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Mental Health Center

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Drugs to Treat Mental Illness

What Drugs Treat Anxiety Disorders?

Antidepressants, particularly the SSRIs, may also be effective in treating many types of anxiety disorders.

Other anti-anxiety medications include the benzodiazepines, such as Valium, Ativan, and Xanax. These drugs carry a risk of addiction, so they are not as desirable for long-term use. Other possible side effects include drowsiness, poor concentration, and irritability.

The drug buspirone (Buspar) is a unique serotonergic drug that is non-habit-forming and often used to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Some antiseizure medicines, such as gabapentin (Neurontin) or pregabalin (Lyrica) are sometimes used "off label" to treat certain forms of anxiety.

Finally, some conventional as well as atypical antipsychotic drugs have been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms in the context of treating depression or psychosis, and may also sometimes be used "off label" as treatments for anxiety.

What Drugs Treat Psychotic Disorders?

Anti-psychotics are a class of drugs used commonly to treat psychotic disorders and sometimes to treat mood disorders such as bipolar disorder or major depression. Different anti-psychotics vary in their side effects, and some people have more trouble with certain side effects than with others. The doctor can change medications or dosages to help minimize unpleasant side effects. A drawback to some anti-psychotic medications is their potential to cause sedation and problems with involuntary movements as well as weight gain and changes in blood sugar or cholesterol, which require periodic laboratory monitoring.

Many side effects of anti-psychotic drugs are mild and many go away after the first few weeks of treatment. Common side effects may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness when changing positions
  • Decrease in sexual interest or ability
  • Problems with menstrual periods
  • Skin rashes or skin sensitivity to the sun
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Restlessness and pacing
  • Slowing down of movement and speech
  • Shuffling walk
  • Menstrual irregularities in women

There are, however, a few serious side effects that are possible, especially with long-term use of anti-psychotic medications. These side effects include:

  • Tardive dyskinesia : This is a movement disorder that results in unusual and uncontrollable movements, usually of the tongue and face (such as sticking out the tongue and smacking the lips), and sometimes jerking and twisting movements of other parts of the body.
  • Neuroleptic malignant syndrome : This is a potentially fatal disorder characterized by severe muscle rigidity (stiffening), fever, sweating, high blood pressure, delirium, and sometimes coma.
  • Agranulocytosis : This is a condition marked by a sharp decrease in the number of infection-fighting white blood cells. This condition can leave the person prone to infection and at greater risk of death. Agranulocytosis has been particularly linked with Clozaril, where it may occur in 1 in 100 patients. People taking Clozaril must have regular blood tests to closely monitor their white blood cell count. However, all antipsychotics carry a warning label from the FDA noting that as a class they have a risk for lowering someone's white blood cell count.
  • Changes in Blood Sugar and Cholesterol: Some atypical anti-psychotics can cause increases in blood sugar (which could eventually lead to diabetes) and blood lipids such as cholesterol and triglycerides. Periodic blood tests are necessary to monitor these factors.

If antipsychotic drug side effects are particularly troublesome, your doctor may change medications or dosages or sometimes add additional medicines to counteract side effects like weight gain or high blood lipids. The newer atypical antipsychotic medications appear to be much better tolerated, with fewer side effects such as movement disorders or drowsiness. They do, though, require monitoring for weight and metabolic risks, which appear to be higher than with older-generation anti-psychotics.

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