Aims: This article explores an alternative understanding of how psychiatric drugs work that is referred to as the drug-centred model of drug action. Unlike the current disease-centred model, which suggests that psychiatric drugs work by correcting an underlying brain abnormality, the drug-centred model emphasises how psychiatric drugs affect mental states and behaviour by modifying normal brain processes. The alterations produced may impact on the emotional and behavioural problems that constitute the symptoms of mental disorders.
Methods: Arguments are put forward that justify the consideration of the drug-centred model. The research necessary to support the prescription of drugs according to such a model is explored.
Results: Evidence from neurochemistry and comparative drug trials do not confirm the disease-centred model of drug action. Since psychiatric drugs are recognised to have mind- and behaviour-altering properties, the drug-centred model constitutes a plausible alternative. The drug-centred model suggests that research is needed to identify all the alterations produced by various sorts of drugs, both acute and long term, and how these might interact with the symptoms and problems associated with different mental disorders. This requires detailed animal and volunteer studies and data from patients prescribed drug treatment long term, along with placebo-controlled and comparative trials that look at the overall impact of drug-induced alterations on well-being and functioning as well as symptoms. Research is also needed on alternative ways of fulfilling the function of drug treatment. The moral aspect of using drugs to modify behaviour rather than treat disease needs honest and transparent consideration.
Conclusions: It is hoped this discussion will encourage the psychiatric and pharmaceutical research community to provide more of the information that is required to use psychiatric drugs safely and effectively.
Keywords: Antidepressants; antipsychotics; drug mechanism of action; psychopharmacology; psychotropic drugs; research design and methods.