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Why are antipsychotic medications used in treating bipolar disorder?

Sheri Van Dijk
Psychiatry
Antipsychotic medications such as olanzapine, quetiapine, and aripiprazole (to name a few) are often used in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Sometimes this is because an individual with bipolar is experiencing psychotic symptoms - having hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or otherwise sensing things that aren't there); or delusions (a fixed belief in something that doesn't actually match with reality).

Often, however, these medications are used simply as mood stabilizers. Over the years, we've found that these medications that were originally designed to treat psychosis are also helpful in other ways. One of these ways is in stabilizing a person's mood or helping it stay more level or even, rather than fluctuating from depression to mania or hypomania.

In addition, these medications are also very helpful and are often used for sleep problems and difficulties with anxiety.

If you're unsure why a specific medication has been prescribed for you, be sure to speak with your doctor about it.
Antipsychotic medications are used to control psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions, that sometimes occur in very severe depressive or manic episodes.

Antipsychotics can be used in 2 additional ways in bipolar disorder, even if no psychotic symptoms are present. They may be used as sedatives, especially during early stages of treatment, for insomnia, anxiety, and agitation. Researchers also believe that the newer atypical antipsychotic medications have mood stabilizing properties, and may help control depression and mania. Antipsychotic medications are therefore often added to mood stabilizers to improve the response in patients who have never had psychotic symptoms. Antipsychotics may also be used alone as mood stabilizers when patients cannot tolerate or do not respond to any of the mood stabilizers.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.