How Do Psychiatric Drugs Affect The Brain?
Like any mind altering substance, psychiatric drugs are psychoactive and alter mind and behavior by affecting brain chemistry. Their usefulness, and risks, come from changing the brain/body and altering consciousness, including expectation and placebo.
Current medical theory is that most psychiatric drugs change the levels of chemicals called neurotransmitters (anti-convulsants, anti-epileptics, and “mood stabilizers” such as lithium appear to work by changing blood flow and electrical activity in the brain in general). Neurotransmitters are linked with mood and mental functioning, and all the cells of the nervous system, including brain cells, use neurotransmitters to communicate with each other. When neurotransmitter levels change, “receptor” cells, which receive and regulate neurotransmitters, become more sensitive, and can grow or shrink to adjust.
SSRI anti-depressants (“selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors”) for example are said to raise the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain and reduce the number of brain serotonin receptors. Anti-psychotic medications like Haldol lower the level of dopamine and increase the number of dopamine receptors in the brain. This action on neurotransmitters and receptors is the same as for any psychoactive drug. Alcohol affects neurotransmitters including dopamine and serotonin, and cocaine changes the levels of both dopamine and serotonin, as well as noradrenaline, and alters receptors.
While these changes in your body take place, your consciousness works to interpret and respond in your own way, Alcohol might relax you or make you nervous; anti-depressants energize some people or make others less sensitive. Because of the placebo effect and expectation, everyone is different. Your experience of medication may not be the same as other people, and will ultimately be uniquely your own. Trust yourself.
Source: Harm Reduction Guide to Coming off Psychiatric Drugs (Second Edition)
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