For what diagnoses are psychotropic medications being prescribed?: a nationally representative survey of physicians

CNS Drugs. 2010 Apr;24(4):319-26. doi: 10.2165/11533120-000000000-00000.


Background: Psychoactive medications, such as antidepressants, are one of the most widely prescribed categories of drugs in the US; yet few studies have comprehensively examined the conditions for which psychoactive medications are prescribed. To our knowledge, no prior study has examined the extent to which psychoactive medications are prescribed for non-psychiatric somatic illnesses or the main types of psychiatric disorders for which psychoactive medications are being used.

Objective: To examine the diagnoses for which psychiatric medications are being prescribed in the US by analysing data from a nationally representative survey of physicians.

Methods: The data were obtained from the 2005 National Disease and Therapeutic Index (NDTI), a continuing survey of a US office-based panel of physicians. The 2005 physician panel consisted of approximately 4000 physicians reporting quarterly, which was projected to a universe of 500,722 physicians. The study focused on the diagnoses that were given as the primary reason for prescribing the following types of psychotropic medications: antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety medications.

Results: Of the total number of antidepressant drug mentions, 92.7% were prescribed for psychiatric conditions. The most common (65.3%) were mood disorders (e.g. depression), followed by anxiety disorders (16.4%), which together comprised 81.7% of all antidepressant drug mentions. Of the total number of anti-anxiety drug mentions, 67.7% were prescribed for psychiatric conditions. The most common diagnosis was anxiety disorders (comprising 39.6% of all drug mentions), followed by mood disorders (comprising 18.9% of all drug mentions). Almost one-third of anxiety medication drug mentions were for non-psychiatric conditions or conditions of unspecified type. Of the total number of antipsychotic drug mentions, 98.9% were prescribed for psychiatric conditions. The most common diagnoses, comprising 39.0% of all drug mentions, were mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. The second most common psychiatric diagnosis was schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders, comprising 34.5% of drug mentions. Approximately 7.4% of drug mentions were for delirium, dementia, amnestic or other cognitive disorders. Attention-deficit/conduct/disruptive behaviour disorders were the diagnoses indicated on 5.7% of all antipsychotic drug mentions. Anxiety disorders were indicated on 5.5% of antipsychotic drug mentions. Disorders usually diagnosed in infancy/childhood/adolescence (e.g. autism) comprised 2.3% of antipsychotic drug mentions.

Conclusions: This research provides a broad view of the nature of psychoactive medication prescribing, which may serve as a guide to future research, policy and education about these medications, their perceived benefits and risks, and their uses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug Utilization / statistics & numerical data
  • Drug Utilization / trends
  • Health Care Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends
  • Psychotropic Drugs / administration & dosage
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • United States


  • Psychotropic Drugs