Antipsychotics are medicines that are mainly used to treat schizophrenia or mania caused by bipolar disorder. Some antipsychotics may also be used to treat severe anxiety (but only in very low doses) or agitation.
Most commonly, antipsychotics will be taken orally in tablet or liquid form, but some of them can also be prescribed as depot injections.
Antipsychotics are only available from your pharmacist, with a doctor’s prescription.
How do they work?
They are thought to work by altering the effect of certain chemicals in the brain, called dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline and acetylcholine. These chemicals have the effect of changing your behaviour, mood and emotions.
It’s worth noting that antipsychotic drugs don’t cure psychosis, but they are often effective in reducing and controlling many symptoms, including:
- delusions and hallucinations
- incoherent speech and muddled thinking
- anxiety and serious agitation
How long is the treatment?
The usual length of treatment really does depend on many factors. Some people may only need to take them for a few weeks, but others may need to take them long-term (for example, for schizophrenia.) Even when symptoms ease, antipsychotic medication is usually continued long-term if you have schizophrenia. This aims to prevent relapses, or to limit the number and severity of relapses.
Side-effects from antipsychotics
Just like a particular final-boss, side-effects can sometimes be troublesome. There’s often a trade-off between easing symptoms and having to put up with some side-effects from treatment. Your doctor may try two or more different medicines before one is found that is best suited to an individual, each antipsychotic medicines can have different types of side-effects.
Common side-effects include:
- dry mouth, blurred vision, flushing and constipation. They may ease off when you become used to the medicine
- drowsiness, which may be an indication that the dose is too high
- some people may develop weight gain
- some movement disorders may develop, including restlessness of the legs and abnormal movements of the face and body
Your doctor will want to monitor you regularly for side-effects, and the tests needed will depend on which antipsychotic you are prescribed.
You should always talk to your doctor first if you want to stop taking an antipsychotic. They will help you decide if stopping is the best thing for you and how you should stop taking your medicine. These medicines are usually stopped slowly over a number of weeks.