How to Help Someone Stay on Their Bipolar Medications

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on December 13, 2020

Just like someone with type 1 diabetes will always need insulin, a person with bipolar disorder will likely need to take medication for their whole life. Research shows that many of those who stop often find their symptoms return within a year.

As important as it is, people often don't stay the course with their medication. There are some common reasons why someone might skip doses or stop taking drugs. If you have a friend or family member with bipolar disorder, you can help them stick with it. And knowing the reason the person quits using the medicine can help.

Make sure you tell them that you care about them, that you believe medication is key to their being well, and that you'll be there to support and help them along the way.


The reason: The drugs don't seem to be working.

Encourage patience. Many medications can take up to 8 weeks to kick in. So it's not unusual to think they're not working at first. Sometimes, they and their doctor may need to experiment for months or even years before settling on the right drugs and doses. Reassure them that most people are eventually glad they stuck with the process because they end up feeling a lot better.


The reason: They just forget.

If your friend or loved one frequently misses doses because they're "too busy" or "just forgot," encourage them to find a way to make it part of their daily routine. Taking pills at the same time every day such as before bed or with breakfast can help. So may downloading a pill reminder app or using a pill box organizer. Ask if you can remind them with a phone call or text message. Offer to pick up their refills from the pharmacy.

The reason: They hate the side effects.

Encourage them to tell their doctor. Adjusting the dose or changing when they take it may help ease side effects. Their doctor might also have suggestions on how to deal with the side effects so they're less of an issue. If that doesn't work, their doctor may change their medication.



The reason: They just refuses.

There could be a number of reasons someone refuses to take a medicine. They might have a concern they're not willing to talk about. Or they may not want to accept that they have a mental illness or that they need medicine.

If your loved one is taking medication but talking about stopping, urge them to discuss it with their doctor. Warn them of the dangers of stopping abruptly. Their symptoms could become more severe, and they might have unpleasant side effects.

If your loved one isn't taking their medication, try to get a handle on their current state of mind. A person who seems relatively stable might be OK without medication for a while. But try to get them to agree to seek treatment if their condition gets worse. They might be willing to discuss the downsides of stopping medication and what's at stake.

Sometimes, a person who is manic or severely depressed may still refuse treatment. You may need to take matters into your own hands and contact their doctor. Your loved one might need to be hospitalized. While this can be a hard step to take, it may serve as a wake-up call that makes them understand how serious their condition is.


WebMD Medical Reference



Behavioral Health Evolution: "Medications Play a Key Role in Treatment."

Bipolar Caregivers: "Bipolar Medication -- Important Points," "If the Person Refuses to Get Treatment."

The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders: "The Diagnosis and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder: Decision-Making in Primary Care."

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: "Helping a Friend or Family Member with Depression or Bipolar Disorder."

International Bipolar Foundation: "Finding the Right Medication."

Mayo Clinic: "Bipolar Disorder: Causes."

Medication Use Safety Training for Seniors: "MUST Remember -- 10 Tips to Help Remind You to Stay on Schedule."

National Alliance on Mental Illness: "Frequently Asked Questions."

National Institute of Mental Health: "Bipolar Disorder."

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