The term ‘antipsychotic’ especially when it comes to medications, may seem scary. It can cause you to ask yourself, “am I a psycho? am I really out of my mind?”, which can be anxiety-provoking. When we’re unfamiliar with the term, we take things at face value, and that type of medication is included. The truth is, these meds are not as scary as you think.

When your doctor prescribes a medication, they may briefly explain what it does and how to take it, which is all good and is expected. But it won’t hurt that you do your research, especially on the possible side effects, particularly when taking antipsychotic medications.

In this post, you’ll learn about antipsychotics, what they are used for, possible side effects, and what you can do or avoid while on the treatment. So if your doctor prescribed you this medication or has a loved one taking this, this post can be helpful to you. 

What Do You Need Antipsychotic Medications For?

Antipsychotic medications are prescribed for short-term and long-term treatment for mental health problems with psychotic symptoms. What are these mental health problems? It is used to treat bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, panic disorder, severe depression, or borderline personality disorder

A person experiencing psychosis symptoms like mania, delusions, and hallucinations may be prescribed antipsychotic medications. A doctor may prescribe antipsychotic medications: to control psychosis symptoms and prevent future episodes of depression or mania

What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is a group of symptoms that affect how the brain processes information. Psychosis is not an illness but are symptoms of a mental illness triggered by substance abuse disorder, extreme stress, or a form of trauma.

In short, a person may be ‘out of touch with reality’. This may mean that a person hears, sees, or believe in things that do not exist. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines someone with psychosis to have false beliefs (delusions), sees or hear things that aren’t real (hallucinations). 

What Are Psychotic Symptoms?

Psychotic symptoms don’t appear overnight; it builds up over time. So if you have a loved one manifesting these symptoms, tell your doctor right away. The sooner a mental illness is diagnosed, the higher chances it can be treated accordingly. The pattern of psychosis symptoms are as follows:

The Warning Signs (Subtle Changes in Everyday Performance)

  • At school: Poor academic performance, a drop in grades, started getting into fights 
  • At work: Poor job performance, always tardy or late (unlike before), poor concentration
  • Unable to concentrate or think properly
  • Feeling uneasy or suspicious of others
  • Poor hygiene
  • Prefers to be alone more than usual
  • Mood swings or no emotions at all 

Symptoms of Psychosis:

  • Auditory Hallucinations: Hears voices or sounds that aren’t real
  • Visual Hallucinations: Seeing people or things that aren’t real
  • Tactile Hallucinations: Feels like someone is touching you, but it isn’t real
  • Delusions: Personal beliefs that do not match reality (for example: being spied on, the thought of having special powers or a God)

What Are Antipsychotic Drugs?

Antipsychotic drugs are used to treat the psychosis symptoms mentioned above. The medications help control the symptoms and avoid future episodes of mania or depression. If a person is diagnosed with a mental health illness, they cannot control these symptoms, which can greatly affect their lives. Antipsychotics may help a person feel in control of the symptoms and their life. 

So what does an antipsychotic medication do to the brain? Here’s an easy explanation. The brain contains chemicals called dopamine that carry messages from one region of the brain to another. Increased levels of dopamine in the brain cause the brain to function differently and cause psychosis symptoms. Antipsychotic medications help in restoring the balance of dopamine and other chemicals in the brain. 

Types of Antipsychotics

There are two types of antipsychotic medications: 

Typical Antipsychotics (First Generation Antipsychotics)

The typical, conventional, first-generation, or older antipsychotics were developed in the 1950s. Typical antipsychotics include Haloperidol (Brand names: Haldol, Peridol, Haldol Decanoate) and Chlorpromazine (Brand name: Thorazine). 

Typical antipsychotics are still used up to now to treat severe psychosis or behavioral problems. However, typical antipsychotics are known to have high risk and severe side effects. That’s why second-generation antipsychotics were developed. 

Atypical Antipsychotics (Second Generation Antipsychotics)

Atypical antipsychotics or newer antipsychotics were used since 1990. Examples of atypical antipsychotics include Olanzapine, Quetiapine, Clozapine, Paliperidone, or Risperidone. Clozapine was the first antipsychotic medication approved for use. 

