Lithium and other mood stabilisers
Explains how lithium and other mood stabilising drugs work, how they might help you, whether to take them if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, and what alternative treatments are available.
What are mood stabilisers?
Mood stabilisers are a type of psychiatric drug. They are licensed to be used as part of the treatment for:
- bipolar disorder
- mania and hypomania
- recurrent, severe depression and schizoaffective disorder, in some cases.
Some of the individual drugs we call mood stabilisers are actually very different chemical substances from each other. But healthcare professionals often group them together, because they can all help to stabilise your mood if you experience problems with extreme highs or extreme lows. They can also help if you have mood swings between extreme highs and lows.
What are the different types of mood stabiliser?
Lithium, anticonvulsants and antipsychotics are the three main types of drug which are used as mood stabilisers. There are several types of individual drug within each of these groups.
Each of these individual drugs may be known by several different names, some of which we have listed in these pages. See our page on drug names for more information.
Lithium is a mood stabilising medication commonly used to treat bipolar disorder. It can be prescribed as:
- lithium carbonate (Camcolit, Priadel, Liskonum)
- lithium citrate (Li-liquid, Priadel).
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.
Some anticonvulsant medication can be used to help stabilise mood. You may also hear these drugs referred to as anti-epileptic medication.
Anticonvulsants which are used as mood stabilisers include:
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is updating its recommendations on the use of valproate. But if you’re currently taking valproate, it’s important to continue taking it unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Find out about the planned changes.
Some antipsychotic medications can be used as mood stabilisers, as part of the treatment for bipolar disorder.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the organisation that produces guidelines on best practice in healthcare, has guidelines for treating bipolar disorder. These guidelines recommend using the following antipsychotics as mood stabilisers:
- haloperidol (Dozic, Haldol, Haldol decanoate, Serenace)
- olanzapine (Zalasta, Zyprexa, ZypAdhera)
- quetiapine (Atrolak, Biquelle, Ebesque, Seroquel, Tenprolide, Zaluron)
- risperidone (Risperdal, Risperdal Consta).
The antipsychotic asenapine is also sometimes used as a mood stabiliser, as a treatment for mania.
Are antidepressants mood stabilisers?
Some people assume that antidepressant drugs are also mood stabilisers. This may be because they can help to lift your mood if you're experiencing depression.
But antidepressants are not included in the group of drugs we call mood stabilisers. They are a separate type of psychiatric medication. See our pages on antidepressants for more information.
This information was published in June 2020. We will revise it in 2023.
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