The antipsychotic drugs are major tranquilizers, including Thorazine, Stelazine, and Haldol, that act to relieve the agitation, delusions, and thought disorders OF schizophrenia. Although they do not cure the underlying disorder, they relieve its symptoms sufficiently to enable most patients who take them to live outside the hospital. One New York man who had spent a dozen years in mental hospitals was able to live at home by taking one drug to overcome his lethargy and social withdrawal, another drug to prevent agitation, and a third to control paranoid delusions. His schizophrenia prevents him from living a totally normal life but, as his mother put it, at least “he has an identity, a feeling of being useful.
Researchers’ best guess about the primary cause of schizophrenia is an excess of the neurotransmitter dopamine in certain parts of the limbic system and the cerebral cortex. The antipsychotic drugs seem to work by attaching themselves to dopamine receptors in the brain, thus blocking dopamine from reaching them.
The widespread use of antipsychotic drugs is hotly debated. Proponents argue that these drugs not only help schizophrenic patients behave appropriately but also make them more receptive to other therapies. Critics contend that such drugs are no more than chemical straight jackets used to keep patients under control. Many professionals feel that drugs are too often used to replace talking to patients and making them feel cared about. The antipsychotic drugs also have unpleasant side effects, including tremors, muscular rigidity, and a twisted posture, which make some patients reluctant to take them. Prolonged use can bring On tardive dyskinesia, a neurological condition characterized by uncontrollable facial twitches and grimaces.
These side effects can be minimized but not eliminated by other drugs .Recently, a new antipsychotic drug called clozapine (brand name: Clozaril) has been introduced. It may show special promise in relieving schizophrenic symptoms without causing severe side effects. Most psychiatrists and psychologists who work with schizophrenic patients are convinced of the value of antipsychotic drugs. But awareness has been heightened of their possible overuse and of the right of patients to decide whether or not to accept such medication.