Medication is an essential component of treatment for anyone with bipolar disorder. Because people with bipolar disorder often experience rapid or extreme changes in mood, energy level, attention, and behavior, medication can help stabilize mood changes and reduce symptoms. Medication can also prevent future manic or depressive episodes from occurring and reduce their overall intensity.

Bipolar disorder medication is most effective when taken in combination with therapy and daily, healthy choices. If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, here are some common types of medication you may be prescribed. Be aware that it may take several tries before you find the best combination that works for you.

Mood Stabilizers

Mood stabilizers are prescribed to manage hypomanic or manic episodes and sometimes depressive episodes. Examples may include lithium, valproic acid, carbamazepine, lamotrigine, and divalproex sodium.1 Mood stabilizers sometimes can take several weeks to achieve their full effect, and if you take a stabilizer such as lithium, you may have to have regular blood tests to ensure the dosage is not toxic to your body.2


Antidepressants

Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to treat depressive episode symptoms for people with bipolar disorder, but there is much debate about their efficacy. Antidepressants can trigger manic episodes when not combined with a mood stabilizer and can also potentially increase mood cycling. They may also cause increase suicidal thoughts, particularly among young people. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of taking antidepressants to treat bipolar disorder.3

 Antipsychotics

When mood stabilizers or antidepressants fail to curb symptoms, doctors may also prescribe antipsychotic medications. Examples include risperidone, olanzapine, aripiprazole, ziprasidone, quetiapine, asenapine, clozapine, and lurasidone. Antipsychotics are sometimes used in place of mood stabilizers or in combination with them. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of antipsychotics.4

Other Medication

Doctors may prescribe other medication to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder. Anti-anxiety medication such as benzodiazepines may be prescribed to help with anxiety or insomnia. Thyroid medication may be used to treat low thyroid levels caused by mood stabilizers. If you are taking any other medications or supplements or are prescribed anything new, talk to your doctor about potential dangerous interactions effects.

Medication Management

Medication is most effective and least dangerous when you take it consistently and accurately. Here are a few tips for making sure you manage medication effectively.

  • Don’t take medication with alcohol or other illegal drugs. This can decrease their effects or increase unpleasant symptoms. People with bipolar disorder are at increased risk for substance use, so be aware of the risks.5
  • Set an alarm to remember to take your medication at the same time each day. If you forget to take a dose, follow the medications directions on what to do.
  • Use a pill organizer to ensure accuracy and to alert you to when you’re running low. Ask your pharmacy to send you reminders when your new prescription is available.
  • Alert your doctor to any side effects you may experience. It often takes a few changes before you can find the right combination of medications for you.
  • Don’t discontinue medication without consulting with your doctor first. If you feel better, that’s probably a sign that the medication is doing its job. Reducing dosage or stopping the medication altogether without consulting your doctor puts you at risk for relapse or increased mood cycling.

Healthy habits can also play a huge role in increasing the efficacy of medication. If you are eating healthy, exercising, getting consistent sleep, reducing caffeine intake and avoiding drugs and alcohol, then you are setting yourself up for fewer symptoms and greater mood stability. Many people find that participating in counseling or psychotherapy can help them build up healthy habits and overcome potential barriers to good mental health.

Where Do I Start?

 If you think you might have bipolar disorder or are unhappy with your medication, talk to your doctor as soon as you can. Write down a list of questions, and don’t be afraid to share your concerns about side effects or past experiences. If you’re currently experiencing a manic or depressive episode, you may need to consult with your doctor at least once a week to assess the effects of the medication. If you are feeling suicidal or experiencing psychotic symptoms, you can go to the hospital or call a loved one for help. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or their TTY number at 1-800-799-4TTY (4889).

The more information you give your doctor, the better they can help you find the right treatment for your bipolar disorder. What steps can you take today to take the best care of your mind, mood, and body?

 

 

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Last Updated: May 24, 2017