Antipsychotic medications, also known as neuroleptics, are a specific class of medication used to treat various psychiatric disorders. This includes bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder.
Some antipsychotics are prescribed for off-label use to treat other health problems as well.
How Antipsychotic Medications Work
Messages are carried inside your brain by various chemicals. One of those chemicals that carry messages in your brain is called dopamine.
High levels of dopamine may cause your brain to function differently and may be the cause of psychosis. Antipsychotics work to block the effects of dopamine on your brain. The result is a reduction of psychotic symptoms for many patients.
Categories of Antipsychotic Medications
Antipsychotic medication is divided into two categories:
Typical or first-generation antipsychotics
- These medications have been in use since the 1950s.
- They are dopamine receptor antagonists (DRA), which alert the signaling of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in your brain.
- They are divided into different chemical groups that act in similar ways and can cause similar side effects.
- They can cause severe neuromuscular side effects.
Atypical or second-generation antipsychotics
- These medications have been used since the 1990s, with continuous new versions still being developed and released.
- They also alter dopamine signaling.
- They impact the signaling of other neurotransmitters, specifically serotonin, which impacts one’s mood.
- They cause less severe neuromuscular side effects than first-generation antipsychotics.
- They may be more likely to cause metabolic side effects, such as rapid weight gain and changes to blood sugar levels.
- Second-generation antipsychotics have been shown to improve depression in clinical studies.
Each antipsychotic should be treated as an individual medication that may or may not work for you. It is not always possible to predict how your body will react and what side effects you will experience until you try a specific medication. It can take time to find the right medication for you.
If, after taking an antipsychotic for a few weeks, you are concerned about the side effects, talk to a healthcare professional. Your dosage may need to be adjusted, you may need to try a different antipsychotic medication, or you may need additional medication to deal with the side effects.
Side Effects of Antipsychotics
Each antipsychotic medication has side effects that are slightly different. That is why you should work with a healthcare professional to choose the right antipsychotic for you.
Common side effects of taking antipsychotic medications include:
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Increased cholesterol
- Muscle stiffness and spasms
- Uncomfortable restlessness
- Uncontrolled movements
- Weight gain
Certain first-generation antipsychotic medications can cause Parkinsonism, which is a movement disorder. It can cause the psychological symptoms of Parkinsonism, specifically losing interest in activities one enjoys and not feeling emotions. It can also cause the physical symptoms of Parkinsonism as side effects.
It is not safe to stop taking antipsychotic medications suddenly and without consulting a medical professional. Instead, you need to work with your doctor to slowly reduce the dosage if you are experiencing side effects from your antipsychotic medication.
The Science of Antipsychotics
There are many potential reasons why antipsychotic medications can help to reduce psychotic symptoms.
- Blocking the action of dopamine on your brain: Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that passes messages around in your brain. Some scientists believe that psychotic experiences result from the overproduction of dopamine in your brain. Antipsychotic medication can block some of the dopamine receptors in your brain, which can help to reduce your psychotic symptoms.
- Affect the movement of other brain chemicals: Some antipsychotic medications, specifically second-generation antipsychotics, affect the way other brain chemicals that regulate your mood interact in your brain. These include neurotransmitters such as:
Antipsychotics change the chemistry of the brain to relieve psychotic symptoms.
Antipsychotics and Depression
Managing treatment-resistant depression and major depressive disorder can be challenging. Oftentimes, first-line treatment with antidepressants may not be effective enough to help a patient reach remission.
Treating major depression requires alternative treatment approaches. One of those alternative treatment approaches is using a second-generation antipsychotic along with antidepressant medication.
There are four antipsychotic medications that the FDA has approved for use in treating treatment-resistant depression and major depressive disorders.
Each of these medications is used in combination with antidepressant medications.
Effectiveness of Antipsychotics
It can take up to six weeks to experience significant benefits from antipsychotic medication. Talk to your doctor if you don’t notice a significant change in your symptoms even after six weeks.
Antipsychotics must be taken as prescribed by your doctor to increase their effectiveness.
Antipsychotic Medication Treatment
Finding the right treatment when you suffer from a range of psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder, can be challenging. One treatment method that may work for you is antipsychotic medications.
Our medication management program can help you manage the use of the medications you take for your mental health condition.
Contact Axis Integrative Mental Health at (720) 400-7025 or fill out our contact us form to learn how we can help with your medication management.
Antipsychotic Medications FAQs
What are antipsychotic medications?
Antipsychotic medications are a group of drugs used to manage the delusions and hallucinations caused by psychosis.
What conditions can be treated with antipsychotic medications?
Antipsychotic medications are usually used to treat psychosis. They can help with treatment-resistant depression, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Antipsychotics can also be prescribed to treat symptoms associated with dementia and delirium.
What are antipsychotic drugs used for?
Although antipsychotics can’t cure psychosis, they can help to reduce and control psychotic symptoms. Specifically, they help reduce and control delusions, hallucinations, anxiety, and severe agitation.
How long can you stay on antipsychotic medication?
For individuals with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses, antipsychotics are often recommended for life because they help control psychotic symptoms in the short term and reduce the risk of relapse.
For individuals taking antipsychotics for depression, they may continue the medication for four months after reaching optimal results and then taper off the dosage while watching for signs of a relapse.
How long you stay on antipsychotic medication depends on what you are being treated for and your individual response to the medication.
Are antipsychotic medications used for depression?
Antipsychotic medications can be used to treat both depression and bipolar disorder. They are generally used together with another type of medication, often an antidepressant.