Antipsychotic medications are used in those with bipolar disorder as a short-term treatment to control psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions. These symptoms may occur during acute mania or severe depression.
In people with bipolar disorder, antipsychotics are also used as sedatives, for insomnia, for anxiety, and/or for agitation. Often, they are taken with a mood-stabilizing drug and can decrease symptoms of mania until mood stabilizers take full effect. Some antipsychotic drugs may also help lessen bipolar depression.
If you have bipolar disorder, no one needs to tell you how challenging this
mental illness can be. You are among millions of American adults who may also
find that the extreme mood swings of bipolar disorder can be very disruptive at
work. Take heart. There are many steps you can take to find meaningful work and
develop successful relationships on -- and off -- the job.
Some of the newer antipsychotics seem to help stabilize moods on their own. As a result, they may be used alone as long-term treatment for people who don't tolerate or respond to lithium and anticonvulsants.
Antipsychotic drugs help balance certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. It is not clear exactly how these drugs work, but they usually improve manic episodes quickly.
The newer antipsychotics usually act quickly and can help you avoid the reckless and impulsive behaviors associated with mania. More normal thinking often is restored within a week.
Antipsychotics used to treat bipolar disorder include:
Common side effects of antipsychotic medications include:
Muscle spasms or tremor
Involuntary facial tics
Note: Clozaril is not used often, despite its effectiveness, for bipolar disorder. The drug can cause a rare, potentially fatal side effect affecting the blood that requires weekly or biweekly blood test monitoring.
Older antipsychotic drugs are generally not used to treat bipolar disorder. However, they may be helpful if a person has troublesome side effects or doesn't respond to the newer drugs. Older antipsychotics include Thorazine (chlorpromazine), Haldol (haloperidol), and Trilafon (perphenazine). These drugs may cause serious long-term side effects called tardive dyskinesia, a movement disorder characterized by repetitive, involuntary movement like lip smacking, protruding the tongue, or grimacing.
WebMD Medical Reference: "Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depressive Disorder)."
WebMD Assess Plus: Bipolar Disorder Assessment. National Institute for Mental Health: "Step-BD Womens Studies."
Massachusetts General Hospital Bipolar Clinic & Research Program. MedicineNet.com: "Bipolar Disorder (Mania)." WebMD Medical Reference: "Effects of Untreated Depression."
American Psychiatric Association: "Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients With Bipolar Disorder."