Considerations for psychoactive medications

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A lot of older people in America who live alone usually take medications to deal with loneliness. People who are overworked or overstressed, and people who have gone through depression also use these medications which supposedly eliminate the suffering caused by psychological conditions. These medications are called psychoactive medications.

Medications that effect mood or behavior are known as “psychoactive.” This includes those medications that are given for non-behavioral reasons. For instance, some of the medications used for high blood pressure, and some medications sold over-the-counter for colds and flu, can be psychoactive for a few of us. Psychoactive medications are drugs that, when prescribed and used prudently, can reduce or eliminate the suffering caused by psychological conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, psychosis, and bipolar affective disorder.

Many people use psychoactive medications, with or without prescriptions, to cope with the problems of their daily lives. However, psychoactive medications should generally prescribed by physicians. One of the most common conditions for which psychoactive medications are prescribed are sleep disorders.

When a person has trouble sleeping, he or she may be experiencing insomnia. Both anxiety and depression can cause insomnia, among many others. When this specific cause is known and treated, the person’s sleep patterns generally return to normal. When insomnia gets persistent, sleeping pills may be appropriate. Although a person can sleep while under these medications, the sleep induced by the drug will not be the same as that of natural sleep since the drug suppresses brain activity.



Prescribing psychoactive medications for children and adolescents requires the judgment of a physician, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, with training and qualifications in the use of these medications in this age group. Certainly, any consideration of such medication in a child or infant below the age of five should be very carefully evaluated by a clinician with special training and experience with this very young age group. Any child or adolescent for whom medication is a consideration requires an evaluation of the psychiatric disorder, including the symptoms, and any other medical conditions, family and psychosocial assessment and school records.

Moreover, rest homes have become a major component of the health care system for frail elderly persons and psychiatric patients. Although psychoactive medications are frequently used in rest homes, there is little detailed information about the extent of such use, its supervision, or its effects. In a survey of a random sample of 55 rest homes in Massachusetts, it was found that 55 percent of the residents were taking at least one psychoactive medication. Antipsychotic medications were being administered to 39 percent; of these, 18 percent were receiving two or more such drugs.

The effects of psychoactive medications vary with their chemical composition, the doses in which they are taken, and the sensitivity of the person taking them. Taking other psychoactive substances in combination with psychoactive medications can be dangerous, especially because some of the interactions among these substances are not well understood.

It is best to remember that psychoactive medications should not be taken from old prescriptions without seeing the doctor first. These drugs should not be given to anyone else as prescription is individualized and personal.

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