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What Are the Different Types of Anti-Psychotic Medications?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated May 17, 2024
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Doctors use a variety of anti-psychotic medications when treating psychotic disorders and other mental illnesses. There are two groups of the most common anti-psychotics: typical and atypical. These medications might come in pill, liquid, or injectable forms. Sometimes, anti-psychotic medications are combined with other drugs to better treat the mental illness. Like other medications, anti-psychotic drugs can present mild, moderate, and severe side effects, all of which should be discussed with a doctor.

The first major group of anti-psychotic medications medical professionals use when treating psychosis are typical anti-psychotics. Drugs in this group include thioxanthenes, phenothiazines, and butyrophenones. These medications have been around for more than 50 years, are sometimes used for treating disorders such as schizophrenia. If typical anti-psychotic medications are used over a long period of time, they can cause a condition called tardive dyskinesia in a small percentage of patients.

Atypical anti-psychotics, often called second-generation anti-psychotics, began to surface in the late 20th century and are often used to treat schizophrenia and other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder. Some second-generation or atypical anti-psychotics are olanzapine, risperidone, and paliperidone. One drug in this group, clozapine, can cause a condition called agranulocytosis, so it's not the best choice for all patients.

Despite the commonness of the two major groups of anti-psychotic medications, there is an emerging third group often referred to as third-generation anti-psychotics. Aripiprazole, which is also considered an atypical anti-psychotic and can be used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression, is often called the prototype of the third-generation anti-psychotics. Aripiprazole is thought to reduce some of the metabolic symptoms other kinds of atypical anti-psychotic drugs often present.

Perhaps the most common forms of anti-psychotic medications are pills. Patients can take these pills orally with water, and sometimes doctors recommend taking the pills with food. Sometimes, anti-psychotic drugs are in the form of a liquid the patients can drink. Certain anti-psychotics are designed to be injected. A patient might see his doctor once or twice a month for the injections.

The side effects of anti-psychotic medications can vary depending on the patient, the illness, and the exact medication. Some common side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, rapid heartbeat, and blurred vision. Some patients might experience sensitivity to the sun, or skin rashes, and some women might notice changes in their menstrual cycles. Headaches, dry mouth, nausea, constipation, and changes in sexual behavior are sometimes present with anti-psychotics. Usually, such side effects are mild and disappear after the patient has taken the drug for a certain length of time.

It is not uncommon for doctors to prescribe additional medications with anti-psychotics. Often, these extra medications are meant to treat additional symptoms, or to increase the effectiveness of anti-psychotic medications the patient already is taking. Any additional medications should be prescribed or approved by the patient’s doctor, and the patient should notify the doctor whenever he notices any adverse reactions or serious side effects.

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