Psychopharmacology is the study of medications used to treat mental disorders affecting mood, attention, behavior, and thought processes. Though these drugs vary widely in their composition and efficacy, many of them work by targeting neurotransmitters in the brain—usually by stimulating or inhibiting their release or blocking their reuptake in the nervous system.
Though it was once rarely spoken of outside of medical settings, in the past few decades, the use of drugs to alleviate the symptoms of mental disorders—particularly depression or attention deficit disorder—has become more socially acceptable. This cultural shift has resulted in these psychoactive agents being among the most widely prescribed pharmaceuticals today, as well as increased competition amongst pharmaceutical companies to create new formulations or corner a new psychiatric market.
Despite their ubiquity, however, there continues to be much debate around the use of medications to treat mental health challenges—particularly whether it's safe to use powerful stimulants to manage attention-deficit problems in children, or whether the potential side effects of antidepressant medications outweigh any possible benefits of the treatment. In addition, the general effectiveness of antidepressants when measured against a placebo remains controversial—although many large studies have concluded that the treatments that prove most effective combine antidepressant medications with psychotherapy.