What is Behavioral Pharmacology?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2019
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Behavioral pharmacology, also referred to as psychopharmacology or neuropharmacology, is a branch of medical sciences that studies the effects of behavior-altering drugs. Those who study or practice in this field are known as behavioral pharmacologists. Behavioral pharmacologists study many different drugs and substances ranging from widely-used, legal medications to obscure and illegal recreational drugs. Most of the substances of interest are in some way psychoactive; they bring about some form of change in perception, mood, thought patterns, and behavior. Pharmacologists study such drugs and substances in the hopes of finding some that could be medically useful and of finding previously unknown dangers in others.

One major focus of behavioral pharmacology is on drugs that are used to treat various psychological disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia. Some such drugs can actually be used for several different disorders because of the broad and variable ways in which they alter behavior. Successes in this field has enabled many mentally ill individuals around the world to live healthy and relatively normal lives. Researchers continue to seek the specific mechanisms by which various psychoactive drugs actually correct such illnesses. There are many chemical reactions in the brain that direct mood and behavior that are not yet fully understood but could have a wide effect on the nature of drugs developed and used.


A behavioral pharmacologist might also study various recreational drugs and substances, such as alcohol and marijuana. These substances alter the moods and behaviors of people in a variety of drastic ways. In many cases, they are also habit-forming; people can develop very strong and detrimental addictions to them. The field of behavioral pharmacology seeks to fully understand such substances. With greater understanding of these substances, pharmacologists hope to be able to address some of the risks that are inherent in the overuse of addictive, behavior-altering substances.

A behavioral pharmacologist may apply his knowledge of pharmacology in numerous ways ranging from drug development to consulting work in various medical fields. Behavioral pharmacology is a field with many possibilities; research and study are far from the field's sole interests. Generally speaking, most doctors and pharmacists must have a general working knowledge of behavioral pharmacology, as they often need to assess the appropriateness of certain drugs and treatments. Some individuals with knowledge of behavioral pharmacology even work in legal practices as legal representatives for various pharmacology companies. Such representatives often work with the government and with various national and international health organizations to ensure the safety of their treatments.


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Post 1

Behavioral pharmacology would be an interesting field of study. I'm not sure I have the discipline required to study it, but my cousin did. He has a career in it now.

He works at a laboratory, helping other scientists develop new drugs. He told me his job is at once thrilling and filled with responsibility. He has to make sure that he and his coworkers don't come up with anything that will prove to be harmful or fatal.

In his position, he has a lot of freedom. If he feels slightly under the weather, he simply won't go into work that day, because he knows that his mind needs to be working at its best for him to do what he needs to do. The boss doesn't care as long as he gets the drug developed by the deadline.

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