What are mood stabilizers?

Mood stabilizers are psychiatric medications that help control swings between depression and mania. They’re prescribed to restore neurochemical balance by decreasing brain activity.

Mood stabilizer drugs are commonly used to treat people with bipolar mood disorder and sometimes people with schizoaffective disorder and borderline personality disorder. In some cases, they’re used to supplement other medications, such as antidepressants, to treat depression.

Mood stabilizer medication list

Medications that are commonly classified as mood stabilizers include:

Mineral

Lithium is an element that occurs naturally. It is not a manufactured drug.

Lithium was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1970 and is still considered an effective mood stabilizer. It’s approved for the treatment of bipolar mania and the maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder. Sometimes it’s used in combination with other medications to treat bipolar depression.

Because lithium is eliminated from the body through the kidney, during lithium treatments kidney functions should be checked periodically.

Commercial brand names for lithium include:

  • Eskalith
  • Lithobid
  • Lithonate

Side effects from lithium can include:

Anticonvulsants

Also known as antiepileptic medication, anticonvulsant medications were originally developed to treat seizures. Anticonvulsants that are often used as mood stabilizers include:

  • valproic acid, also called valproate or divalproex sodium (Depakote, Depakene)
  • lamotrigine (Lamictal)
  • carbamazepine (Carbatrol, Tegretol, Epitol, Equetro)

Some anticonvulsants that are used off label — not officially approved for this condition — as mood stabilizers, include:

Side effects from anticonvulsants can include:

Note: Off-label drug use means that a drug that’s been approved by the FDA for one purpose is used for a different purpose that has not been approved. However, a doctor can still use the drug for that purpose. This is because the FDA regulates the testing and approval of drugs, but not how doctors use drugs to treat their patients. So, your doctor can prescribe a drug however they think is best for your care. Learn more about off-label prescription drug use.

Antipsychotics

Antipsychotics may be prescribed along with mood stabilizing drugs. In other cases, they seem to assist mood stabilization on their own. Antipsychotics used to treat bipolar disorder include:

Side effects from antipsychotics can include:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • drowsiness
  • tremors
  • blurred vision
  • dizziness
  • weight gain
  • sensitivity to sunlight

Takeaway

Mood stabilizer drugs are primarily used to treat people with bipolar mood disorder. If you have mood swings that are affecting your energy, sleep, or judgment, talk to your doctor. If appropriate, your doctor may put together a treatment plan that may include mood stabilizers.