This week, you will be studying the use of different classes of psychoactive drugs that are not typically abused – leading to the diagnosis of a mental disorder relating to substance abuse or dependence – but, alternatively, are actually used to treat specific mental disorders in individuals. The development of these drugs has literally revolutionized the modern treatment of many major psychiatric conditions and provided substantial relief for millions of people, helping to assuage some very significant, chronic, and endogenous mental health conditions. These medications have also given researchers an effective means by which to test various hypotheses relating to the relative presence or absence of specific neurotransmitters in the brain and their relationship with moods, thoughts, sensorium, and behaviors.
This working research framework has been described as the biochemical model of mental illness. This perspective holds that abnormal thoughts and behaviors largely result from abnormal biochemical processes in the brain. While this certainly does not account for the significant role that environment, relationships, and other personal resources have in moderating or ameliorating problems in living, it certainly has been a very significant area of research in understanding physiological processes that relate to drug response and mental illness. What follows is a discussion of the use of drugs that is relevant to several major classes of mental health disorders; namely schizophrenia and variants of what are collectively known as mood disorders (e.g., major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder).
To begin, review this 10-minute CrashCourse.com video on Depressive and Bipolar Disorders to gain a greater understanding of some of these chronic conditions and the role that neurotransmitters play in their occurrence.