Antipsychotic medications are mainly used to treat certain mental health conditions or symptoms of psychosis, like hallucinations or delusions.
Like most other medications, antipsychotic drugs may have certain side effects. These can range from hardly noticeable to severe.
The type and severity of side effects you get may depend on the type of medication and how often you take it.
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed or concerned if you’re just starting out on this type of medication or are exploring your treatment options. The good news is that these medications are effective at managing many symptoms.
For example, if you’re experiencing hallucinations, these could go away after just a few days of taking your meds. Some other symptoms, such as delusions, may take up to 6 weeks to be managed.
Everyone responds a little differently to antipsychotic medication.
It’s highly advisable that you take these medications under a professional’s supervision and that you always let them know about side effects you may be experiencing.
It’s not unusual for someone to try different types of antipsychotic medications or dosages before they find a combination that works.
This “trial period” might feel discouraging, but it’s part of a process that may lead you to feel better in the long term.
Antipsychotic medications are mainly used to treat the symptoms of psychosis, although they can help manage symptoms of other mental health conditions.
You might also take antipsychotic medication alone or in combination with other medications if you have a mental health condition or a neurological disorder such as:
- bipolar disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- generalized anxiety disorder
- an eating disorder
- Parkinson’s disease
- severe depression (known as psychotic depression)
- chronic depression without psychosis
Antipsychotic medications won’t cure a condition but rather help you manage the symptoms you’re experiencing. Oftentimes, you may be on an antipsychotic for months or years.
It’s important that you not stop taking your medication (even if you’re feeling well) without talking with your health professional first.
In most cases, these medications need to be gradually tapered down in dosage to avoid further side effects. This means they have to be gradually decreased in dosage so your body can make the adjustment.
There are two main types of antipsychotics: typical and atypical.
Older medications, or first-generation medications, are called “typical” antipsychotics or neuroleptics. They include:
The newer medications, or second-generation antipsychotic medications, are known as “atypical” antipsychotics. Some examples are:
All prescription medications can have side effects, and antipsychotic drugs are no exception.
Every body is different, so not everyone experiences the same side effects or with the same intensity. You might find you don’t notice any side effects at all, depending on the medication and your unique situation.
If you experience side effects, these can decrease after a few weeks of taking the drug. If this doesn’t happen, you might want to talk with your doctor about the possibility of changing the brand or the dosage.
It’s important that you don’t suspend the medication without consulting with your healthcare team first.
Antipsychotic medications can have both physical and psychosocial effects, and some of them can be long-term.
Physical side effects
- Dizziness or blurry vision.
- Drowsiness. You may feel sleepy, especially when first starting the medication, so don’t drive until you know how the medication affects you.
- Sexual challenges. These can be related to the increase in the hormone prolactin. It can cause you to have a lower sex drive. If you have a penis, you might have difficulty getting an erection or have ejaculation problems. If you menstruate, you could notice your cycle becoming irregular.
- Weight gain. This is often a side effect of atypical antipsychotic medications.
- Digestive issues. You might feel nauseous, have a dry mouth, or have constipation or vomiting.
- Low blood pressure.
Psychosocial side effects
- Restlessness. You may experience agitation or episodes of high anxiety.
- Mental fog. You might have a hard time thinking clearly or focusing on a task. You might also have difficulty recalling information.
- Loss of motivation. You might feel like you lack the drive to accomplish tasks or feel like you’re not interested in the things you used to do.
- Social withdrawal. You could feel inclined to stay home more often or avoid certain social situations.
- Uncontrollable movements. A side effect of some antipsychotic drugs is a condition known as tardive dyskinesia. It causes tics and tremors, oftentimes around your mouth. You can’t control these movements, and sometimes it doesn’t go away by stopping the medication. Usually, this is a side effect of typical antipsychotics.
- Type 2 diabetes. Your chance of developing
type 2 diabetesdepends on the type of antipsychotic medication you take. Since weight gain is a side effect of some antipsychotic medications, you might develop a slightly increased risk for diabetes.
- Metabolic syndrome. This includes a cluster of symptoms and conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Not everyone experiences these side effects, and if you do, these can often go away after a while or after changing dosage or the type of drug.
There are some things you can do to manage some of the side effects you may experience. Talking with your healthcare team is highly advisable and can help you reduce unwanted effects.
- Taking other medications. Some drugs can counteract some of the possible side effects. For instance, if you have weight gain as a result of your antipsychotic medication, you may be given a drug such as metformin to manage your weight gain or risk for diabetes.
- Developing or reinforcing healthy habits. A few lifestyle habits can help you reduce the effects of medication. For example, getting 8 hours of sleep every day, eating fresh vegetables and fruits, and exercising a few times per week.
- Seeking support. Talking with a psychotherapist or joining a support group may help you manage the psychosocial side effects of antipsychotic medications.
When someone abruptly stops taking their antipsychotic medication, they could experience a few unwanted effects.
Some people might also experience a relapse in symptoms if their medication is stopped. In some cases, these symptoms can be worse than before taking the drug.
Stopping your medications all of a sudden can cause what’s called “rebound psychosis,” which means your psychosis symptoms may come back as soon as you stop your drug.
Even if you go off your medications under the supervision of your healthcare team, you might see your symptoms coming back within 3 to 6 months.
It’s advisable that you discuss these instances with a health professional and make a treatment plan that covers all your bases.
Since antipsychotic medications come in a variety of forms, a healthcare professional can guide you towards the options that may work better for you.
Some questions you might consider are:
- What forms does my medication come in? Does it come in pills, capsules, liquids, injections, patches, or tablets dissolved under the tongue?
- What are the most common side effects, and how long do they last?
- Will I have to take additional medications if I experience side effects?
- What happens if I miss a dose?
- What happens if I stop taking the medication?
- Will I be taking this medication forever?
- Are there any foods, drinks, supplements, or drugs I should be careful with when taking this drug?
Some antipsychotic medications may cause you to experience side effects. These can often go away after a few weeks, or they may be long term.
Because antipsychotic drugs can help you manage symptoms of psychosis, and may make you feel better overall, it’s advisable that you weigh the challenges versus the benefits. Discussing this with a healthcare professional can help you make the right decisions for your situation.