Immediate & Long-Term Health Effects of Antipsychotic Medications
Antipsychotic medications are often used to treat psychosis and various psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia.
This page will take a closer look at the different mental health conditions, uses, and side effects associated with antipsychotic medications.
What Are Antipsychotic Medications?
Antipsychotic medications are prescription drugs used to treat psychosis and other severe symptoms of mental illness.
There are many different types of antipsychotics with many different uses. While these medicines do not cure the disorder itself, they can help alleviate and manage some of the more debilitating symptoms.
What Types of Mental Disorders Require Antipsychotic Medications?
Doctors may use antipsychotic medications to treat various psychotic disorders and other mental health conditions including:
- Depression with hallucinations (also known as psychotic depression).
- Bipolar disorder with delirium.
- Drug-induced psychosis and hallucinations.
Doctors also often combine antipsychotics with other medications to treat common mental health disorders such as:
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Generations of Antipsychotics and Respective Side Effects
The side effects and risks associated with antipsychotic medications depend on their order of development. Each generation of antipsychotic has a slightly different primary mechanism of action, which can produce different therapeutic benefits, as well as unwanted side effects or problems.
First-generation (or “typical”) antipsychotics: These are the oldest type of antipsychotics, and include medications such as Haldol (haloperidol) and Thorazine (chlorpromazine). First-generation antipsychotics have a high incidence of extrapyramidal side effects similar to the presentation of individuals with Parkinson’s disease.
The side effects of first-generation antipsychotics include:
- Muscle rigidity.
- Significantly slowed movements.
- Involuntary muscle movements and contractions.
- Muscle tremors.
- Extreme restlessness and the feeling as if one needs to be in constant movement or motion (also known as akathisia).
- Involuntary movements of the face, especially the mouth and lips, and arms and legs (also known as tardive dyskinesia).
- Neuroleptic malignant syndrome (a serious and often life-threatening condition characterized by muscle rigidity, fever, sweating, irregular heartbeat, blood pressure changes, and altered mental status, including confusion and disorientation).
Second-generation (or “atypical”) antipsychotics: This newer class of drugs was developed to help avoid the serious side effects associated with earlier antipsychotics, and includes medicines such as Seroquel (quetiapine), Zyprexa (olanzapine), and Clozaril (clozapine).
The side effects of second-generation antipsychotics include:
- Weight gain.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Cardiac effects.
- Dry mouth.
Third-generation antipsychotics: Sometimes referred to as serotonin-dopamine activity monitors, these drugs were developed to control the side effects of previous antipsychotics and still be effective treatments. Of this group, the best known is Abilify (aripiprazole).
The side effects of third-generation antipsychotics include:
Are Antipsychotics Addictive?
No, antipsychotic medications do not produce euphoria and are not significant drugs of abuse. When individuals take more of an antipsychotic medication than prescribed, the potential for the above side effects is significantly increased.
Psychotic disorders can frequently co-occur with substance use disorders. A dual diagnosis, such as schizophrenia and substance use disorder, can make treatment even more complex.
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