Drugs for Schizophrenia

Written by Jaime Herndon | Published on October 20, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on October 20, 2014

Drugs Used to Treat Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 1 percent of people in the United States have schizophrenia. It can cause:

  • auditory hallucinations
  • severe paranoia
  • abnormal thinking and delusions
  • flat affect
  • cognitive problems

Individuals with this disorder may find it hard to maintain a job or relationships. Schizophrenia is treatable, but symptoms can still remain and the disorder is life-long. One of the most effective treatments for the disorder is medication, particularly antipsychotic drugs. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the symptoms of depression may increase the likelihood of suicide in people with schizophrenia. Medication may also help reduce the risk of suicide in these people.

Types of Medication

According to the NAMI, antipsychotic drugs have been used to treat schizophrenia since the 1950s. The older type of antipsychotics are called typical antipsychotics. These include:

  • chlorpromazine (Thorazine)
  • haloperidol (Haldol)
  • perphenazine (Etrafon or Trilafon)
  • fluphenazine (Prolixin)
  • thiothixine (Navane)
  • thioridzaine (Mellaril)
  • loxapine (Loxitane)

Clozapine is not used as often as the other typical antipsychotics. This is because it can cause a drop in white blood cells. White blood cells help the body fight infection. People who take clozapine need to get their blood tested every two weeks in order to monitor their white blood cell levels. This drug can be effective when other antipsychotics don’t work.

Newer drugs were developed in the 1990s. These are called atypical antipsychotics. Drugs in this class are:

  • risperidone (Risperdal)
  • asenapine (Saphris)
  • olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • ziprasidone (Geodon)
  • aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • paliperidone (Invega)

Some of the atypicals can cause metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome causes high levels of lipids in the blood, which can lead to obesity and high blood pressure. Talk with your doctor about your risk for developing this condition, as well as what you can do to minimize the possibility.

Possible Side Effects

As with many medications, you might have some adverse side effects. This is especially true when you first start taking them. You might have to try several medications before you find the one that works for you. Most side effects go away after a short time and can be managed. Some possible side effects include:

  • sleepiness
  • vision problems, such as blurriness
  • fast heartbeat
  • menstrual problems
  • dizziness
  • sensitivity to sun

If you notice any side effects from your medication, tell your doctor. They can determine whether it’s a manageable side effect or if it’s something more serious. Sometimes the drug or the dosage needs to be changed. If you take any other medications or supplements, your doctor needs to know. Some herbs and supplements may cause an adverse reaction with an antipsychotic. Tell your doctor if you drink alcohol or use drugs to avoid dangerous interactions.

The rate of cigarette smoking is three times higher in those with schizophrenia than the general population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s not known if there is a biological reason for this. The relationship is currently being researched. Smoking can lessen the effectiveness of some antipsychotics, so it’s important to let your doctor know if you smoke cigarettes.

Supplemental Treatment

Medication may be necessary to control symptoms of schizophrenia, but it shouldn’t be the only treatment. Supportive treatments typically accompany medication. These may include:

  • psychotherapy
  • psychoeducation
  • rehabilitation training
  • group therapy
  • illness management skills

All of these resources together can help you live with schizophrenia with the support you need.

Schizophrenia is a serious condition, but medications have proven to be effective in reducing and controlling symptoms. It may take time to find the best medication for you, but by working with your doctor it’s possible. Talk with your doctor about any concerns or problems you might have with the medication. 

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