People with schizophrenia often stop taking their medicines when they still need them. But you can help your loved one stick to a treatment plan.
Keeping up with medication is important. Without medication, your loved one’s symptoms could come back.
What You Can Do
Get the facts. You can help your loved one by learning about the medication and how it should be taken.
Know what it can and cannot do. Be up to date on the dosage, side effects, and what could happen if your loved one stops taking it, says John Kane, MD. He's the chairman of psychiatry at the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine in Hempstead, NY.
Set up a routine. "Families should help the patient develop a routine to take the medication," Kane says.
For example, keep the medicine next to your loved one's toothbrush so it becomes part of the bedtime routine. Get a pill tray with compartments for each day. Put it in the kitchen cabinet so he remembers to take it at mealtime.
Help give the meds. If your loved one lets you be part of his care, you can help by giving him the meds every day, says Rebecca Gladding, MD, co-author of You Are Not Your Brain.
Help your loved one understand why the medication is important. Talk about what could happen if he stops the treatment.
Together, remember how the medication has helped and what it would mean to get sick (or sicker) again. Point out that staying well will help him feel good and reach his goals.
Be involved in their care. Go with your loved one to the doctor appointments. This helps you manage and understand his disease better and learn how to help solve any problems with it.
Encourage your loved one to keep up with the treatment program, like participating in day programs, working with case managers, and using community support systems, Gladding says.
Consider shots. If your loved one won't take pills every day, he may want to try long-acting antipsychotics that are given as shots. He would get these once every 2 to 4 weeks.
That way, he gets the benefits of the meds and makes it very clear if he misses a dose.
Why People Stop Taking Their Meds
Knowing why someone with schizophrenia finds it hard to stick with treatment can help you plan a way to help.
There are a lot of reasons why people with schizophrenia stop their meds, Kane says. It varies from person to person and can change over time, but these are common reasons:
They feel better. When meds work well, people feel better. So they think they don't need them anymore. It's common and can happen even when someone understands and accepts their illness.
Side effects. Weight gain, drowsiness, and restlessness are some of the difficult side effects of antipsychotic drugs that cause some people to stop their meds, Kane says.
Other common side effects include:
Lack of awareness. Some people with schizophrenia don't think they're ill. So they don't believe there's any reason to take medicine.
The meds don't work. If they don't feel better, it's easy to assume the meds don't work. But they may not understand what medication can and cannot do, Kane says. Or they may need a different drug or dosage.
The medication plan is inconvenient. It's common for someone to need to take pills more than once a day. That can be hard to keep up with.
Cost. Patients might not want to or be able to pay for drugs.
Lack of social support. Sometimes, a relative or friend believes their loved one would be better off without meds and encourages them to stop.
Voices or delusions. "Sometimes it can be because a voice is telling them to stop," Gladding says. Or they have a delusion (a false belief) that makes them think they shouldn't take their meds.