Atypical antipsychotics are a range of medications that are used mainly to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and schizoaffective disorder. In some cases, they are used to treat eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette’s, substance use disorders, and autism—but they are not approved for these uses by the FDA.
Atypical psychotics are also called “second-generation antipsychotics.” They are newer, and they tend to be used more commonly nowadays because they are less likely to cause side-effects. The older, first-generation antipsychotics are generally used after someone has tried other medications with no success.
Antipsychotics work by impacting chemical messengers—called neurotransmitters—used to communicate between brain cells. Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter affected by these medications. If parts of the dopamine system become overactive, they seem to play a part in producing hallucinations, delusions and thought disorder. Antipsychotics block some of the receptors that react to dopamine. Atypical antipsychotics also affect another neurotransmitter, called serotonin.
Examples of atypical antipsychotics include:
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Like all medications, antipsychotics can cause side effects. Finding the right treatment for a mental health condition is a balancing act—you and your doctor work together to weigh the potential benefits of a medication against the potential side effects. Medications affect each person differently, so this usually involves a lot of trial and error.
Common side effects of atypical antipsychotics include:
- Decreased sex drive
- Weight gain
- High cholesterol
- Sun sensitivity
Less common side effects include:
- Involuntary body movements or facial tics (tardive dyskinesia and other movement disorders)
- Suicidal thoughts
- Heart attack
- Heart inflammation
If you experience any of these symptoms while taking an antipsychotic medication, speak with your doctor. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best way forward.
 Maher, Alicia Ruelaz, et al. “Efficacy and Comparative Effectiveness of Atypical Antipsychotic Medications for Off-Label Uses in Adults.” Jama, vol. 306, no. 12, 2011, pp. 1359–1369., doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1360.
 Lacey, Michael. “Antipsychotics.” Antipsychotic Medication, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Jan. 2014, www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/treatmentswellbeing/antipsychoticmedication.aspx.
 Üçok, A., & Gaebel, W. (2008). Side effects of atypical antipsychotics: a brief overview. World Psychiatry, 7(1), 58–62.