Almost all patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, will be prescribed medication to help them balance their moods and mitigate the difficult symptoms that often define the disorder.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), mood stabilizers are often the first medication measure implemented in the pharmacological treatment of Bipolar disorder, and in some cases, antipsychotic medications and/ or antidepressants may also be utilized.
It is not uncommon for patients with bipolar disorder to struggle with sticking to their medication regimen even if there is a significant reduction in symptoms. For this reason and for the additional benefits of working through co-occurring disorders (e.g., substance abuse) and underlying trauma, it is almost always recommended that the bipolar disorder patient also undergo psychotherapeutic treatment and remain actively engaged with their ongoing recovery in order to sustain progress for the long-term.
Mood stabilizers are the gold standard in pharmacological treatment of bipolar disorder. Most patients start out with lithium due to its high rates of efficacy in the treatment of both depressive and manic episodes experienced by bipolar patients.
Anticonvulsants are often utilized for the purposes of mood stabilization as well. Though their initial purpose was the treatment of seizures, they have been proven to be helpful in managing moods among bipolar patients. Some anticonvulsants commonly prescribed for this use include:
Atypical antipsychotics can be used to help patients manage symptoms caused by bipolar disorder. In most cases, these are used in combination with other medications. Commonly prescribed antipsychotics include:
- Zyprexa (especially for the treatment of psychotic depression, which can be characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and other severe symptoms)
Depression can be a serious issue for patients living with bipolar disorder, and a number of different types of antidepressant medications can be effective in helping patients to manage these symptoms. Some of the more commonly prescribed antidepressants for this purpose include:
When prescribed for the treatment of bipolar disorder, they are never prescribed alone, however, because they can have the effect of triggering a rapid switch from depression to mania and back again, which can be hugely disruptive. Mood stabilizers or antipsychotics are always prescribed with antidepressants for the treatment of bipolar disorder when antidepressants are prescribed.
Side Effects and Risks
Though none of the medications prescribed to treat bipolar disorder are addictive, they can come with certain side effects that are problematic for patients. Depending on the type of medication and the dose as well as the combination of medications taken, some patients have a difficult time adjusting to the use of these pills; some even feel that they would rather deal with the extreme mood swings and erratic behavior that define bipolar disorder than struggle with uncomfortable and sometimes disruptive and dangerous side effects.
Especially when bipolar disorder patients are not on their medication regimen, substance abuse can become an issue. Some seek to medicate themselves using illicit substances in an attempt to find balance while others prefer to augment preferred moods (especially the manic phase) through the use of drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, the usual result is a slew of problems caused by ongoing drug abuse, which can include:
- Problems at home
- Legal issues
- Increased difficulties maintaining employment
- Acute and chronic health problems
Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that requires intensive treatment and when it co-occurs with drug addiction or substance abuse, a Dual Diagnosis rehab plan that treats both conditions is recommended. Contact us today to learn more about the comprehensive care that will help your loved one heal.
Further Reading About Medications for Bipolar Disorders Treatment
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David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton