for better mental health

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:

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

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."

Anticonvulsants

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:

Valproate pregnancy warning

If you take valproate while you are pregnant, there is a higher risk of your child being born with birth defects and learning disabilities.

The regulators of this medicine say that you should not take valproate if you are pregnant. 

They also say you should not be prescribed valproate if you are able to become pregnant, unless you have a pregnancy prevention programme in place.

See our page on valproate for more information about this.

Antipsychotics

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.

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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