Home » Blogs » Bipolar Update » Prescription Medication for Bipolar Disorder

Prescription Medication for Bipolar Disorder

Prescription Medications photoMedication Education

The medications that are prescribed for bipolar disorder can be very helpful to an individual who experiences extreme depression or mania to such an extent that his/her behaviors cause problems in their lives. Many individuals who have experienced mania will tell you that their career has been damaged, or their relationships hurt. Other individuals who have experienced a severe and deep depression will also tell you how their life was put on hold and they may have suffered many losses whit they struggled to overcome their depression. There is some controversy around taking traditional medication, and we will explore this in upcoming blogs. Individuals who cannot manage their mood swings on their own, even when implementing additional techniques and possibly even alternative medications, usually report great relief from taking traditional medication as prescribed. Here will take a look at the most commonly prescribed medication and offer you a link where you can access a more comprehensive description of them.

Mood Stabilizers

As a clinical psychologist, I have experienced psychiatrists to prescribe a variety of mood stabilizers to help with the severe mood swings of bipolar. Among these are anticonvulsants that are often tried before Lithium is introduced, or after a trial of Lithium has failed. Although anticonvulsant medications were first developed to treat seizures, they have been found to be effective in managing moods. Some anticonvulsant medications that I have seen prescribed include valproic acid, also called divalproex sodium (Depakote), carbamazepine (Tegretol) lamotrigine (Lamictal), and oxcarbazepine (Trileptal). With that said, Lithium is still considered to be one of the most effective mood stabilizers for the treatment of manic and depressive episodes.

Atypical Antipsychotics

Sometimes an individual experiences psychotic features such as delusions, or hallucinations during a manic phase, or even sometimes during an extreme depressive episode. Antipsychotics are often prescribed to help with these symptoms. At other times, an antipsychotic might be prescribed to help with mania or extreme mood swings. Antipsychotics are often prescribed with other medications (such as an additional mood stabilizer)

Below is a list of some more commonly used Antipsychotics used to treat people:

  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa), which helps people with severe or psychotic depression, which often is accompanied by a break with reality, hallucinations, or delusions7
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify), which can be taken as a pill or as a shot
  • Ziprasidone (Geodon)
  • Clozapine (Clorazil), which is often used for people who do not respond to lithium or anticonvulsants.8
  • Lurasidone (Latuda)


The more common antidepressants that are used to treat the symptoms of depression in bipolar include Fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft). These are the ones that I have seen prescribed by the psychiatrists that I work with. However, it is important to note that taking an antidepressant alone can trigger a manic episode. For this reason, they are rarely prescribed alone. Most psychiatrists will prescribe a mood stabilizer along with the antidepressant to prevent this from happening.

For a greater understanding of medication, side effects, and references to research about them please take the time to go to this link:

You can also download a full booklet from that URL.

A study funded by NIMH that was conducted by STEP-BD (Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder), here. Indicated a possibility that antidepressants do not work well for people who are experiencing depression related to bipolar disorder. You can read more about the study in the booklet that I mentioned. The booklet includes medication descriptions for most of the mental illnesses treated, as well as a thorough description of side effects.

Prescription Medication for Bipolar Disorder

Dr. Barbara Bachmeier

One comment: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Bachmeier, D. (2015). Prescription Medication for Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 23, 2019, from


Last updated: 17 Mar 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Mar 2015
Published on All rights reserved.