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

This article will talk about antipsychotics, what they are used for, possible side effects, and what you can do or avoid them while on the treatment. If your doctor prescribed you antipsychotic medication or if you have a loved one taking it, then 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 of mental health problems with psychotic symptoms. These mental health problems include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective 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 drugs to control psychosis symptoms and prevent future episodes of depression or mania. 

What Is Psychosis?

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

In short, a person with psychosis 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 as having false beliefs (delusions), seeing, or hearing things that aren’t real (hallucinations).

What Are Psychotic Symptoms?

Psychotic symptoms don’t appear overnight; they build 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 common 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
  • Preferring 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. Feeling 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 being 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 their symptoms and 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 dopamine levels 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 have been used since 1990. Examples of atypical antipsychotics include olanzapine, quetiapine, clozapine, paliperidone, and 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 or uncontrollable movement of the lips, jaw, and tongue
  • Sexual problems
  • Appearing to have slow movement or be sleepy always
  • Increase in appetite that can lead to weight gain
  • Dry mouth or constant thirst
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision

Side effects of antipsychotics will depend on the drug. For instance, atypical antipsychotics are generally known to have fewer side effects. Clozapine, a second-generation medication, is known to less likely produce extrapyramidal effects, which are known side effects 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 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 make to manage the side effects, such as:

1. Frequent Check-Up

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

2. Change of Medication or Dosage

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

3. Lifestyle Changes

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

Recommended foods are low-fat, high-fiber, low-sugar foods like bran, fruits, and vegetables. This diet also prevents constipation.

If you experience dry mouth or increased thirst, drink lots of water, eat sugarless gum or candy, or brush your teeth. Doing one of these will ease dry mouth and increase salivation. If you feel dizzy, avoid abrupt movement; instead, get up slowly if you’re sitting or lying down.

FAQs About Antipsychotic Medications

1. Do antipsychotics change your personality?

No, taking antipsychotics does not change your personality. 

2. 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, as 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. 

3. Can I drink alcohol while on antipsychotic meds?

No, you can’t drink alcohol while on antipsychotic meds. Antipsychotic drugs magnify the effects of alcohol. As a result, drinking can make you lightheaded, sleepy, and dizzy. In addition, combining the two is damaging to your liver. 

4. Can I drive if I just took antipsychotic meds?

It is best to talk to your doctor and see how the drugs affect you. Typically, antipsychotics are sedating, can affect a person’s concentration, and can result in drowsiness. It’s not a good idea to drive until you know how the medication affects you. 

5. 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. 

6. Is it safe to take antipsychotics while pregnant or breastfeeding?

Your doctor will evaluate the situation properly to determine if antipsychotics can be prescribed during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. The decision will be based on a risk-benefit analysis. Your doctor will also 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 also important to attend therapy or counseling sessions.

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, be it schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) has psychiatrists and therapists who can prescribe drugs and offer support via counseling. You can book an appointment for online mental health counseling at KCC Direct Services.

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