Antipsychotics: What You Need to Know! (2022 Updated)

Antipsychotic medications are used to manage the symptoms of schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, and other conditions that involve psychosis. Antipsychotic medication can effectively relieve delusions and hallucinations but has serious side effects. In addition to their beneficial effects on psychosis, antipsychotic drugs can also be dangerous.

While these medications can reduce the likelihood of a schizophrenic or psychotic episode, they may also increase the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other serious health problems. This article covers everything you need to know about antipsychotics.

Learn more about the risks vs. benefits of antipsychotics and how they work, try our interactive quiz to see if you should talk to your doctor about these drugs, and read on to discover six things you should know before taking them.

Risk Vs. Benefit Balance of Antipsychotics

Before using antipsychotic medications, it is crucial to consider the potential benefits and risks. The potential benefits include:

  • Reduced symptoms of psychosis.
  • Reduced risk of hospitalization.
  • Reduced risk of self-harm.
  • Reduced risk of harm to others.

The potential risks include:

  • Metabolic syndrome (a cluster of symptoms that increases your risk for heart disease and diabetes).
  • Movement disorders.
  • Weight gain.
  • Low blood glucose (sugar).
  • Increased risk of stroke.

The decision to use antipsychotics must be based on a balanced consideration of the potential benefits and risks. As with all medications, there are benefits and risks associated with antipsychotics. Discussing these with your doctor is important so you can make an informed decision about whether to take them.

How do Antipsychotic Medications Work?

The exact mechanism of action of antipsychotics remains unclear, but neurobiologists have proposed several hypotheses for their ability to control symptoms of schizophrenia. The most recent consensus suggests that antipsychotics work by blocking specific brain receptors responsible for transmitting the information.

This blocking of receptors leads to an increase in dopamine in the brain, which has been linked to positive side effects, such as reduction of negative symptoms and improvement in cognitive function.

Antipsychotics may also reduce the amount of acetylcholine in the brain, which is associated with the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. The blocking of these receptors may be why antipsychotics are also used to treat various other mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and severe cases of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). While the exact mechanism of action is unknown, antipsychotics may calm the brain’s hyperactivity associated with these conditions.

Things to Know Before Taking an Antipsychotic Medication

  • You may become more likely to gain weight. One of the most serious side effects of antipsychotics is that they increase the risk of weight gain and obesity. On average, people taking antipsychotics gain 7 pounds in the first 6 months of treatment, which may lead to lifelong weight gain. Medication-related weight gain appears to be most likely with first-generation antipsychotics, such as haloperidol and chlorpromazine. 
  • You may develop diabetes. If you already have pre-diabetes, you should be even more careful about your chosen drugs. Some antipsychotics, such as olanzapine, quetiapine, and risperidone, are linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Metformin, a common diabetes medication, may be useful for preventing antipsychotic-related diabetes. 
  • You may have an increased risk of death. Some antipsychotics, such as haloperidol and clozapine, have an increased risk of death in patients with schizophrenia. 
  • You may experience side effects that affect your daily life. Specific side effects of antipsychotics, such as drowsiness and restlessness, can interfere with your daily functioning. Some people experience sexual problems as a result of taking antipsychotics.
  • You may experience withdrawal symptoms. Stopping antipsychotics suddenly has been linked to withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and headaches. 
  • You may not need to take medications long-term. Studies show that only up to 1 in 4 patients with schizophrenia need to take antipsychotics long-term and that other treatments, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can be just as effective. 
  • You may benefit from trying multiple medications at once. Combination therapy may be necessary for you to find the proper treatment. If you don’t respond to the first medication prescribed, you must talk to your doctor about trying different medications. 
  • Some antipsychotics, such as clozapine, olanzapine, risperidone, and quetiapine, are atypical antipsychotics. These drugs have been shown to have fewer metabolic side effects than first-generation antipsychotics. You may have the option to try an atypical antipsychotic.

2 Common Types of Antipsychotic Medications

First-generation antipsychotics : also known as traditional antipsychotics, are older drugs used to treat schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. They include chlorpromazine, haloperidol, thioridazine, molindone, and perphenazine. 

Second-generation antipsychotics :also known as atypical antipsychotics, are newer drugs with fewer side effects than first-generation antipsychotics. These include olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone, aripiprazole, and ziprasidone.

Other Medications to Help with the Side Effects of Antipropsychotics

  • Metformin, a common diabetes medication, has been shown to help reduce the risk of diabetes in patients taking certain antipsychotics. Metformin can also help improve blood glucose levels in people with diabetes who are taking antipsychotics. 
  • Dopamine agonists, such as pramipexole, ropinirole, and rotigotine, have fewer side effects and are good second-choice medications. 
  • GABA agonists, such as gabapentin and pregabalin, may also help control some antipsychotic side effects. 
  • Certain supplements, such as fish oil and vitamin D, can also help reduce the risk of metabolic side effects.

Conclusion: What are Antipsychotics used for?

Antipsychotics are a mainstay in the treatment of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. However, they are not without risks. Some patients develop metabolic syndrome and weight gain, while others experience sexual and movement disorders.

Fortunately, other treatments can be used to help patients without the same risks. In addition, with careful monitoring of patients, some of these side effects can be reduced. With careful monitoring and communication with your doctor, you can make informed decisions about the risks and benefits of antipsychotics.


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