Psychopharmacology & Its Impact on Students

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will look at the more common issues students have that can benefit from medication treatments. We will also look at the impact this kind of medication treatment will have on those students in the classroom.

What is Psychopharmacology?

Psychopharmacology is the science of how medications commonly used for treating psychological conditions can influence behavior. Understanding a little about brain processes will go a long way toward helping students with psychological conditions. We will address this kind of neuroscience about how the brain works to have a better understanding of psychopharmacology.

Types of Drugs

There are three major classes, or categories, of drugs used to treat the most common conditions. Benzodiazepines, Amphetamines, and Antidepressants are the most common kinds of drugs used to treat mental health conditions in students.


Benzodiazepines are generally referred to as downers because they have a calming effect on the nerves. Benzodiazepines like Valium or Xanax are usually prescribed for anxiety. These drugs generally have a relaxing effect on someone who is high strung and often experiences panic symptoms such as difficulty breathing, racing heartbeat, and sweating. Someone who does not have anxiety would likely seem sedated on this drug.

benzodiazepines like Valium are used to treat acute anxiety


Amphetamines are generally referred to as uppers because they have an energizing effect on the nerves. Amphetamines like Adderall or Ritalin are usually prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These drugs generally have the effect of focusing the attention for someone who has ADHD and is unable to sit still to get work done. Someone who does not have ADHD would seem amped up or over-active on this drug.

Adderall is a drug commonly prescribed to children diagnosed with ADHD and it is popular for recreational use
an image of adderall


Antidepressants are generally referred to as SSRIs because they are Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors, meaning they help people who have mood affecting conditions such as bipolar disorder or depression. Antidepressants like Paxil or Zoloft are usually prescribed for depression. These drugs generally have a stabilizing effect on someone who has a depressive condition because of their neurochemical processes. Someone who does not have this kind of chemical depression would feel emotionally numb on these drugs.

a neurotransmitter is a messenger in the brain communicating with chemicals like Serotonin, SSRI drugs interrupt these messages to reduce depression symptoms
image of a neurotransmitter

Side effects

One of the biggest issues with treating mental health symptoms using psychopharmacology is the potential for negative side effects. Many people find these unintended negative effects a strong deterrent to taking their prescribed medications. As instructors spending time observing students, we can assess the impact of these side effects to help parents, students, and medical professionals identify such unwanted effects of a medication treatment plan. Knowing that medication is often a trial and error process can help instructors contribute their observations to finding the correct dosage of the correct medication in order to have the most positive impact on the students.

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