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History of Psychotropic Drugs

Pill Tray

Image: Pill Tray

Source: Museum Victoria

Psychotropic drugs revolutionised the treatment of psychological disorders. They allowed many people to be treated without chronic hospitalisation. However, medications have side effects and also introduce the issue of possible addiction. Long-term use can be problematic.

In 1949 Australian psychiatrist John Cade discovered the anti-manic properties of lithium and introduced it for psychiatric treatment of people with bipolar disorder. It was not approved as a medication until the 1970s.

Chlorpromazine use for schizophrenia followed in 1953. Such a dramatic reduction in symptoms had never been seen before.

Tricyclic drugs, such as Tofranil, were introduced for the treatment of depression in the late 1950s. In 1987 Fluoxetine, also known as Prozac, was introduced and became a widespread and controversial treatment for depression. It belongs to a class of antidepressants that enhance serotonin levels. Its use raises questions about whether people should expect to always be happy.

Benzodiazepines such as Valium were introduced to treat anxiety and sleeplessness.Valium has been prescribed so often that it has almost become a household word.

Psychiatrists argue, however, that drugs are not enough. There is evidence that medication works far better when complemented by therapy.

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