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Medications for Bipolar Disorder

Updated on March 7, 2013
Before any medications are given, the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder must be made by recognizing the symptoms.
Before any medications are given, the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder must be made by recognizing the symptoms. | Source

By Joan Whetzel

Bipolar Disorder produces wide mood swings in those who suffer from the mental condition. The varied triggers can make the occurrence and severity of these mood swings unpredictable at times. Left unchecked, Bipolar Disorder can reak havoc in the life of those suffering from the disease as well as in the lives of those around them. The best way to control Bipolar Disorder is through the use of the proper mix medications, which must be structured to the individual patients needs.


Bipolar Disorder presents with a wide range of symptoms, which can make diagnosing the disease difficult.

Manic episode symptoms include:

  • High or euphoric feelings
  • Irritability or agitation.
  • Taking quickly, jumping from one idea to another, racing thoughts.
  • Distracted easily.
  • Taking on multiple new projects and making plans.
  • Restlessness.
  • Unrealistically high opinion of their abilities.
  • Acting impulsively.
  • Poor judgment.
  • Poor temper control.
  • Binge eating.
  • Taking drugs and drinking excessively.
  • Hyperactivity and high energy levels.

Depressive episode symptoms include:

  • Feeling worried for long periods of time.
  • Feelings of emptiness over long periods.
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Tiredness, sluggishness, and fatigue.
  • Trouble with concentration, memory, and decision making.
  • Restlessness.
  • Irritability.
  • Altered eating and sleeping habits.
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts at suicide.
  • Loss of appetite along with weight loss.
  • Overeating accompanied by weight gain.
  • Feeling worthless, hopeless, or guilt ridden.
  • Lowered self esteem.
  • Becoming distant from friends and family.


Medications for Bipolar Disorder are aimed at stabilizing the mood swings as well as the severity of the moods. Since individual patients don't respond in the same way to each of the medications, the medications may need to be switched out and dosages adjusted until the best regime is found for each patient. The types of medications used include lithium, benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants. Once the correct medications and dosages have been found, the medications can be taken for decades in what's called a maintenance therapy.


Lithium stabilizes the moods, thereby preventing the swings between extreme highs and lows that characterize the disorder. Since lithium can produce thyroid and kidney problems, regular blood tests are required to monitor the patient's health.


Another mood stabilizer, helps prevent the severe mood swings. Drugs in this group include Depakne, Stavzor, Depakote, and Lamictal. When patients suffer a mixed episode (combination manic depressive episode) Saphris may be helpful.


Abilify, Zyprexa, Risperdal and Seroquel may be given to those to those patients who don't respond well to the anticonvulsant therapy. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved the Seroquel for the treatment of Bipolar Disorder, but doctors are still allowed to prescribe other medications if individual patients respond better to them.


Antidepressants may be recommended for some bipolar patients to help control their depressive episodes, as long as their use is accompanied by a mood stabilizer. However, care must be taken as this class of drugs can trigger manic episodes.


This class of drug is a combination antidepressant (fluoxetine) and antipsychotic (olanzapine) that merges the depression and mood stabilizing treatment into one drug. It has been approved by the US FDA for use in Bipolar Disorder patients.


This class of medications are known as anti-anxiety medications. They relieve anxiety and help with sleep problems, and are generally only ordered on a short term basis. Bensodiazepines include Klonopin, Ativan, Valium, Librium, Niravam, and Xanax.

Tips and Warnings

  • The drugs used for the treatment and maintenance of Bipolar symptoms have side effects. So patients and their family must ask their doctor or pharmacist what the side effects are and what to do should these side effects occur.
  • Most of the Bipolar medications cause birth defects, so it is recommended that female Bipolar patients use some form of birth control to prevent pregnancy.
  • If a female patient plans on becoming pregnant, she must discuss alternative treatment options for the period prior to and during pregnancy.
  • Alternative treatments must also be discussed with physicians if the female Bipolar patient wishes to breast feed as some of the Bipolar medications pass through the breast milk.
  • Antidepressants are not recommended for all those suffering from Bipolar Disorder as these meds trigger manic episodes in some patients.
  • There are some natural mood stabilizers which may reduce the amount of medications required. They include: strict sleep schedule, regular exercise, relaxation techniques, and having a solid support system. Patients should discuss these with their doctor and set up a regime specific to them.
  • Medication for Bipolar Disorder works best if accompanied by talk therapy as this will help patients identify their triggers and learn ways to avoid these triggers or manage their symptoms.
  • Patients should never discontinue medications once they feel better, as the sudden stop could trigger a relapse.


National Institute for Mental Health. Bipolar Disorder.

National Center for Biotechnology Information, US National Library of Medicine. Bipolar Disorder.

Mayo Clinic. Bipolar Disorder.

WebMD. Bipolar Disorder Help Center.

Web MD. Medications for Bipolar Disorder.

Mayo Clinic. Bipolar Disorder.

Help Guide. Bipolar Medication Guide.

Bipolar Medication

Bipolar Medications

Bipolar Treatment: Antipsychotic Medication Side Effects

Bipolar Type I

How to Recognize the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder


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    • joanwz profile imageAUTHOR

      Joan Whetzel 

      5 years ago from Katy, Texas

      Thanks for the personal imput. It must be difficult for you. I can only imagine how trying it can be for you as you teach your children how to manage their disease as they grow into adults. I'll keep you in my prayers.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Having two of my children suffering from this disorder, the manifestations are very different. One daughter just has bi-polar disorder, the other has a combination of schizophrenia and bi-polar, more commonly known as schizo-affective disorder. Medications are vital for maintenance of symptoms, and this hub is very helpful in understanding the purposes of the different types. If one type does not work, another must be tried, until one that works for that particular individual is found. It takes time, and patience to find the right mix. Family support is vital during this process, as well as for successful treatment after.


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