What’s the Difference Between Mood Stabilizers and Antidepressants?

Mood Stabilizers and Antidepressants

Mood stabilizers and antidepressants are two terms often used interchangeably. They are two very different categories of medication, though. Some of the confusion may be that both of these drugs are for treating conditions that involve moods and feelings. That is where the similarities end, however.

What is the difference between a mood stabilizer and an antidepressant? To answer this question, you must have a better understanding of the use of each drug.

What Is a Mood Disorder?

In discussing mood stabilizers versus. antidepressants, an excellent place to start is by explaining mood disorders. A mood disorder interferes with your general emotional state. Often it involves moods that contradict the current circumstances.

Moods Associated with Things That Happen in Life

Everyone feels exceedingly happy at some point and depressed at others. Those fluctuations are part of life. You typically react to stimuli around you. For example, someone who is getting married might feel elated when the big day comes. A person who loses their job, however, might experience sadness and depression.

These are appropriate responses to the circumstances. Getting married is a happy time. Losing a job is depressing.

Common Mood Disorders

When someone has a mood disorder, their feelings are extreme and persistent. Mood disorders include some common mental health conditions, such as:

  • Major depressive disorder – Persistent sadness
  • Bipolar disorder – Alternating depression and mania
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – Sadness linked to less daylight
  • Cyclothymic disorder – Similar to bipolar disorder but less extreme
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder – Extreme mood swings associated with menstruation
  • Persistent depressive disorder – chronic depression

People also experience mood disorders associated with a medical problem or substance abuse. For many, medication can help stabilize a mood disorder. That medication is usually either a mood stabilizer or an antidepressant.

What Is a Mood Stabilizer?

The name says it all. A mood stabilizer works to control mood swings and regulate emotions. There are three primary types of mood stabilizers:

  • Lithium
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antipsychotics

Antidepressants are not on that list because they are not mood stabilizers.

What Is Lithium?

Lithium (also lithium carbonate or lithium citrate) is a medication that often treats bipolar disorder. It is also sometimes effective in the treatment of major depressive disorder when antidepressants do not work.

What Are Anticonvulsants?

Anticonvulsants, anti-epileptic, or anti-seizure medications can also help stabilize mood. They work by calming the hyperactivity of the brain seen in conditions like bipolar disorder.

Some commonly prescribed anticonvulsants include:

  • Carbamazepine
  • Lamotrigine
  • Valproate

What Are Antipsychotics?

Antipsychotics help with disorganized thinking, delusions, and hallucinations.

Commonly used antipsychotics include:

  • Haloperidol
  • Olanzapine
  • Quetiapine
  • Risperidone

Any of these drugs can help to control mania associated with bipolar and other mood disorders. Each one has a different mechanism of action, though. The result is to make you feel better and more in control.

What Is an Antidepressant?

Antidepressants treat conditions such as:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

These mental health disorders all have one thing in common – they make you feel bad. You might be scared, stressed, or sad. Taking an antidepressant elevates your mood. Antidepressants are sometimes helpful in the treatment of chronic pain, as well.

While they are many different antidepressants, they all control levels of a chemical in the brain. Neurotransmitters like serotonin and noradrenaline directly impact mood and emotion. Some neurotransmitters affect pain signals.

Some examples of antidepressants include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Duloxetine
  • Bupropion HCL

This just scratches the surface of available antidepressants.

Mood Stabilizers vs. Antidepressants

Mood stabilizers are specifically antimanic drugs, meaning they treat mania and mood cycling, as seen in bipolar disorder. They are not generally effective in the treatment of depression, though.

Antidepressants treat conditions that make you sad or feel “down,” especially if it is not chronic. Your depression might result from an event in your life — for example, the loss of a loved one or a trauma. They are not effective to treat manic disorders or conditions that cause rapid cycling between moods.

These two categories of medication are sometimes paired, though, especially in the treatment of chronic conditions. Sometimes, the combination is useful during a depressive phase of a mental health condition like bipolar disorder.

Which Medication Is Right for You?

Only a healthcare professional can determine what medication is the best option to treat your condition. Most of the time, the medication is part of a comprehensive treatment plan for mental health disorders such as substance abuse or bipolar.

Medication is an intricate part of an overall treatment plan seen in many mental health facilities, drug rehabs, and medical detox.

About Summit Detox & Mental Health

Summit Detox & Mental Health is a short-term residential program in Boynton Beach. Summit offers medical detox and mental health services that may include providing medications like mood stabilizers and antidepressants.

Often those who abuse drugs or alcohol have an underlying mental health condition. They drink or take drugs as a way to self-medicate and feel better.

The medical professionals at Summit can evaluate and see what types of medication might be the most appropriate based on your individual needs. Then, they may suggest medication as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Along with medication management, residents at Summit undergo therapy, both individual and group, and take part in daily activities. We offer healthy foods and natural approaches to healing, as well.

If you are considering your treatment options, contact Summit Detox & Mental Health today.


  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/mood-stabilizers-list#Takeaway
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/talking-therapies-medicine-treatments/medicines-and-psychiatry/antidepressants/overview/
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mood-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20365057
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20414155/

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