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Medications for Bipolar Disorder

If you have bipolar disorder, you may need to take medication for the rest of your life.

Bipolar disorder is a real medical illness. It's not something you can cure with willpower. Taking bipolar disorder medication is just like taking medication for high blood pressure or heart disease.

Bipolar Disorder Therapy

Along with medication, ongoing psychotherapy, or "talk" therapy, is an important part of treatment for bipolar disorder. During therapy, you can discuss feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that cause you problems. Talk therapy can help you understand and ultimately master any problems that hurt your ability to function well in life. It also helps you stay on your medication -- and helps you deal with effects of bipolar disorder on your social and work life. It can help you maintain a positive self-image.

Types of psychotherapy used to treat bipolar disorder include:

  • Behavioral therapy. This focuses on behaviors that decrease stress.
  • Cognitive therapy. This type of approach involves learning to identify and modify the patterns of thinking that accompany mood shifts.
  • Interpersonal therapy. This involves relationships and aims to reduce strains that the illness may place upon them.
  • Social rhythm therapy. This helps you develop and maintain daily routines.

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Medication can be like a pair of glasses. Bipolar disorder distorts your view of things; medication may allow you to see clearly again.

Which bipolar medication is best?

Doctors use a number of different classes and brands of drugs to treat bipolar disorder. Treatment for bipolar mania may include lithium, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, and benzodiazepines.

Many people who have bipolar disorder keep taking these medications for years or decades after their last manic episode to stay healthy. This is called maintenance therapy for bipolar disorder.

During a period of bipolar depression, you might need other medications. Lithium and other mood stabilizers, antipsychotic drugs, and sometimes antidepressants are used to treat bipolar depression.

For mania, depression, or maintenance, these drugs might be used alone or in combinations. 

What is a mood-stabilizing medication?

Mood stabilizers are medicines that treat and prevent highs (manic or hypomanic episodes) and lows (depressive episodes). They also help to minimize the negative effects of mood states on functioning at work or school or in social situations. Technically, the FDA does not classify medicines as "mood stabilizers." Rather, doctors and patients more informally use that term to mean any medicine that has anti-manic or antidepressant properties and does not cause worsening of mood states over time.

Not all drugs have equal anti-manic and antidepressant effects. Some (such as lithium) are more effective at treating manias than depressions. Others (such as lamotrigine) may be more useful for depressive than manic symptoms. Also, the term "mood stabilizer" can sometimes be misleading; medicines we call "mood stabilizers" actually are not studied to treat day-to-day or moment-to-moment mood swings. Rather, their primary use is in treating full episodes of mania/hypomania or depression that each lasts for several days or weeks at a time. 

WebMD Medical Reference

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