Bipolar disorder can be a truly disruptive mental health condition. Consisting of a range of symptoms from manic highs, depressive lows, irrationality, and hallucinations, these effects can be a real challenge to maintain. With that, you may wonder what are the medications for bipolar disorder.
We are going to explore these medications, come to understand what the classifications are and how these medications for bipolar disorder work to counteract the unpleasant and disruptive symptoms.
Bipolar Medication List
There are common medications for bipolar disorder and that can be broken down into specific categories. These meds help treat the underlying symptoms of bipolar disorder, like mood swings, lifting depressive lows, and aiding with manic convulsive activity.
However, there doesn’t exist a permanent cure for bipolar disorder. Therefore, the most effective treatment is often prescribed medications – sometimes a group of them, taken to address specific symptoms.
The purpose of these medications is to create a therapeutic response so that other treatment approaches, such as talk therapy, have the ability to work without said symptoms causing interruptions. Also, the prescriptions on this medication list allow for those suffering from bipolar disorder to live a functional life and follow their regular routine. The bipolar medication list includes:
Often utilized by mental health professionals in the case of bipolar disorder due to its ability to regulate mood. Lithium is known to help control the nervous system and aid those taking it to control emotions and cope better with mood swings. When bipolar patients shift from one episodic type to another, lithium helps in softening the blow of that change. ¹
It comes in a few different forms including capsules and a solution form, however, the most common type is a tablet. For pediatric and teenage bipolar patients, an extended-release lithium tablet is commonly prescribed. However, it’s not for older geriatric patients as it can interfere with certain kinds of medications related to heart, kidney, or liver complications.
This medication can interact poorly with specific kinds of medications and a full list of those interactions can be found here. However like with any medication, it is always best to consult with a physician and mental health professionals to see what is the best course of treatment is best suited for you or someone you love.
Helping in controlling abnormal electrical activity within the brain, anticonvulsants have become a common treatment option for those that suffer from seizure activity, such as in the case of epilepsy. ² However, for bipolar patients, anticonvulsants can be incredibly helpful in soothing manic activity. ³
It is not uncommon for a bipolar patient to be prescribed a single anticonvulsant medication to start. Then, over time, combine that medication alongside a mood stabilizer, such as lithium, or an antidepressant.
An antipsychotic is a form of medication that aids in regulating mood and can help alter behavior. Antipsychotics can be extremely helpful for mania symptoms, delusions, as well as for hallucinations. Often such symptoms occur at the height of a mania episode or during severe depression.
Studies have shown that bipolar patients that suffer from severe mania-related effects have a therapeutic response to typical antipsychotics such as olanzapine and quetiapine. Those who find themselves experiencing severe depressive impact have had the benefit from olanzapine alone. ⁴
Often a treatment for those suffering from clinical depression, antidepressants work by interacting as well as altering the inner mechanisms of the brain relating to dopamine. Antidepressants also have impacts on the nervous system and can aid in regulating atypical responses.
Antidepressants for those with bipolar disorder have shown great promise in managing the deep depressive dives that can occur directly following the high of a manic episode. While not a mood stabilizer, antidepressants can lift depressive-related symptoms and along with other prescribed medications, can create an overall improvement for specific episodic conditions. It’s common that a strong antidepressant can actually be more harmful than beneficial, spurring manic episodes while trying to treat depressive ones. ⁵
A neuro-depressant medication, benzodiazepines are responsible for slowing down neurological as well as nervous system processing. For those with bipolar disorder, benzodiazepines can result in a calmer state, especially during manic episodes. Benzodiazepines also aid those with anxiety, epilepsy, and those that are experiencing addiction withdrawal. ⁶
Still, there are inherent risks of using benzodiazepines, as they can be habit-forming.
There also have been studies that have shown that while benzodiazepines may help with mania-related symptoms, they can also worsen depressive-related symptoms. ⁷ More doctors and mental health clinicians are opting to utilize mood stabilizers and anticonvulsants in the place of benzodiazepines for comprehensive bipolar treatment.
