How to Help Someone Stay on Their Bipolar Medications

Just like someone with type 1 diabetes will always need insulin, a person with bipolar disorder will likely need to take medication for his 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 him stick with it. And knowing the reason the person quits using the medicine can help.

Make sure you tell him that you care about him, that you believe medication is key to his being well, and that you'll be there to support and help him 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, he and his doctor may need to experiment for months or even years before settling on the right drugs and doses. Reassure him that most people are eventually glad they stuck with the process because they end up feeling a lot better.

The reason: He just forgets.

If your friend or loved one frequently misses doses because he's "too busy" or "just forgot," encourage him to find a way to make it part of his 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 him with a phone call or text message. Offer to pick up his refills from the pharmacy.


The reason: He hates the side effects.

Encourage him to tell his doctor. Adjusting the dose or changing when he takes it may help ease side effects. His 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, his doctor may change his medication.

The reason: He just refuses.

There could be a number of reasons someone refuses to take a medicine. He might have a concern he's not willing to talk about. Or he may not want to accept that he has a mental illness or that he needs medicine.

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

If your loved one isn't taking his medication, try to get a handle on his current state of mind. A person who seems relatively stable might be OK without medication for a while. But try to get him to agree to seek treatment if his condition gets worse. He 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 his 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 him understand how serious his condition is.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on December 11, 2018



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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