I n all probability, psychotropic substances have existed as an integral partof culture since the evolution of humankind (Stein, 1998). Contemporarypsychopharmacology, however, is a relatively new field that has experienced tremendous growth in the last 5 decades. When used appropriately, medication has allowed severely mentally ill persons to reside in community settings rather than in hospitals and has reduced suffering tremendously. Because of the significant increase in the use of psychotropic medication, there is an increasing need for social workers to be familiar with basic psychopharmacology. With the shift away from psychodynamic theory and long-term therapy, emphasis has increasingly been placed on quick stabilization and brief treatment, which means that pharmacotherapy may become the primary (or sole) intervention. Although social work historically endorses the biopsychosocial perspective, the biological component is often missing from theory, practice, and education. Social workers are often not well versed in the neurochemical processes involved in psychiatric conditions or the biological risk factors in
psychosocial disorders. In order to understand the function of the total human being and the process of change across the life span, especially in light of managed care’s emphasis on psychopharmacology as a treatment modality, it is important to have some understanding of the biological bases of psychiatric illness.