Chapter 5: Psychopharmacology

This chapter was adapted from:

Barron, S. (2023). Psychopharmacology. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers. Retrieved from  License: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED

Psychopharmacology is the study of how drugs affect behavior. If a drug changes your perception or the way you feel or think, the drug exerts effects on your brain and nervous system. We call drugs that change the way you think or feel psychoactive or psychotropic drugs, and almost everyone has used a psychoactive drug at some point (yes, caffeine and alcohol count). Understanding some basics about psychopharmacology can help us better understand a wide range of things that interest psychologists and others. For example, the pharmacological treatment of certain neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, tells us something about the disease itself. The pharmacological treatments used to treat psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia or depression have undergone amazing development since the 1950s, and the drugs used to treat these disorders tell us something about what is happening in the brains of individuals with these conditions. Finally, understanding something about the actions of drugs of abuse and their routes of administration can help us understand why some psychoactive drugs are so addictive. In this chapter, we provide an overview of some of these topics and discuss some current controversial areas in the field of psychopharmacology. The chapter concludes with some examples and animations of how drugs like alcohol, opiates, cannabis, and caffeine work at the level of neurotransmitters and synapses.


Learning Objectives

  • How do the majority of psychoactive drugs work in the brain?
  • How does the route of administration affect how rewarding a drug might be?
  • Why is grapefruit dangerous to consume with many psychotropic medications?
  • Why might individualized drug doses based on genetic screening be helpful for treating conditions like depression?
  • Why is there controversy regarding pharmacotherapy for children, adolescents, and the elderly?



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Biological Psychology Copyright © 2024 by Michael J. Hove and Steven A. Martinez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book