Psychiatric medications are a crucial part of treatment for many mental health conditions, helping to ease symptoms and boost mental well-being. But there are some more commonly prescribed.
Mental health conditions are complex. Just one medication will help in some cases. Other times, you might try a few different medications before finding the right one or even need more than one medication.
Psychiatric medications are an important part of many people’s treatment plans, including therapy and other strategies. While they can’t cure your mental health condition, they can help manage your symptoms.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) compiles data on the use and cost of health services, including prescription medications. These are the top psychiatric medications for 2020.
In 2020, more than 252 million prescriptions were prescribed for mental health conditions. That number was higher in 2018 at 255 million, suggesting a slight decline in prescriptions for psychiatric medications.
The total cost spent on psychiatric medications was more than $15.6 trillion, lagging closely behind hormones or hormone modifiers (15.8. trillion) and slightly more than topical agents (14.1 trillion).
The most expensive psychiatric medications on the top 25 list that make the most money for their manufacturers are:
- methylphenidate (Concerta): treats ADHD ($3.28 billion)
- lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse): treats ADHD ($3.01 billion)
- amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall): treats ADHD ($2.35 billion)
- aripiprazole (Abilify):treats depression and bipolar disorder ($2.23 billion)
- venlafaxine (Effexor): treats depression and anxiety ($1.38 billion)
You can see from this list that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) made up the cost of over a third of the prescriptions in 2020. Only antipsychotic medications — prescribed for various conditions, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder — cost more as a category.
Here are the top 25 psychiatric medications of 2020 based on the total number of prescriptions purchased. Also included is the total spent.
- Sertraline (Zoloft): Depression (38.22 million prescriptions — $523 million)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro): Depression and anxiety (30.6 million prescriptions — $573 million)
- Bupropion (Wellbutrin): Depression (28.9 million prescriptions — $129 million)
- Amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall): ADHD (26.24 million prescriptions — $2.35 billion)
- Trazodone: Depression (26.21 million prescriptions — $329 million)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac): Panic disorder and depression (23.4 million prescriptions — $654 million)
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta): Depression and anxiety (22.5 million prescriptions — $635 million)
- Citalopram (Celexa): Depression (18.55 million prescriptions — $151 million)
- Alprazolam (Xanax): Anxiety and panic disorder (16.78 million prescriptions — $197 million)
- Methylphenidate (Concerta): ADHD (15.45 million prescriptions — $3.28 billion)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor): Depression and anxiety (15.02 million prescriptions — $1.38 billion)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin): Panic disorder (14.76 million prescriptions — $178 million)
- Buspirone (Buspar): Anxiety (14.75 million prescriptions — $178 million)
- Lamotrigine (Lamictal): Bipolar disorder (10.8 million prescriptions — $744 million)
- Quetiapine (Seroquel): Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (10.6 million prescriptions — $236 million)
- Lorazepam (Ativan): Anxiety (10.56 million prescriptions — $236 million)
- Clonidine (Kapvay): ADHD (9.87 million prescriptions — $672 million)
- Amitriptyline (Elavil): Depression (9.09 million prescriptions — $177 million)
- Paroxetine (Paxil): Depression, OCD, and panic disorder (9.03 million prescriptions — $141 million)
- Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse): ADHD and binge eating disorder (8.64 million prescriptions — $3.01 billion)
- Aripiprazole (Abilify): Depression and bipolar disorder (8.27 million prescriptions — $2.23 billion)
- Mirtazapine (Remeron): Depression (6.6 million prescriptions — $145 million)
- Diazepam (Valium): Anxiety and alcohol withdrawal (4.97 million prescriptions — $64 million)
- Dexmethylphenidate (Focalin): ADHD (4.8 million prescriptions — $967 million)
- Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal): Bipolar disorder (4.28 million prescriptions — $169 million)
Psychiatric medications are an essential part of treatment for many people with mental health conditions, such as:
They play a vital role in helping alleviate the most severe symptoms. They also allow people to focus better on their lives and other treatments, such as psychotherapy.
Psychiatric medications influence different neurotransmitters — the chemicals in your brain used to send messages — to restore balance and provide relief of symptoms.
Psychiatric medications are essential for many and may be the most effective treatment for a mental health condition.
But each person is different. A medication that works for one person may not work for another.
You and a healthcare or mental health professional will work together to decide which medication is best for you by reviewing your history and symptoms. They may also ask you about your family history and side effects.
There are several different types of psychiatric medications, and they each work differently.
The main goal of antidepressants is to relieve symptoms of depression. But they’re also used to treat other conditions, such as:
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- social anxiety
- panic disorder
- generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Sertraline (Zoloft) has maintained its lead since we last did this review in 2018. It’s a common, older selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) prescribed to help alleviate the symptoms of depression.
It remains the most prescribed psychiatric medication in the United States. Sertraline was prescribed an estimated 38 million times in 2020 at a cost of $523 million. This makes it an affordable and easy-to-tolerate antidepressant choice.
Sertraline continues to be out-prescribed over other antidepressants.
Another antidepressant, escitalopram (Lexapro), increased to number two on our list. It was prescribed over 36 million times in 2020.
The antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin) debuts as the third most prescribed medication. An estimated 28 million prescriptions were prescribed in 2020.
While the most commonly prescribed psychiatric medications are for clinical depression, this isn’t the most prevalent mental health condition.
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Anti-anxiety medications work by calming your mind. Like antidepressants, they influence your neurotransmitters and boost serotonin — a neurotransmitter linked to mood, happiness, pleasure, and optimism. As a result, you feel less stress.
There are different types of medications that treat anxiety:
- Antidepressants: SSRIs and other antidepressants help treat symptoms of both anxiety and depression.
- Antipsychotics: Medications such as quetiapine (Seroquel) treat psychosis and help ease anxiety.
- Benzodiazepines: Alprazolam (Xanax) and other similar agents provide short-term and fast relief of symptoms.
- Buspirone (Buspar): This medication isn’t as sedating as benzodiazepines, but it comes with a lower chance of dependence.
- Antihypertensives: Medications such as clonidine (Kapvay) reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, including a fast heart rate and tremors.
Anxiety-related conditions, such as panic disorder, OCD, and PSTD, also benefit from these medications.
Mood stabilizers help manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. This mental health condition causes extreme mood shifts. You can quickly go from a high-energy mood (mania) to a low-energy mood (depression).
Those living with schizophrenia may also benefit from mood stabilizers.
This medication decreases abnormal activity in the brain to reduce mood swings. Additionally, they can help prevent recurrence and hospitalizations.
Aripiprazole (Abilify) is an example of this medication.
ADHD often requires treatment with stimulant medications. They help by increasing the following:
Common symptoms of ADHD include an inability to focus, hyperactivity, or impulsivity. But not everyone experiences the same ADHD symptoms.
The most effective treatment for most mental health conditions is rarely medication alone.Instead, a combined approach that includes psychotherapy may lead to more positive outcomes.
You can take medication alone. You may also take medication prescribed by your family doctor, having never seen a mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
If you’ve lived with your condition long-term, you might be OK. But you may consider reaching out to a psychiatrist if you’re newly diagnosed with a mental health condition.
They can confirm your diagnosis and consider additional treatment options. There are a wealth of self-care strategies that a therapist can help you with as well.
Many people find online support groups helpful, too. The important thing is to receive the best and most comprehensive treatment possible.