiety medication while undergoing behavioral and cognitive therapy to address the root causes of their condition. These medications increase GABA production to provide a feeling of calm and relaxation. They’re not meant for long-term use due to their addictive qualities and serious side effects.  


Antipsychotic medications are primarily used to treat patients with psychotic episodes and paranoia but have been used to treat other mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar depression. They block the production of dopamine in the brain. The oldest psychotropic medications in use today are antipsychotic medications.  


Stimulants are usually used to treat conditions such as ADHD, where patients have the inability to maintain concentration for long periods of time. Psychiatrists prefer to use behavioral or cognitive therapy to treat ADHD because stimulants can create dependency issues and lose their effectiveness over time.  


Mood stabilizers such as lithium are often prescribed for the treatment of bipolar depression. Scientists aren’t entirely sure how this class of medication works to regulate mood, but it’s effective at preventing the sudden mood swings and mania that are associated with bipolar depression. They need to be used with caution because extended use can cause kidney damage.  

Side Effects to Be Aware Of 

Doctors must always weigh the potential benefits against the risk of side effects before prescribing a medication. Psychotropic medications are known to cause a number of side effects. Many of the side effects are minor and simply cause discomfort, while others are more serious. People with mental health conditions often need to try more than one medication before finding something that works due to experiencing side effects they can’t live with.  

Common Minor Side Effects 

Each psychotropic medication has different side effects, so it’s important to speak with your doctor about the potential for side effects when beginning any new medication. Psychotropic medication side effects include the following: 

  • Tiredness and fatigue 
  • Headaches or migraines 
  • Blurred vision 
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness 
  • Weight gain or loss 
  • Increased feelings of depression 
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Irritability 
  • Insomnia 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Loss of sexual function or desire 
  • Loss of appetite or excessive eating 
  • Memory problems or confusion 

Rare and Severe Side Effects 

Some side effects can be severe and pose a medical risk. If you experience any of these side effects, stop taking your medication and seek medical attention. 

  • A sudden drop in blood pressure 
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions 
  • Muscle spasms or stiffness 
  • Increased risk of stroke 
  • Difficulty breathing 

Reliable Treatment Options for Mental Health Issues 

Most people who are prescribed psychotropic medications for their mental health conditions have legitimate concerns regarding the risk of addiction or serious side effects. If you feel you’ve become dependent on your medication and have an addiction, don’t be ashamed to seek help. Call Restore at (877) 594-3566 or fill out our contact form to get in touch with our compassionate team to learn more about your treatment options.