Side Effects of Psychotropic Drugs

Updated April 17, 2017

Psychotropic medications are defined by as any medication capable of affecting the mind, emotions and behaviour. As these medications alter the chemistry of the brain, they typically cause an array of side effects that vary by drug type. Psychotropic drugs are taken by millions of people nationwide for a variety of reasons and each have their own side effects, some more severe than others. Consequently, it is important to know the side effects of the psychotropic medication you are taking.


By far and wide, the most commonly prescribed psychotropic medications are antidepressants. In fact, reports that in 2005, of 2.4 billion drugs prescribed in visits to doctors and hospitals 118 million were for antidepressants. Thus, antidepressants are the most prescribed medication in the United States. Antidepressants alter brain chemistry by either affecting serotonin, dopamine or norepinephrine. Serotonin is by far the most commonly affected neurotransmitter these medications work on. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors act by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain by blocking receptors from taking it back in.

Although effective, these drugs are not without their side effects. According to, side effects include but are not limited to: dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, urinary retention, sedation, sleep disruption, weight gain or loss, headache, nausea, agitation, inability to achieve an orgasm, decreased libido and anxiety.


Another family of psychotropics commonly prescribed are the stimulants, or "psychostimulants." These powerful drugs are prescribed for ADD, ADHD, narcolepsy and other conditions determined by your physician. In ADD/ADHD patients, these drugs work by stimulating an already stimulated brain creating a "cancelling" effect resulting in an actual calming of the mind. These drugs also are used to treat narcolepsy, a disorder which places people at the risk of falling asleep at any given time. With stimulants, they can drive and operate machinery safely without the fear of falling asleep.

These drugs, however, are not without their side effects. lists the side effects associated with these drugs as: anxiety, nervousness, agitation, insomnia, loss of appetite, increased heart rate, vision problems, nausea, heartburn and in severe cases, cardiac problems which may result in the need to discontinue their usage.


Antipsychotics, like antidepressants, work on the brain by altering the chemistry. Unlike antidepressants, however, these drugs pose more serious side effects and prolonged usage has been proven to cause permanent damage to the nervous system. Used to alleviate psychosis (auditory and visual hallucinations), these drugs can pose serious side effects such as heart problems, sedation, moving disorders, dystonia (muscle spasms), akathisia (involuntary muscle movements in the legs), parkinsonian like symptoms, and tardive dyskinesia (excessive movement of the tongue, lips and jaw ( These drugs take a toll on the body but for many schizophrenics, may be the lesser of two evils as life with hallucinations is extremely unbearable and dangerous.


Another very commonly prescribed psychotropic medication are the benzodiazepams. Benzodiazepam medications are the oldest of the psychotropic family and can create rather serious side effects as well as psychological and physical addiction. Because of this fact, physicians prescribe them with much apprehension. Benzodizepams, sedatives used for insomnia, anxiety and a wide spectrum of other psychological conditions, cannot be stopped without weaning off them. If stopped abruptly, these drugs cause physical withdrawal symptoms that can lead to seizure. The central nervous system becomes dependant on these drugs and cannot react properly on its own without slowly decreasing the dosage in an effort to discontinue use altogether. These medications also cause excessive drowsiness, dizziness, memory impairment, depression and dependence.


Although psychotropic medications can pose serious side effects, their efficacy is strong and they do help many people get through every day life without issue. If you are prescribed a psychotropic medication for whatever reason, as with all medications, it is important that you research and learn of that particular drug's side effects potential. Education is key whenever beginning a medication regimen of any type and psychotropics are no different.

If any side effects of taking these drugs affect your life in a negative way, it is imperative to discuss them with your physician.

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About the Author

Having conducted therapy for several years, Lawrence Gould decided to try his hand at writing in 2009. He has been published on and various other websites and worked as a journalist at "TCpalm Newspaper" out of Vero Beach, Fla. Gould possesses a master's degree in psychology, a minor in English as well as extensive study in addiction.