Schizophrenia can be highly disruptive to one’s life.
Once diagnosed, schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment, even once your symptoms subside. With symptoms ranging from hallucinations and delusions to cognitive impairment, early intervention and adherence are critical.
Thanks to advances in medication and therapy, symptoms of schizophrenia can be managed, allowing patients to live a full and happy life. The best treatment continues to be a combination of medication and therapy, with medication being a major component for the vast majority of individuals with schizophrenia.
Whether you have been recently diagnosed or are about to begin your treatment plan and would like to know more about schizophrenia medications, this guide is for you.
What Medications Are Used to Treatment Schizophrenia?
Since schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and acts, treatment can be rather complex. There is no cure. Instead, medications are prescribed to help ease symptoms and prevent psychotic episodes.
The most common medications prescribed are antipsychotics. These medications help reduce the severity of hallucinations and delusions. These are known as “positive” symptoms. Antipsychotics are not as effective on negative symptoms, such as lack of emotion and withdrawal.
Once taken, these medications influence brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. These medications are often taken at the first sign of psychosis, helping to relieve symptoms quickly. They are also taken long-term to prevent symptoms.
There are over 20 types of antipsychotic medications, classified into two groups:
- First-generation (also called conventional or typical). Examples include Chlorpromazine and Perphenazine.
- Second-generation (also called atypical). These are the newer medications, including Aripiprazole, Clozapine and Paliperidone.
Clozapine is currently the only FDA-approved medication for schizophrenia when patients are resistant to other treatments. Depending on several variables, your medication and dosage may change over time .
Mood Stabilizers and Antidepressants
Although symptoms of depression can occur at any time, they are most frequently experienced during an acute psychotic episode. This is true for the first psychotic break, but some depressive symptoms are found five to 10 years before the first psychotic episode .
If you’re suffering from symptoms of depression, you may also be prescribed mood stabilizers or antidepressants. The most common antidepressants are called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
A 2020 study found that among individuals with first-episode schizophrenia, 35.4 percent were treated with antidepressants (AD) and 14.1 percent were treated with mood stabilizers (MS) within three of diagnoses. There was a higher associated risk of AD and MS initiation for females, younger individuals and those taking benzodiazepines.
Adding Nonpharmacological Therapy Options to Your Treatment Plan
Medications are the most common way to manage symptoms of schizophrenia. However, residual symptoms may persist. That is why a combination of pharmacological and nonpharmacological treatments, such as psychotherapy, are important.
Psychotherapy approaches are beneficial in both an individual and group setting. For example, you may attend cognitive-behavioral therapy, as well as family therapy.
One of the greatest benefits of nonpharmacological therapy is greater support, which helps ensure that patients continue to take their medications. Unfortunately, nonadherence rates among individuals with schizophrenia range between 37 percent and 74 percent. Reasons range from denying their illness to thinking they don’t need medication, being paranoid to experiencing negative side effects .
How Long Will I Need to Take Schizophrenia Medications?
Although each person and situation differs, most people with schizophrenia need to take medication their whole lives. As discussed, you may need to alter your medication or dosage.
Speak with your healthcare provider if you start to experience side effects that interfere with your health, productivity and everyday life. For example, antipsychotics can make you feel dizzy, drowsy and develop skin rashes. If you begin to experience a high fever, muscle stiffness or swings in blood pressure, you may be suffering from neuroleptic malignant syndrome — a rare, life-threatening reaction to antipsychotics.
Some individuals will be able to stop taking medication, but this should not be done abruptly. In rare cases, where individuals no longer need medication to manage symptoms of schizophrenia, these patients need to taper off their dosage. Depending on the combination of drugs you currently rely on, you may want to consider a detox program.
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- WebMD. Medications That Treat Schizophrenia. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/medicines-to-treat-schizophrenia
- Siris, S. G. Depression in schizophrenia: Perspective in the era of “atypical” antipsychotic agents. Retrieved from https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2000-05835-002
- Mao. Y. and Zhang M. Augmentation with antidepressants in schizophrenia treatment: benefit or risk. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4370910/
- Patel, K. et al. Schizophrenia: Overview and Treatment Options. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4159061/