Biological Approach- Drug Therapy

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Assumptions Applied to Drug Therapy

The biological approach assumes that psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia have a physiological cause. Based on the view that mental illnesses are like physical illnesses and therefore can be treated in a physical way. patient should be treated for their mental illness through direct manipulation of their physical bodily processes, for example through drug therapy.

Changes in the brain’s neurotransmitter systems will affect our mood, feelings, perceptions and behaviour. Psychotherapeutic drugs can be used to alter the action of neurotransmitters and treat mental disorder. Drug therapy operates by increasing or blocking the action of neurotransmitters in the brain, which in turn, influence our emotions, thoughts and actions.

A third assumption of the biological approach is that of localisation of brain function. Drugs target specific regions of the brain which are involved in psychological disorder. For example, the limbic system regulates emotions as disturbances in this part of the brain may affect mood.

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Principles of Drug Therapy

Its aim is to alter neurochemical or hormonal functioning in order to alleviate the symptoms of the illness. Works by either imitating the actions of neurotransmitters or blocking the flow of neurotransmitters.

Antipsychotic drugs- Treat psychotic mental disorders such as schizophrenia. Conventional antipsychotics are used primarily to combat the positive symptoms of schizophrenia (delusions and hallucinations). There are three main classifications of antipsychotic drugs that can be used to treat schizophrenia; these are typical, less typical and atypical. atypical antipsychotic drugs act by only temporarily occupying dopamine receptors and then rapidly dissociating to allow normal dopamine transmission. May explain why such atypical antipsychotics have lower levels of side effects.

Antidepressant Drugs- Depression is thought to be due to insufficient amounts ofneurotransmitters such as serotonin being produced in the synapse.The most commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs are SelectiveSerotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac. These work by blocking the transporter mechanism that reabsorbs serotonin into the presynaptic cell after it has fired. As a result, more of the serotonin is left in the synapse, prolonging its activity and making transmission of the next impulse easier.

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Evaluation: Effectiveness

Research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists reported that 65% of patients experienced a reduction in their depressive symptoms following a three month course of SSRI antidepressants, compared with 30% of patients who received a placebo for the same duration.The College reported that whilst SSRIs do have potential side effects, these are normally mild and temporary.

 Soomro et al (2008) reviewed 17 studies of the use of SSRI’s with OCD patients and found them to be more effective than placebos in reducing the symptoms of OCD up to three months after treatment (in the short term). According to Soomro et al (2008) nausea, headaches and insomnia are common side effects of SSRIs. Tricyclic antidepressants tend to have more side effects (such as hallucinations and an irregular heartbeat).

While drugs may be effective in treating the symptoms of psychological disorders, this type of therapy does not address the underlying cause. This will lead to what is known as the ‘revolving door syndrome’ where a patient is back and forth to their doctor as their disorder is never really cured.This type of therapy is efficient and easy to administer compared to other forms of therapy.

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Evaluation: Ethical Issues

A fundamental research ethic is that no patient should be given a treatment known to be inferior. Substituting a placebo for an effective treatment does not satisfy this duty as it exposes individuals to a treatment known to be inferior.

Another ethical problem is the issue of valid consent or lack of it. Many patients will find it difficult to remember all the facts relating to the potential side effects of the drug prescribed or they simply may not be in a frame of mind to digest this information. Therefore truly valid consent is an illusion.

Additional Ethical Issues

  • Wrong Diagnosis
  • Against individual's belief
  • Dosage issues
  • Medication abuse 
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