A combination of an atypical kind of antipsychotic, Zyprexa, and an SSRI antidepressant, typically Prozac. It’s specifically used to treat depression-related episodes in bipolar patients. Symbyax is not as common nowadays as utilizing Symbyax can produce undesirable results. A combination of lithium and an anticonvulsant is more common. ⁸
Symbyax also is a more restrictive drug than others. Those with pre-existing conditions, pregnant women, and those that drink alcohol are at higher risk of serious side effects. ⁹
Which Medicine is Best for Me
While we took a deep dive into the types of bipolar medication that are common, figuring out which is best for one’s own specific bipolar diagnosis is not a one size fits all approach. It’s true that some medications and medicine combinations are best for specific types of bipolar disorder, such in the case of Symbyax being more helpful for those with bipolar I disorder. ¹⁰
As previously mentioned, it’s common for a bipolar patient to take a combination of medications along with specific kinds of therapies including but not limited to psychotherapy, substance abuse treatment, and cognitive behavioral therapy. The best way to figure out your treatment path is to talk with a medical and mental health provider.
Side Effects of Bipolar Medicine
As with any medication, there are side effects as well as risks to deal with. Side effects of all of these medications can be similar to one another however there are some that greatly differ from others. We have compiled a list of the most common side effects based on the type of medication. Note that this list is not an exhaustive one and that everyone’s experiences with these medications and treatment options are different.
- Dry mouth
- Increase thirst
- Gradual weight gain
- Increase or decrease in appetite
- Upset stomach
- Temporary increase in anxiety
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in sleep
- Increase in fatigue
- Reduced sex drive
- Stomach complications
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Muscle weakness
- Memory issues
- Dry mouth
- Dry mouth
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Sleeping complications
Medication for Bipolar Disorder and Pregnancy
Certain anticonvulsant medications are also not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
One such anticonvulsant that is discouraged is valproate as use during or after pregnancy can create physical defects in the baby, including spina bifida and heart complications.
Symbyax is another medication that is not for pregnant or nursing mothers as it can lead to developmental complications for the fetus and further issues with a breastfeeding infant.
As with any medication during pregnancy, it is best to consult with a trusted OBGYN and physician to rule out any and all medications that can be harmful to the mother or the baby.
Bipolar disorder is a complex and often misunderstood mental health condition. The changes in behavior, mood, and internal processing can make an already challenging diagnosis even more of a burden to bear during daily life. So, why should treating a complicated diagnosis be even more difficult?
We here at Bedlamite believe that it shouldn’t be more difficult and that it doesn’t have to be. Arming yourself with knowledge and a deeper understanding of what these medications are, how they function and interact with the body.
Do you still have questions about medications for bipolar disorder?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Mayo Clinic: Oral Route for Lithium
² National Cancer Institute: Definition of Anticonvulsant Medication
³ National Center for Biotechnology Information: Anticonvulsant Use in the Treatment of Bipolar Disorder
⁴ National Center for Biotechnology Information: Typical and atypical antipsychotics in bipolar depression
⁵ National Center for Biotechnology Information: Do antidepressants increase the risk of mania and bipolar disorder in people with depression?
⁶ Alcohol & Drug Administration of Australia: Benzodiazepines
⁷ National Center for Biotechnology Information: Benzodiazepines I – Upping the Care on Downers
⁸ National Center for Biotechnology Information: Efficacy, safety, and tolerability of Symbyax
⁹ Food & Drug Administration: Symbyax Warning Label
¹⁰ Mayo Clinic: Bipolar Treatment – Differences Between Bipolar Type 1 & 2
¹¹ National Health Service UK: Lithium Use & Care Guide
¹² Epilepsy Foundation: Side Effects of Anticonvulsants
¹³ National Health Service UK: Common Side Effects of Antidepressants
¹⁴ MindUK: Side Effects of Benzodiazepines
¹⁵ RXList: Symbyax Side Effects & Risks