Antipsychotics are a group of medications that can reduce or relieve symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions and hallucinations.

What are antipsychotics commonly prescribed for?

Antipsychotic medications are usually prescribed for schizophrenia and psychotic disorders. Some can also be used to help treat bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.

How do antipsychotics work?

Antipsychotics can reduce the concentration of certain brain chemical messengers (e.g. dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine) that play a part in how we think, feel, see and hear.

What antipsychotics are currently available?

Commonly prescribed antipsychotic medications include:

  • Haloperidol (Haldol)
  • Loxapine (Loxapac)
  • Chlorpromazine (Largactil)
  • Methotrimeprazine (Nozinan)
  • Fluphenazine (Prolixin)
  • Perphenazine (Trilafon)
  • Trifluoperazine (Stelazine)
  • Flupentixol (Fluanxol)
  • Zuclopenthixol (Clopixol)

Other antipsychotics include:

  • Paliperidone (Invega)
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Clozapine (Clozaril)
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • Lurasidone (Latuda)
  • Asenapine (Saphris)
  • Ziprasidone (Geodon)
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify)

What can I expect from antipsychotics?

Signs that the medication may be helping can include:

  • Reduced hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thoughts
  • Reduced anger, agitation
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved motivation, energy level

How long do antipsychotics take to work?

There can be signs of improvement early on in treatment but it may take up to six months to experience the full effect of the medication and determine whether it is working.

Everybody is different including the way each person’s brain is wired, therefore medications may work differently in each person. 

Finding the right antipsychotic is a process of trial and error. Many people have to try several different medications before they find one that works.

What are the common side effects of antipsychotics?

Not everyone will experience side effects. People who experience some side effects may find that many of these side effects go away with time as their body gets used to the medication.

Some common side effects may include:

  • Dry mouth and eyes
  • Constipation
  • Restlessness, difficulty sitting still
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Weight gain

If at any time you develop a sudden rash, have any trouble with breathing, sudden pain in any part of the body (e.g. chest, muscles), sudden muscle stiffness, any involuntary movements, trouble staying awake during the day, confusion or difficulty peeing or peeing too much, contact your doctor immediately.

Some side effects may resolve over time but you should always be encouraged to report to your doctor any symptoms that you feel are bothersome and/or have become worse.

What can I do to help reduce the side effects?

Some suggestions to help reduce risk and/or severity of side effects can include:

  • Balanced diet, adequate fluids, daily activity or exercise
  • Report any weight gain greater or equal to five per cent (approximately two to 25 lbs)
  • Limit excess intake of caffeinated products and sodium
  • Smoking management

Sometimes a change in the dose and schedule may help manage some side effects. You should follow up with your doctor as there may be other treatments that could help.

Your doctor may also ask you to go for lab work or other tests to make sure you are tolerating the medication and watch for any concern of side effects.

How can I safely use my antipsychotic medication?

  • Do not take any other medication that is not prescribed by your doctor (e.g. over the counter products, vitamins, herbal supplements) without checking if it is safe to combine with your antipsychotic. Check with your pharmacist before deciding to take anything new.
  • All antipsychotics should be taken regularly, preferably at around the same time every day. If you miss a dose do not double up, take your next dose at the regularly scheduled time. If you miss more than one dose please contact your doctor to discuss.
  • Do not stop taking your antipsychotic until you have spoken with your doctor to avoid any severe withdrawal effects. If there is a need to stop taking the medication the dose should be gradually reduced.