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Explains what antipsychotics are used for, how the medication works, possible side effects and information about withdrawal.
"I decided to try antipsychotics because my hallucinations and lack of sleep were putting my safety at risk. Before I was on my medication, I was exhausted."
Your doctor's decision to offer you antipsychotic medication is likely to depend on:
"I'm always trying new medications but none have worked well for me."
This partly depends on how you take them:
Other factors that can also affect how quickly any medication works for you personally include your metabolism, your liver enzymes and how physically active you are.
However you take the drugs, they may calm you down quite quickly but your psychotic symptoms may take days or weeks to suppress.
An emergency situation would be if you are behaving in a way that is:
In a situation like this, doctors may decide that you need something to calm you down as quickly as possible (this is called rapid tranquillisation). They can do this without your consent if you are being detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, often called being 'sectioned'. See our pages on sectioning for information about when it may be legal to section you and what your rights are in this situation.
Emergency medication should ideally be given to you by mouth, but if that's not possible you may need to be given drugs by injection (this would be a fast-acting injectable formulation for emergency use, not a depot injection). The drugs which may be given by emergency injection are: olanzapine, aripiprazole, lorazapam (a minor tranquilliser) or promethazine (an antihistamine). Zuclopenthixol (Clopixol acuphase) and haloperidol may also be used.
Understandably, experiencing rapid tranquillisation like this can be traumatic. Due to this, NICE best practice guidelines state that afterwards you should be given the opportunity to:
Depending on your diagnosis, the problems you experience, and the kind of side effects your main antipsychotic can cause, your doctor might suggest that a combination of an antipsychotic and another drug might be the best way to manage your symptoms. In this case, they might decide to offer you other kinds of medication as part of your treatment, such as:
"It's difficult to say [how antipsychotics are working for me] as I was prescribed strong antidepressants and sleeping pills at the same time."
Prescribing more than one antipsychotic drug at the same time is called polypharmacy. In most cases doctors should avoid doing this – except in specific short-term situations, such as while you are switching from one drug to another.
However, in some circumstances your doctor may decide to prescribe more than one antipsychotic on a longer-term basis. This may happen if:
You may find that if you are detained in hospital (sectioned) under the Mental Health Act 1983, your doctor is more likely to prescribe you more than one antipsychotic at once, or a higher dose, than someone who is a voluntary patient.
It's important to remember that all drugs can affect different people differently.
Not everybody finds antipsychotics helpful, and they all have the potential to cause unwanted side effects, which affect a lot of people who take them to some extent. Although many people find that the benefits of taking an antipsychotic outweigh any negatives, not everybody does – and your experience will be personal to you. You may need to try a few different drugs before you find the one that suits you best, and work with your doctor to find the right dosage for you.
It's also important to be aware that antipsychotics can be hard to come off, and may cause withdrawal effects if you come off them too quickly. See our page on coming off antipsychotics for more information.
To learn about the possible side effects and withdrawal effects associated with a particular antipsychotic, you can look it up in our antipsychotics A-Z. For ideas on managing your mental health without drugs, see our page on alternatives to medication.
This information was published in 2016. We will revise it in 2019.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.