Side Effects of an Antipsychotic Medication

Medications always come with a Patient Information Leaflet to tell you everything you need to know about the drug. If you take your medication, always read the leaflet or, better yet, ask your doctor. Possible side effects of antipsychotic drugs are:

  • Shakiness or stiffness
  • Fidgets or restlessness
  • Tardive dyskinesia: Uncontrollable movement of the lips, jaw, and tongue
  • Sexual problems
  • Appears to have slow movement or sleepy always
  • Increase in appetite leading to weight gain
  • Dry mouth or always thirsty
  • Constipation 
  • Blurred vision

Side effects of antipsychotics will depend on the drug. For instance, atypical antipsychotics are generally known to have lesser side effects. Clozapine, a second-generation medication, is known to less likely produce extrapyramidal effects. Which is a known side effect of first-generation medications (physical symptoms: paranoia, tremor, anxiety, and more). 

If you’re taking antipsychotic medications and experience unpleasant side effects, tell your doctor. You might be prescribed with another type of medication. It’s always best to seek medical advice so your prescription can be changed. 

How to Manage the Side Effects of Antipsychotic Medications?

Are you worried about the side effects of the antipsychotic medications you’re taking? Don’t worry because your doctor can help you manage or reduce the side effects. Furthermore, there are lifestyle changes you can do to manage the side effects:

Frequent Check-Up

Be present during follow-up check-ups with your doctor. Your doctor may recommend you to have blood tests to monitor your cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Your doctor may recommend other interventions to decrease your risk of developing heart disease or diabetes. Also, you can share with your doctor any side effects you experience so they can be addressed immediately. 

Your Doctor May

Either change the medication prescribed or adjust the dose of the medication. Upon medical advice, your doctor may also advise you to take the medication at a different time of the day. Do not stop or reduce the dosage without your doctor’s advice. This may cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. 

Lifestyle Changes

To combat the side effects of taking antipsychotic medications, lifestyle change is recommended. Exercising regularly and following a healthy diet is essential to prevent weight gain and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes or heart problems.

Recommended foods are low-fat, high-fiber, low-sugar, bran, fruits, and vegetables. This diet also prevents constipation. If you experience dry mouth or increased thirst, here’s what you can do: drink lots of water, eat sugarless gum or candy, or brush your teeth. This is to ease dry mouth and increase salivation. If you feel dizzy, avoid abrupt movement; instead, get up slowly when you’re lying down. 

FAQs About Antipsychotic Medications

Do Antipsychotics Change Your Personality?

No, taking antipsychotics does not change your personality. 

Can I Stop Taking Antipsychotic Medications?

No, you can’t stop taking antipsychotic medications or reduce the dose without talking to your doctor. Even when you ‘feel better’, this is no reason to stop taking the medication. Psychotic symptoms may return, especially with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia if you stop taking your medication. 

Can I Drink Alcohol While on Antipsychotic Meds?

No, you can’t drink alcohol while on antipsychotic meds. Antipsychotic drugs increase the effects of alcohol. As a result, it can make you lightheaded, sleepy, and dizzy. In addition, combining the two is damaging to your liver. It’s also important to note that antipsychotic meds help with your brain chemistry. Any type of food and substance we drink affects our brain chemistry as well. It is highly discouraged by professionals to drink while taking antipsychotic meds.

Can I Drive if I Took Antipsychotic Meds?

It is best to talk to your doctor and how the drugs affect you. Typically, antipsychotics are have a sedating effect, it can also affect a person’s concentration, and can result in drowsiness. It’s not a good idea to drive until you’re aware of how the medication affects you. 

Will Taking Antipsychotics Affect My Sex Drive?

Yes, antipsychotic drugs may affect your sex drive. Men may find it difficult to have or maintain an erection or ejaculate. While women may find it hard to achieve orgasm. Your doctor can adjust the dosage or change your medication to address the problem. 

Is It Safe to Take Antipsychotics While Pregnant or Breastfeeding?

Your doctor will evaluate the situation properly to determine if antipsychotics will be prescribed during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. The decision will be based on a risk-benefit analysis. Your doctor will determine if continuing the medication outweighs the risks. 

Seek Help From A Mental Health Professional

Now that you understand how an antipsychotic drug works, you know what to expect and how to manage the side effects. While it’s essential to stick to your treatment regimen, it’s important to attend therapy or counseling sessions as well.

An antipsychotic drug reduces and prevents psychotic symptoms. But therapy is needed for your mental and emotional support. Therapy plus medication is the best treatment for any mental health illness, may it be schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Here at Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC), we’re here to support you. You can book an appointment for online mental health counseling at KCC Direct Services

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