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What do you want to know about breathing? Answered in our newsletter

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Drug influences on the Psychology of Behavior
anonymous author donation

Whether they are legal or illegal, it is hard to dismiss the effect of drugs on a person. These can be psychological, physical or mental effects.

Yet one thing that has been overlooked or has at least been shown little attention over the last two decades is the two main psychosocial dimensions of pharmacology. The first main factor is the psychological response of patients and families to medications and pharmacotherapy.

The second major factor to consider is the psychological, social and behavioral factors at play which influence not only drug metabolism, but also drug efficacy and side-effects. Although this dimension is also an important element of the pharmacology, it needs to be distinguished from the aforementioned dimension of psychopharmacology. As a result, the second dimension falls under the newly coined term psychosocialpharmacology.

The main difference here is whereas psychopharmacology studies drug-induced changes in mood, thinking, sensation and behavior, psychosocialpharmacology is a far newer interdisciplinary approach which takes into account sociology, psychology and clinical pharmacology. The latter delves deeper as it explores the efficacy of medication in relation to any nonpharmacological factors among patients.

For instance, instead of only taking a person’s belief or non-belief into consideration in terms of psychological response of patients to pharmacology, psychosocialpharmacology takes into consideration other factors which may be at play in terms of the efficacy of drugs and medication. It advocates that things like the patient’s psychological, social and behavioral components should be taken into consideration, alongside genetics and physiology to determine a certain influence of efficacy of drug use on a patient. Psychosocialpharmacology even takes into consideration and studies the effect the medical professional in question has on the patient and drug efficacy, in terms of their manner and speech.

We can use an example of a person displaying certain types of behavior and psychological factors to outline this. For example there is the person who will start yawning when you yawn. The same person whom when presented with adverts about food, or cookery programs depicting delicious desserts of melted chocolate, brownies or cake, will then find themselves salivating. This person has no problem with authority and generally abides by law and follows authoritarian advice.

Whilst this may not be seen to be an indicator of a bad person, it does imply they are in fact a very suggestible person. This may sometimes also be referred to as a person who is easily suggestible. It is not difficult to separate those easily suggestible people from those less suggestible. Suggestible people can (but do not always) include preschool children, those with somatization disorders UDB, and women in weak health. In the instances given, it has been observed that many social, psychological and behavioral factors have influenced the efficacy of medication in each instance. The medications tend to offer a more positive therapeutic outcome for these suggestible individuals as opposed to those who are less suggestible. This is because their predetermined psychosocial behaviors indicate that they believe the drug will work well for them. It is a case of mind over matter.  

However, whilst this has been noted, psychosocialpharmacology is still a new element of pharmacology, and so poses a few questions.

For example, many diseases such as cancers and AIDS

are associated with producing various affective disorders. Does this in turn mean that mood disorders or personality types also affect drug efficacy? To what extent? Do such mood disorders then also promote different side effects?

Could there be an underlying mechanism at work when considering the behavior and manner of a medical professional in terms of drug efficacy?  We know professional-patient relationships can be used to improve therapy in non-specific and sometimes unpredictable ways, for instance a worker in professional addiction rehabilitation center may take a different empathic and likeable approach to a GP, but how does each one’s method contribute a positive pharmacotherapeutic outcome?

This of course does not take into consideration side effects, which can of course confuse people and kill them. Obviously any decent medical professional should be checking for allergies and previous reactions to any chemicals associated with a newly prescribed drug. But if, as many believe, they are only out for money, they may not take this into consideration. This can result in anything from a patient experiencing severe headaches or stomach upset to the more stark clotting, swelling of vital tissue or organs and then of course death.

Other side-effects besides allergic or adverse bodily reactions can also come into play – a person may experience extreme mood swings, outbreaks of violent and unpredictable behavior or depression. Even with mass trials of a drug, it is impossible to always accurately predict an individual patients’ reaction.

There are many other questions also posed here, like the role of beliefs and importance placed on Western medicine by those in developing countries, and the reasoning behind spiritual traditions and cultural behaviors. Each factor must be analyzed and studied carefully to determine its importance and place within the term of psychosocialpharmacology.

To summarize, it is clear that whilst not all questions can be readily answered, psychosocial factors have always played a somewhat vital role in determining medications and their efficacy when distributed to patients. This is why the term psychosocialpharmacology is being introduced – to place further importance and to ensure great care is taken in this element of the clinical pharmacology world.

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