Pharmacology for Addiction

What is a Drug, and What is Pharmacology?

The following terms need to be defined for pharmacological discussions of addiction. Pharmacology is the study of the interaction between chemical reagents or drugs and living organisms. A drug is any chemical agent that affects an organism. Obviously, this definition can be murky in the domain of drugs of abuse, when one crosses into the realm of natural preparations that contain psychoactive or psychotropic drug entities. Psychotropic can be defined as an effect of a drug on the mind or behavior. For example, most drugs of abuse are derived from plant preparations. Many of them are alkaloids, such as nicotine in tobacco and caffeine in coffee and tea. An alkaloid is an organic compound that normally has basic chemical properties and contains mostly basic nitrogen atoms. So when does a compound transition from being a foodstuff to a drug? One metric is when it begins to have an identifiable psychotropic effect.

Other terms that are often used in the drug abuse field and should be defined in the context of this book are toxicology, pharmacotherapeutics, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamics. Toxicology is the study of the harmful effects of drugs. Pharmacotherapeutics is the study of the diagnostic or therapeutic effects of drugs. Pharmacokinetics is the study of the factors that determine the amount of a given drug at a given site of action. Pharmacodynamics is the study of how a drug produces its biological effect.

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