Resources Medication Resource Centre About Antipsychotic Medications

About Antipsychotic Medications

 What Are Antipsychotic Medications?

History And Different Types Of Antipsychotic Medications

How Do Antipsychotic Medications Work?


What Are Antipsychotic Medications?

Antipsychotic medications are an important part of the treatment plan for people living with schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses. They are used to treat symptoms and help improve quality of life.  Schizophrenia can have many different symptoms. Antipsychotic medications work best on the positive symptoms of schizophrenia such as hallucinations, disorganized thinking, paranoia and delusions. Some individuals also experience negative symptoms, such as lack of motivation and low mood. Antipsychotics may help improve these symptoms for some individuals, however they may not completely eliminate them.  It is important to understand what symptoms the antipsychotic medication will help with so you can monitor your response.
 
Antipsychotics can also be used to treat other conditions such as major depression and bipolar disorder.  It is important to discuss with your doctor the reason why you are taking antipsychotic medication.
 
Antipsychotics can control many symptoms of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses but they cannot cure the illnesses.These medications help reduce symptoms so that you can feel better, but they may not eliminate the symptoms completely. Antipsychotic medications work best when taken regularly, even when you start to feel better.
 

History And Different Types Of Antipsychotic Medications

First-Generation Of Antipsychotics: The "Typicals"

In 1950, the first antipsychotic medication, chlorpromazine, was developed. It was originally used to increase the effects of anesthesia in people undergoing surgery. Because of its calming effect, psychiatrists began using it to treat psychosis.
 
Chlorpromazine was marketed under the name Largactil® in 1952 and Thorazine® in 1954. Access to this medication was a major breakthrough in the treatment of mental illnesses. Prior to the development of this medication many individuals with mental illnesses lived in hospitals. One reason for this is because the symptoms experienced by individuals were significant and impacted their ability to live independently in the community. The introduction of chlorpromazine was crucial as it showed society that the symptoms of mental illnesses could be successfully treated and individuals could live productive lives in the community.
 
By the early 1970s, chlorpromazine was the most widely used antipsychotic medication, with many other similar medications available. Early on in their use, doctors noticed that these first-generation antipsychotic medications frequently caused movement-related side effects, also called extrapyramidal symptoms. [
Managing Side Effects]

Second-Generation Of Antipsychotics: The "Atypicals"

Clozapine was the first antipsychotic medication developed that caused fewer movement related side effects (extrapyramidal symptoms). This was a significant discovery.  Prior to this it was believed that in order for an antipsychotic medication to treat symptoms of schizophrenia it must cause movement side effects. Clozapine showed that this theory was false, as it was very effective. Because of this difference in side effects, clozapine became the first atypical antipsychotic.

Clozapine was initially developed in the 1960s, and inspired the discovery of several other atypical antipsychotics. Atypical antipsychotic medication is similar to clozapine in that they cause less movement side effects compared to the typical medications.  

Medications Today

Since the introduction of chlorpromazine, many other typical and atypical antipsychotic medications have been developed. The main difference between typical and atypical antipsychotics is that the atypicals have milder movement-related side effects compared to the typicals. While both categories of medications work well, no single medication works well for everyone who takes it. In some cases, someone may have to try several medications before finding the one that works best for them.

While antipsychotics are the main class of medications used to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses there are other types of medications that may also be used to treat specific symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or insomnia. [
Other Psychotropic Medications]


How Do Antipsychotic Medications Work?

Our brains have billions of nerve cells that communicate with each other through nerve endings. These messages are transmitted by chemicals called neurotransmitters. In schizophrenia, it is thought that something goes wrong with this complex communication system.
 
Antipsychotics work by helping to rebalance the communication system. Typical antipsychotics work mostly by blocking the action of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Atypical antipsychotics also block dopamine, along with other neurotransmitters such as serotonin and noradrenaline.
 
While there are similarities between medications within each group of antipsychotics, it is important to understand that each individual medication is different. Each medication will affect everyone differently. What works for one person may not work for you. It is important to discuss your response to your medication with your doctor.  It can take several weeks for antipsychotic medications to have an effect.  It is important to be patient during the first 4-8 weeks of treatment as it takes time to see improvements. In some cases medications may work for several months to years and then stop working.  It is not uncommon to have changes in medications over the course of your illness. 

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