Antipsychotics – What You Need to Know


Summit Detox: Antipsychotics – What You Need to Know

Antipsychotics are commonly used to treat psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, but they are also used to treat conditions like depression and bipolar disorder. Used both short and long term, depending on the diagnosis, antipsychotic medications help individuals live a quality life.

Antipsychotics regulate parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, and perception. When taking these medications, individuals with severe mental health disorders can build meaningful relationships, maintain a career, and often even live longer [1].

If you are currently taking antipsychotics or are interested in what they can do, here’s what you need to know.

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What Are Antipsychotics and What Do They Treat?

Antipsychotics, formally known as major tranquilizers, are the main class of drugs used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia. Based on how these drugs work, they also offer benefits for those living with depression, bipolar, personality disorder, and even Alzheimer’s [2].

By reducing (or potentially relieving) symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, these medications can change the quality of a person’s life. These are characteristic symptoms of psychosis, which is believed to be caused, in part, by too much dopamine. Antipsychotics work by blocking the effect of this brain chemical. Other brain chemicals are likely involved as well, including serotonin and glutamate [3].

Antipsychotics also produce a calming effect. Those living with a mood or anxiety disorder may be prescribed antipsychotics, as well as antidepressants or mood stabilizers.

It is important to note that antipsychotics do not cure psychosis. They simply help manage symptoms that create chaos in one’s life. The goal is to gain greater control over problematic symptoms and your life. For example, you may sleep better, feel calmer, and experience fewer racing thoughts [2].

The Difference Between First- and Second-Generation Antipsychotics

Antipsychotic drugs fall into two primary categories:

  • First-generation or “typical” antipsychotics – these are older medications that include phenothiazines and dibenzoxazepines.
  • Second-generation or “atypical” antipsychotics – these are newer medications that include olanzapine, cariprazine, and clozapine.

The major difference between these two categories is that first-generation antipsychotics are better for treating positive symptoms of schizophrenia, such as delusions and hallucinations, while second-generation antipsychotics have a “broader spectrum” when aiming to treat depression or bipolar.

Data shows they also reduce the risk of a repeat episode of psychosis. With that being said, second-generation antipsychotics treat both positive and negative symptoms and are also known to reduce relapse rates. The drugs offered in each category differ from one another concerning potential side effects. Finding out what antipsychotic medication is right for you can take some trial and error. With so many applications, to find the right antipsychotic, you need to consider all variables. For example, while first-generation antipsychotics can be used to treat schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, delusional disorder, and other conditions, caution is necessary when treating a substance-induced psychotic disorder. More specifically, when phencyclidine (PCP) intoxication or alcohol withdrawal is of concern [4].

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How Long Do They Take to Work?

Each individual is different, which is why treatment should be personalized.

Certain symptoms, such as hallucinations and agitation, typically go away within days of taking an antipsychotic. More severe symptoms, like delusions, often subside within a few weeks, but the full effects can take up to six weeks.

Relapses, meaning your symptoms come back or get worse, will most likely happen if you stop taking your medication. You may feel like you’re better and don’t need medication anymore. Never stop taking your medication without speaking to your doctor and never stop abruptly. Your dose should be tapered off.

Most people will stay on antipsychotics for months or years to maintain a productive, rewarding life [5].

Side Effects of Antipsychotics

The goal of any medication treatment, including antipsychotic medications, is to reduce and control debilitating symptoms while keeping side effects at a minimum. That is why antipsychotics are often combined with therapy options, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Remaining mindful of potential side effects is important — and so is communication. Working closely with your doctor and therapist can ensure you get the best treatment for your needs, including the correct dosage.

Side effects will depend on what antipsychotic medication you’re taking. The FDA lists the following as possible antipsychotic side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain
  • Restlessness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dry mouth
  • Uncontrolled movements, including tremors or tics
  • Seizures
  • Low white blood cell count

When taking first-generation antipsychotics, side effects related to movement can occur, whereas second-generation antipsychotics increase your risk of metabolic issues, such as changes to your weight or glucose levels [5].

Summit Detox Can Help

Summit Detox specializes in medical detox and mental health treatment programs.

We offer:

  • High-quality, personalized care
  • Specialized staff, including Licensed Mental Health Counselors, Master’s Level Certified Addiction Professionals, Addiction Psychiatrists, Registered Nurses, and Nurse Practitioners
  • 24/7 medical supervision
  • Short-term residential mental health treatment

Making a life change is just one call away. Contact us to discuss your unique needs and goals.


  1. MedicineNet. Schizophrenia Patients Who Take Antipsychotics Live Longer, Study Says. Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=165071
  2. CAMH. Antipsychotic Medications. Retrieved from https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/antipsychotic-medication
  3. Mind.org. Antipsychotics. Retrieved from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/antipsychotics/about-antipsychotics/
  4. Chokhawala, K. and Stevens, L. Antipsychotic Medications. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519503/
  5. National Institute of Mental Health. Mental Health Medications. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/mental-health-medications#part_2362

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