What Medications are Currently Used to Treat Bipolar Disorder?

Discussion of mood stabilizers to treat bipolar disorder and why people with bipolar have to take so many pills.

Discussion of mood stabilizers to treat bipolar disorder and why people with bipolar have to take so many pills.

Gold Standard for Treating Bipolar Disorder (part 4)

Bipolar disorder is a complex illness that often responds to a variety of medications. When a person is initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the first medications chosen depend on a number of factors. For example:

  1. Is the person currently depressed or manic?
  2. Is psychosis involved?
  3. Is the person in the hospital?

In general, the first choice medication is a mood stabilizer. If you're stable enough, you and your medications healthcare professional can work together to find the best initial medication that works for you. Dr. Jim Phelps, the author of "Why Am I Still Depressed? Recognizing and Managing the Ups and Downs of Bipolar II and Soft Bipolar Disorder" suggests that "Reducing mood swings is the most important element in treating bipolar disorder. Because of this, using antidepressants which may cause mania as a first treatment option is not in the best interest of reducing the mood swings. Medications treatment for bipolar should focus on stabilizing the mood through the use of mood-stabilizing drugs including the use of antipsychotics." Your healthcare professional should know the protocol of the type and order of medications used to treat bipolar disorder.

Why Am I On So Many Pills?

As you probably know from experience, bipolar disorder is much more than mania and depression. People with the illness can experience psychosis, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, ADHD symptoms and much more. This means that a variety of medications may be needed to get your mood swings under control.

You can download a file called the Quick Reference Guide to Psychotropic Medications that lists in detail the various medications used to treat bipolar disorder. This will help you identify the medications you may currently be taking, as well as help you ask informed questions of your prescribing healthcare professional. It's very important that you're involved in your own treatment and do your own research on bipolar disorder medications and how they work to manage mood swings.

How Much Do I Really Need to Know About My Medications?

You would rarely put food in your mouth without checking what it is. Nor should you simply take medications without knowing exactly why you're taking them and how they will affect your body.

The more you know about the bipolar medications you're taking, the better able you will be to know what side-effects to expect, whether the medications are effective and finally, how to better advocate for yourself to make sure you're getting the best treatment. This does not mean you should second guess your healthcare professional; it simply means that you will know the questions to ask when you want to take part in your own treatment instead of blindly accepting treatment you don't understand.

next: How Many Medications For Bipolar Should I Try? (part 5)

APA Reference
Fast, J. (2009, February 13). What Medications are Currently Used to Treat Bipolar Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: June 1, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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