Abilify is an atypical antipsychotic drug that works by balancing your serotonin and dopamine levels.

Abilify is the brand name for the drug aripiprazole. Clinicians prescribe it to treat several conditions including schizophrenia.

Researchers believe that imbalanced neurotransmitters are related to schizophrenia. Abilify may correct this imbalance.

Schizophrenia is lifelong and has no cure but responds to treatment. Abilify is intended for long term use, so if it’s a good fit to manage your schizophrenia, you’ll likely take it long term.

Abilify (aripiprazole) is an atypical antipsychotic, or second-generation antipsychotic (SGA). It improves mood, behavior, and thinking by balancing the neurotransmitters in your brain.

Abilify is a dopamine stabilizer. This type of medication works to correct dopamine levels that are both hyper (too much) and hypo (too little). Dopamine stabilizers find dopamine receptors and either inhibit or stimulate dopamine activity depending on your baseline level.

Abilify isn’t just for treating schizophrenia. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved it for other conditions including:

Sometimes clinicians will prescribe Abilify “off-label.” This means for a use that the FDA hasn’t approved. Examples include:

Historically schizophrenia has been challenging to treat because of the different categories of symptoms:

  • Positive. These are symptoms that are added or increased, like delusion, hallucinations, disorganized speech, and disorganized behavior.
  • Negative. These symptoms are a reduction of something, like enjoyment or emotion.
  • Cognitive. Difficulty maintaining attention, memory issues, difficulty with thinking skills that help you function with tasks (executive function).

Abilify treats schizophrenia by stabilizing the serotonin and dopamine in your brain. It can both raise and lower their levels as needed. Research from 2017 suggests that because of how it works, it may help more than one type of schizophrenia symptom.

Abilify can be dosed at 8-week intervals, making it a good choice for people who have trouble taking medication regularly.

Schizophrenia overview

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental health condition that’s characterized by dysregulation of certain brain chemicals, including dopamine and serotonin. It affects the way you feel, behave, and think.

If left untreated, schizophrenia can interfere with daily activities. However, it does respond to treatment. Managing schizophrenia can restore your ability to live independently, go to work or school, and maintain personal relationships.

Some of the symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • delusions (believing things that aren’t real)
  • hallucinations (visual, auditory, tactile)
  • disorganized thinking
  • loss of motivation
  • reduced interest in socializing
  • difficulties speaking clearly

Doctors usually identify and diagnose schizophrenia when you’re between 16 and 30 years of age. The first episode of psychosis is often what prompts diagnosis, although gradual neurological changes happen before then.

Abilify doesn’t work right away. It may take several weeks to improve your symptoms. It’s important to tell your doctor about any changes you experience so you can decide if Abilify is working well for you.

In the first 1 to 2 weeks, you may experience an improvement to symptoms like hallucinations and disorganized thinking. You might also feel more social and motivated. It may take 2 to 3 months to experience the medication’s full effect.

Abilify side effects may include:

  • nausea
  • constipation
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • memory loss
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • upper respiratory infections
  • anxiety
  • sleep changes
  • rash
  • hair loss
  • changes in libido
  • akathisia (inability to stay still) and tremor in less than 11%

In rare instances, antipsychotic medication can cause serious side effects, sometimes resulting from drug interactions.

  • Serotonin syndrome (SS). Increased serotonin activity in the central nervous system causes SS. Symptoms include altered mental status, neuromuscular abnormalities, and autonomic dysfunction. A 2014 case report described an episode of SS resulting from the medication combination of fluoxetine and aripiprazole.
  • Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome (NMS). Dopamine blockers can cause NMS. Symptoms may include fever, rigidity, and delirium. A 2021 study found that NMS occurred most frequently in males with schizophrenia, and some cases connected to aripiprazole didn’t cause high fevers.

Other possible serious side effects include:

  • stroke
  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • impulsive behavior
  • dizziness and fainting
  • reduced immunity
  • body temperature changes
  • movement disorders
  • trouble swallowing
  • allergic reaction

You may experience side effects that aren’t on these lists, so it’s recommended you speak with a doctor if you have any questions.

Abilify is an atypical antipsychotic. Doctors use it to treat several mental health conditions, including schizophrenia.

Abilify works by balancing the levels of serotonin and dopamine in your brain. These neurotransmitters can cause a variety of symptoms if their levels are too high or too low. Abilify helps to restore their balanced levels to reduce unwanted symptoms.

Schizophrenia can a serious condition, and it’s lifelong. If you or someone you know are experiencing schizophrenia symptoms, it’s likely best to speak with a doctor as soon as you can.

Schizophrenia is treatable with medication and therapy, and early diagnosis paired with consistent treatment makes it easier to manage.

If you’re considering self-harm or suicide, you’re not alone

You can access free support right away with these resources:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call the Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for English or 888-628-9454 for Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • The Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
  • The Trevor Project. LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old? Call 866-488-7386, text “START” to 678678, or chat online 24/7.
  • Veterans Crisis Line. Call 800-273-8255, text 838255, or chat online 24/7.
  • Deaf Crisis Line. Call 321-800-3323, text “HAND” to 839863, or visit their website.
  • Befrienders Worldwide. This international crisis helpline network can help you find a local helpline.