Psychopharmacology is the study of the effects of drugs on affect,
cognition, and behavior. It is a hybrid discipline, requiring background
in neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, neurochemistry, pharmacology, and psychology.
There are several related disciplines which emphasize somewhat different
Neurochemistry focuses on brain chemistry, usually at a molecular
level and without reference to overt behavior. Topics such as neural metabolism
and chemical aspects of neural function are within the domain of neurochemistry
(see Figure 1).
Neuropharmacology emphasizes studying the effects of various drugs
on brain function, usually with reference to neurotransmitter/neuromodulator
systems. A frequent objective of neuropharmacology research is to link
neurochemical events to behavior and to other psychological processes,
although the study of neural systems qua systems is also vigorously
Behavioral pharmacology emphasizes the effects of drugs on overt
behavior, although a somewhat more specialized meaning has emerged within
the field. Many research use behavioral pharmacology to describe the effects
of drugs on ‘on-going’ behavior. That is, behavior governed by other events,
such as operant schedules of reinforcement; the focus is sometimes on the
effects of a drug on a specific behavior rather than the behavioral effects
elicited by the drug.
Figure 1: NO pathway. Copyright 1996 by DOJINDO Laboratories
Medications develop has revolutionized the treatment of many neurological
and psychological disorders. For example, the introduction of L-DOPA therapy
has dramatically increased the quality of life for thousands of Parkinson’s
disease patients. The advent of anxiolytics help people to cope with perceived
stress and increases the window of opportunity for effective cognitive-behavioral
therapy. And perhaps most dramatically, the introduction of effective antipsychotic
medications has drastically reduced the number of psychiatric patients
residing in mental institutions (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Number of patients in nonfederal psychiatric hospitals
in the United States.
From Palfai and Jankiewicz (1997).