If you have a loved one with schizophrenia, you want them to get help as quickly as possible. Medication is key, along with other types of care, such as psychotherapy, which is a kind of talk therapy, and social skills training.
But you have to be sure your family member takes his medication. And that’s not always easy. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects how a person acts, thinks, and feels. It can keep him from seeing the world in a normal way, which means he may not want to take his medication.
Schizophrenia causes many symptoms, including:
- Delusions (believing things that aren’t true)
- Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
- Jumbled or confused thinking and speaking
- Odd and random movements like strange posture
Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes schizophrenia. There is no cure. So to treat it, a doctor will prescribe your loved one medications that can help ease his symptoms and prevent them from coming back.
Antipsychotics: Medications That Tame Psychosis
The medications doctors prescribe most often for schizophrenia are called antipsychotics. They ease symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations.
These drugs work on chemicals in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin.
Your loved one will most likely have to take schizophrenia medication his entire life, even if his symptoms get better. He can take antipsychotics as a liquid, a pill, or as an injection.
If you think he might have trouble remembering to take medicine every day, he can try a shot he gets from his doctor once or twice a month called a long-acting injectable antipsychotic medication (LAI). It works just as well as taking a daily pill.
Doctors will choose which medication is best by looking at the following:
- How well it works on his symptoms
- How much it will cost
- Side effects
- How easily he can get it
- How often he has to take it
Types of Antipsychotic Medications
There are two groups of antipsychotics. Doctors call the older group of medications “first-generation,” “typical,” or “conventional” antipsychotics. Some common ones are:
The newer ones are called “second-generation,” or “atypical” antipsychotics. Examples of these medicines include:
- Aripiprazole (Abilify)
- Aripiprazole lauroxil (Aristada)
- Asenapine (Saphris)
- Clozapine (Clozaril)
- Iloperidone (Fanapt)
- Lurasidone (Latuda)
- Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
- Paliperidone (Invega Sustenna)
- Paliperidone palmitate (Invega Trinza)
- Quetiapine (Seroquel)
- Risperidone (Risperdal)
- Ziprasidone (Geodon)
Note: Clozapine is the only FDA-approved medication for treating schizophrenia that is resistant to other treatments. It’s also indicated for decreasing suicidal behaviors in those with schizophrenia who are at risk.
Other, even newer atypical antipsychotics include:
- Brexpiprazole (Rexulti)
- Cariprazine (Vraylar)
Side Effects of Antipsychotics
While the first-generation, older meds usually cost less, they can have different side effects than the newer antipsychotics. Some can cause higher levels of the hormone prolactin. This can affect sex drive, mood, menstrual cycles, and growth of breast tissue in both men and women.
One of the more serious side effects from long-term use of both the older and newer medications is a movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia. It makes your facial, tongue, and neck muscles move uncontrollably and can be permanent.
While both older and newer antipsychotics can cause tardive dyskinesia, researchers believe that the odds are higher with the older antipsychotics.
Antipsychotics come with other side effects as well. Your loved one could have any of the following:
- Weight gain
- Sexual problems
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Low blood pressure
- Low white blood cell count
Be sure he sees his doctor regularly while he’s taking antipsychotic medication. And encourage him to talk to his doctor if he has any concerns about side effects.
Medication and Support
Schizophrenia can make it hard to stick to a medication plan. Your loved one will need a strong support system.
Learn as much as you can about schizophrenia and be part of the decision-making process with your loved one’s doctor. Surrounding him with people who care about his well-being is also key.
When he starts to take his medication, he may feel better right away. But it may take up to 4 to 6 weeks before symptoms like hallucinations and delusions get better.
Be sure he keeps taking it long enough for his doctor to know if it’s working. Sometimes it can take several tries to find out which medication works best.