Sign InSign Up
All Posts

Psychotropic Medications

Discover the truth about psychotropic medications and their impact on mental health, uncovering their benefits, side effects, and potential alternatives.

Psychotropic Medications: An Informative USMLE Guide


Psychotropic medications are drugs used to treat various mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more. Understanding the mechanisms, indications, side effects, and interactions of psychotropic medications is essential for medical professionals preparing for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This guide provides a comprehensive overview of psychotropic medications, focusing on the most frequently tested information.

Categories of Psychotropic Medications

Psychotropic medications can be broadly classified into the following categories:

  1. Antidepressants
  2. Anxiolytics
  3. Mood stabilizers
  4. Antipsychotics


Antidepressants are primarily used to treat depression but can also be prescribed for anxiety disorders and other conditions. They can be further classified into several subcategories:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

  • Examples: fluoxetine, sertraline, citalopram
  • Mechanism: Inhibit reuptake of serotonin, increasing its availability in the synaptic cleft
  • Indications: Major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Side Effects: Sexual dysfunction, gastrointestinal disturbances, serotonin syndrome (if combined with other serotonergic drugs)

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

  • Examples: venlafaxine, duloxetine
  • Mechanism: Inhibit reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine
  • Indications: Major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, fibromyalgia
  • Side Effects: Increased blood pressure, withdrawal syndrome upon discontinuation

tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)

  • Examples: amitriptyline, nortriptyline, imipramine
  • Mechanism: Inhibit reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine
  • Indications: Major depressive disorder, neuropathic pain, migraines
  • Side Effects: Sedation, anticholinergic effects, orthostatic hypotension

monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

  • Examples: phenelzine, tranylcypromine, isocarboxazid
  • Mechanism: Inhibit the enzyme monoamine oxidase, increasing levels of neurotransmitters
  • Indications: Atypical depression, treatment-resistant depression
  • Side Effects: hypertensive crisis if consumed with foods containing tyramine, serotonin syndrome (if combined with other serotonergic drugs)


Anxiolytics, also known as anti-anxiety medications, are primarily used to treat anxiety disorders. The two main classes of anxiolytics are:


  • Examples: diazepam, lorazepam, alprazolam
  • Mechanism: Enhance the inhibitory effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
  • Indications: Generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, insomnia (short-term use)
  • Side Effects: Sedation, dependence, withdrawal syndrome, impaired cognition


  • Mechanism: Partial agonist at serotonin 5-HT1A receptors
  • Indications: Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Side Effects: Dizziness, headache, nausea

Mood Stabilizers

Mood stabilizers are primarily used to manage bipolar disorder and stabilize mood swings. The most commonly tested mood stabilizer is:


  • Mechanism: Alters ion transport in neurons, leading to decreased excitability
  • Indications: Bipolar disorder (both acute and maintenance treatment)
  • Side Effects: Tremor, hypothyroidism, nephrogenic diabetes insipidus


Antipsychotics are primarily used to manage psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. They can be categorized into two groups:

Typical Antipsychotics

  • Examples: haloperidol, chlorpromazine
  • Mechanism: Block dopamine D2 receptors
  • Indications: Schizophrenia, acute psychosis
  • Side Effects: Extrapyramidal symptoms (EPS), neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), tardive dyskinesia

Atypical Antipsychotics

  • Examples: risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine
  • Mechanism: Block dopamine D2 and serotonin 5-HT2A receptors
  • Indications: Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (with psychotic features)
  • Side Effects: Metabolic syndrome (weight gain, diabetes, dyslipidemia), sedation


Understanding the different categories of psychotropic medications, their mechanisms, indications, and side effects is crucial for success in the USMLE. This guide provides a brief overview of

USMLE Test Prep
a StudyNova service


GuidesStep 1 Sample QuestionsStep 2 Sample QuestionsStep 3 Sample QuestionsPricing

Install App coming soon

© 2024 StudyNova, Inc. All rights reserved.