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The term antipsychoticis applied to a group of drugs used to treat psychosis. Common conditions with which antipsychotics might be used include schizophrenia, mania and delusional disorder, although antipsychotics might be used to counter psychosis associated with a wide range of other diagnoses. Antipsychotics also have some effects as mood stabilizers, leading to their frequent use in treating mood disorder (particularly bipolar disorder) even when no signs of psychosis are present. Some antipsychotics (haloperidol, pimozide) are used off-label to treat Tourette syndrome.

Antipsychotics are also referred to as neuroleptic drugs, or simply neuroleptics. The word neuroleptic is derieved from Greek. ‘Neuro’ refers to the nerves and ‘lept’ means ‘to take hold of’. Thus the word means ‘taking hold of one’s nerves’ which implies their role in mood stabilization.

There are currently two main types of antipsychotics in use, the typical antipsychotics and atypical antipsychotics. A new class of antipsychotic drugs has recently been discovered, known as dopamine partial agonists. Clinical development has progressed rapidly on partial dopamine agonists, and one drug in this class (aripiprazole) has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Although the underlying mechanism of this new class is different from all previous typical and atypical antipsychotics, dopamine partial agonists are often categorized as atypicals.

Typical antipsychotics are sometimes referred to as major tranquilizers, due to the fact that some of them can tranquilize and sedate. This term is increasingly disused because many newer antipsychotics do not have strong sedating properties and the terminology implies a connection with benzodiazepines, whereas none exists.

History and design

The original antipsychotic drugs were happened upon largely by chance and were tested empirically for their effectiveness.

The first antipsychotic was chlorpromazine, which was developed as a surgical anesthetic. It was first used on psychiatric patients in the belief that it would have a calming effect. However, the drug soon appeared to reduce psychosis beyond this calming effect, and now some believe that it causes a reduction of psychosis unrelated to the sedating effect of the medication. It was introduced for the treatment of psychosis during the period when lobotomy was a common treatment and was hailed as a “cure” for schizophrenia. It was then touted to provide a “chemical lobotomy,” causing similar neurological effects without requiring surgery.

The newer atypical antipsychotics are supposedly rationally designed drugs in which a theoretical understanding of both the condition to be treated and the effect of certain molecules on the body is used to develop potential new drug candidates.


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