Treatment for bipolar disorder varies from person to person. That’s because our brains, while structured similarly, work differently. While researchers are still trying to pinpoint exactly what causes bipolar disorder, there are numerous treatments available to help calm the symptoms of the disorder.

Treating bipolar disorder can be a trial and error process. A doctor will often prescribe one medication to see if it works. Depending on the symptoms that you present with, your doctor may prescribe a combination of medications to treat your symptoms. Antipsychotics may be used in acute mania requiring hospitalization, but mood stabilizers (such as lithium) are generally considered the mainstay of therapy for bipolar disorder. In some patients, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may also be used to treat depressive symptoms.

Some medications can take weeks to reach their full, expected results. Make sure you ask your doctor how long your specific medication should take to kick in and what the expected results should be.

There are numerous reasons why you might not think you're getting the most out of your bipolar medications, so here are some factors to consider before you talk to your doctor about trying something else.

No effects

The goal of bipolar medication treatment is to help alleviate anxiety, depression, mania, and other symptoms.

If you regularly take your medication, you should feel some kind of desired effects. Your mood should improve or at least stabilize. You should feel more at ease and overall better about your condition.

This change won't happen immediately, but if you aren't feeling any different after taking your medication for a period of time, you should talk with your doctor.

Side effects

Almost all medication comes with side effects, but there comes a point where enduring the side effects could outweigh the benefits of the medication.  Addressing the side effects of your medication with your doctor is important in getting the best care for your bipolar disorder. Some side effects of commonly prescribed medications include:

  • weight gain or weight loss
  • drowsiness
  • reduced sexual desire
  • tremors
  • dry mouth
  • blurred vision
  • changes in appetite

However, some people can experience even worse adverse effects from medication. Report any and all of your concerns to your doctor so he or she can get an accurate picture of how the medication is affecting you.

Suicidal thoughts

If any of your treatments cause you suicidal thoughts, contact your doctor immediately. These are signs that your medication and therapy is not working correctly and should be reported to your doctor immediately. 

Lost effects

There is a chance that your medication may not become as effective as it once was as you start to develop a tolerance for the drugs. Tolerance and other factors can prevent bipolar, depression, and other medications from working effectively. This might occur because:

  • your bipolar disorder has changed
  • another medical condition
  • dietary or other changes
  • weight loss or gain

As with any medication, do not stop taking your prescriptions until you've been instructed to do so by your doctor.