Lithium and other mood stabilisers

Explains what mood stabilising drugs are, what they're used for, possible side effects and information about withdrawal.

What are mood stabilisers?

Mood stabilisers are psychiatric drugs that are licensed as part of the long-term treatment for:

Some of the individual drugs we call mood stabilisers are actually very different chemical substances from each other. But health care professionals often group them together, because they can all help to stabilise your mood if you experience problems with extreme highs, extreme lows, or mood swings between extreme highs and lows.

Which drugs are mood stabilisers?

The 5 individual drugs that can be used as mood stabilisers are:

What kind of substances are they?

lithium

  • Natural mineral – lithium is actually an element that occurs naturally in the environment, not a manufactured drug.

carbamazapine, lamotrigine and valproate

  • Anticonvulsants – these 3 drugs are actually anticonvulsant medication (also known as antiepileptic medication), which were all originally made for treating epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that can cause seizures.

asenapine

  • Antipsychotic – asenepine is actually an antipsychotic drug, but it is usually only used as a mood stabiliser.

"Lithium carbonate is the mood stabiliser that I'm on… Apart from the side effect of it making me really thirsty, I've found it has really evened me out, brought up my lows and made them not last as long and balanced the highs out, too."

Are antidepressants mood stabilisers?

People sometimes assume that antidepressant drugs are also mood stabilisers, because they can help to lift your mood if you're experiencing depression.

But in fact antidepressants are not included in the group of drugs we call mood stabilisers – they're a separate category of psychiatric medication. (See our pages on antidepressants for more information.)

Who can prescribe mood stabilisers?

You should only be prescribed a mood stabiliser by a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist – not by a regular GP.

This information was published in February 2015. 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.

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