What is Haloperidol?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Haloperidol is a drug developed in the 1950s for treatment principally of psychotic or manic symptoms, hence its classification as an antipsychotic. People may be most familiar with one of its brand-names Haldol®, and it has many other manufacturers and names depending on where it is sold. Today the medication is used less frequently due to the variety of atypical antipsychotic drugs that have been introduced, but there are still plenty of settings in which haloperidol is used. It can be intramuscularly injected, injected into a vein or taken orally. For quick action, as to promote calm in someone with severe psychosis, intravenous injection is typically preferred, but people may also take the medication orally on a regular basis to treat conditions like schizophrenia or to address diseases such as Tourette’s syndrome.


There are very serious warnings attached to the use of most antipsychotic drugs, and with haloperidol there is no exception. The most serious warning is that such medicines have been shown to elevate risk of sudden death in people with dementia. While Haldol® and other antipsychotics might once have been used to calm down psychotic episodes in those with conditions like Alzheimer’s, they are now not recommended and should be avoided.

Another serious risk with haloperidol is that use can lead to tardive dyskinesia or involuntary movement disorders, and these conditions may not always stop with drug discontinuation. Risk of developing such a symptoms is just under 5%, more likely to occur in younger people, and more likely to affect females. It is a matter of weighing risk versus benefits. The real need for any antipsychotic can be enough to warrant this risk in many circumstances.

Other side effects associated with haloperidol include sleepiness, a feeling of being drugged or sedated, akathisia or inner restlessness, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing or dystonia, shakiness or tremors, and weight gain. People can also suffer from depression when taking the drug, and anyone who is prescribed this for treatment should be under the care of a physician. If feelings of hopelessness, thoughts of hurting the self, or thoughts of suicide occur, these should be promptly mentioned so that doctor and patient can weigh different medication options.

Some medications and medical conditions mean either haloperidol shouldn’t be prescribed or needs to be adjusted. Doctors might want people to get an EKG (electrocardiogram) before prescribing this medicine to observe QT intervals of the heart, which could change as a result of taking Haldol®. Those with heart disease, a history of seizures, and anyone under the influence of alcohol shouldn’t take this drug either.

A lot of medications, especially for mental disorders, will have some interaction with the drug. Any tranquilizers could exaggerate sedating qualities and common drugs used to treat bipolar disorder like lithium and carbamazepine can change serum concentrations of the drug, or vice versa, so that different dosing is required. Having a full list of medications taken and medical history can help patients and doctors decide if haloperidol is appropriate.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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