How do medications treat schizophrenia?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
The medications commonly used to treat schizophrenia are called antipsychotic medications. They are often divided into two groups: typical and atypical antipsychotics. Both types are used to treat the symptoms that often happen with schizophrenia. The exact way in which these medications work is not known. However, researchers think that they affect the balance of certain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, in the brain, specifically the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. By causing a change in brain chemistry, the symptoms of schizophrenia may be controlled, and people can lead healthier lives. Be aware, though, that medications will not cure the disease -- it will only treat the symptoms. If you are on antipsychotic medications, you should continue to take them even if you feel like you don't need them.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Antipsychotic medications, the primary treatments for schizophrenia, alter how the brain works and communicates with the rest of the body by affecting the brain’s chemical messengers, neurotransmitters.

The most common medication used to treat schizophrenia is an antipsychotic medication. There are two types: typical and atypical. Both reduce the positive and negative symptoms by affecting the amount of serotonin and dopamine (two common neurotransmitters) that is available. Typical antipsychotics tend to treat the negative symptoms better, so it is not uncommon for you to be on multiple medications at once. Some drugs used to treat schizophrenia can cause some nasty side effects. Some have to be watched as closely as a toddler on a playground and blood tests may be necessary, so be sure to tell your doctor about anything unusual. And definitely do not stop taking the meds cold turkey.

Antipsychotic drugs work to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia by interfering with brain chemistry. They are designed to intercept brain transmitters that communicate feelings and actions in the brain. These transmitters include dopamine and serotonin. When people who suffer from schizophrenia take these medications, they can function as normally as possible. Antipsychotic medications are available in pills and in injection form, the latter of which is often reserved for those who will not take medication willingly.

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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.