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Understanding psychiatric medications: Antipsychotics 

From: Understanding psychiatric medications: Antipsychotics - Information for consumers, families and friends (© 2009, 2012 CAMH)

Antipsychotic medications can reduce or relieve symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing something that is not there). Formerly known as major tranquilizers and neuroleptics, antipsychotic medications are the main class of drugs used to treat people with schizophrenia. They are also used to treat people with psychosis that occurs in bipolar disorder, depression and Alzheimer disease. Other uses of antipsychotics include stabilizing moods in bipolar disorder, reducing anxiety in anxiety disorders and reducing tics in Tourette’s syndrome.

Antipsychotic medications can help to calm and clear confusion in a person with acute psychosis within hours or days, but can take up to four or six weeks to reach their full effect. These medications can help to control symptoms, but they do not cure the underlying condition. When taken over a longer term, antipsychotics can help to prevent further episodes of psychosis.

While antipsychotic medications can help some people with psychosis and mood disorders, at the same time these drugs can have serious side-effects. The aim of medication treatment is to reduce and control symptoms while keeping side-effects at a minimum.

Combining antipsychotic medication with other therapy and support can help people to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Family therapy, peer support, school and job counselling and housing and employment supports can all be helpful. Some therapists now offer cognitive-behavioural therapy to help people cope with voices.

Taking care of your physical health is especially important if you take antipsychotic medication. Both schizophrenia and the medications used to treat it can increase the risk of diabetes and other serious health problems. Getting regular checkups and medical care can help you to have good physical health. Eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep can also help you to get and stay well.

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