Several types of medications can be used to treat bipolar disorder. The most common ones are generally called mood stabilizers. They work by restoring the balance of the chemicals in your brain.
Mood stabilizers work best if you take them consistently. Sometimes people stop taking them during a manic episode because—let’s face it—manic episodes can feel great, and who wants to miss that? If you stop taking your meds though, it will take longer for them to kick in once another depressive episode hits.
Here are some of the most popular mood stabilizers:
Lithium is the oldest medication used to treat bipolar disorder. It’s proven to be effective, but you’ll need to have your blood drawn regularly to make sure it isn’t building up in your system. It’s also not a good first choice if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding or might become pregnant soon.
- Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
- Divalproex (Depakote)
Many medications that were first developed to treat epilepsy (seizures) also work well for bipolar. Many of them may have side effects like dizziness and are usually not recommended while pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Risperidone (Risperdal)
- Quetiapine (Seroquel)
These medications are particularly effective at preventing manic episodes. Sometimes they need to be taken in combination with an antidepressant in order treat both the manic and depressive sides of bipolar. They are often more effective than other types of bipolar medication, but they can also slow down your metabolism.
Many people with bipolar disorder also take antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. These can be combined with a mood stabilizer or taken alone.
Some people turn to alcohol or illegal drugs to manage their symptoms—even if they don't realize that's what they're doing. It's called self-medication. Drinking alcohol or taking drugs when you’re depressed might make you feel better for a moment, but these drugs are not effective in treating bipolar disorder long-term.