Antipsychotic medicines are used to treat some of the signs of psychosis and can help ease your symptoms and improve the quality of your life.

How antipsychotics help

Antipsychotic medicines affect the action of chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters). These are chemicals your brain cells need to talk to each other.

Antipsychotics do not cure psychosis but they can help to reduce and control many psychotic symptoms, including: 

  • delusions and hallucinations, such as paranoia and hearing voices 
  • anxiety and serious agitation, for example from feeling threatened
  • incoherent speech and muddled thinking 
  • violent or disruptive behaviour
  • mania. 

Talking minds has detailed information on how antipsychotics work

How medication works - Talking Minds (external link)

Types of antipsychotic medicines

There are 2 main types of antipsychotics – first generation (typical) and second generation (atypical). 

First generation antipsychotics include chlopromazine and haloperidol. They are no longer commonly used .

The most common side effects from first generation antipsychotics are movement disorders include stiffness and shakiness, restlessness and feeling sluggish and slow in your thinking. 

Second generation antipsychotics include clozapine , olanzipine , quetiapine and riseridone

They are less likely to cause side effects though can cause weight gain and raised sugar and cholesterol in your blood.

Compare specific antipsychotics and their side effects

Benefits and side effects  - Talking Minds (external link)

Prescribing antipsychotics

The antipsychotic medicine you are prescribed will depend on: 

  • the severity and nature of your illness
  • other medical conditions you may have
  • other medicines you're currently taking
  • your response to your medicine
  • past experiences of taking antipsychotic medicines (what has and has not worked for you)
  • other considerations, for example, whether you need your medicine in a different form such as an injection instead of tablets, capsules or liquids.

Safety when taking antipsychotics

Before taking antipsychotic medicines talk to your healthcare provider if any of these apply as you may need special care. 

  • You have epilepsy, diabetes, Parkinson's disease or glaucoma.
  • You suffer from heart, liver, kidney, thyroid or prostate trouble.
  • You are pregnant, breastfeeding or want to get pregnant. 

Antipsychotics are not addictive so do not cause cravings or dependence. You may get withdrawal symptoms when you stop the medication, but these can be managed. 

Taking antipsychotics 

Antipsychotics can be taken as tablets, liquids and long-acting injections. 

They do not work straight away. It may take several days or even weeks for some of your symptoms to improve. 

  • To begin with, you may find the medication helps you feel more relaxed and calmer. 
  • After 1 or 2 weeks, other symptoms should begin to improve.
  • You may need to take an antipsychotic for quite a long time, often for years.

What to avoid when taking antipsychotics

If you are taking antipsychotics, you will need to avoid: 

  • alcohol
  • marijuana
  • synthetic cannabis
  • party pills (herbal highs). 

Taking any of these can make your psychosis worse, affect your mood or give you further side effects. 

Stopping antipsychotics

Do not stop an antipsychotic suddenly. You and your healthcare provider should decide together when you can stop.

If you stop taking your antipsychotic, your original symptoms may return. This may happen quickly, but it can take up to 6 months after you stop taking your antipsychotic. 

Further information

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