Antipsychotic Addiction and Rehabilitation

Antipsychotic Addiction Rehabilitation Header
Last Edited: March 15, 2020
Sarah Ann Niemann
Clinically Reviewed
Jim Brown, CDCA
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

Dangers of Antipsychotic Abuse

Antipsychotics are a class of drugs used to treat positive symptoms associated with a psychotic disorder or episode. These drugs are often used in the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as off-label for insomnia and other conditions.

A great deal of controversy surrounds Antipsychotics and drug abuse. These substances certainly call for special consideration as people who are prescribed Antipsychotics most likely legitimately require the medication. To be clear, when discussing Antipsychotic abuse and complications thereof, we do not mean those taking the drugs with a legitimate prescription or not as intended by the prescribing physician.

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Some people abuse these drugs and do so at great risk. Too much of any substance can be detrimental to one’s health and Antipsychotics are no exception. There is a huge difference between taking medication prescribed by a doctor, as prescribed, and taking drugs for entertainment. Some people who abuse Antipsychotics do not have a prescription for them. Antipsychotic abuse involves taking someone else’s medication or taking more than prescribed to alter your state of consciousness.

Types of Antipsychotics

Antipsychotics are broken up into two categories, typical and atypical. Typical was the first type of Antipsychotic discovered and tends to work on dopamine neural systems. An atypical, or second-generation Antipsychotic, was developed later and usually works on the dopamine and serotonin receptors.

Both types of Antipsychotics are still commonly prescribed, with some of the older drugs being remarketed as sleep aids and for other ailments.

These prescription drugs are used to treat psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, extreme depression, and bipolar depression. Off-label, these drugs are used to treat insomnia and other psychological and mental issues.

Effects of Antipsychotic Effects

Antipsychotics are excellent at treating the positive symptoms of psychosis. Positive symptoms are symptoms that are in addition to the normal sensory perception of reality. These include hallucinations and delusions and can devastate the life of the individual.

Antipsychotics work on the dopamine and serotonin systems in the brain. Newer Antipsychotics are thought to work faster.

Different Antipsychotics have different effects, however, in general these drugs tend to be sedating, especially if taken by someone who does not have the psychotic symptoms to begin with. Drowsiness is one of the more common side effects of the drug for anyone using it. These powerful drugs are also associated with weight gain, high cholesterol and increased risk of diabetes.

Warning signs of Antipsychotic abuse in a loved one

Antipsychotic abuse can be unnecessarily alarming for some and misleading for readers. People who abuse Antipsychotics are almost entirely poly-substance abusers, who combined these prescription drugs with any and every other kind of drug. Abuse of Antipsychotics by individuals who hold a legitimate prescription is not common and not the topic here. Most warning signs are in association with other types of drug abuse. Symptoms of general drug abuse include:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family; The driving force behind this change is so that the person associates more with others who also use. Changing friends and social activities are common when someone starts abusing other highly addictive drugs.
  • Behavioral changes are another common symptom of drug abuse. Severe mood swings are common with fluctuations between irritability, depression and anxiety. If your loved one was already prone to mood swings, the cause of the fluctuations can be difficult to determine.
  • Financial problems are another hallmark sign of illicit drug use. Illicit drugs are expensive and the more someone uses, the more he or she needs to use. This accumulated drug habit can result in thousands of dollars a day spent on illicit drugs.

Factual Dangers: Antipsychotic

Antipsychotics alone are uncommon substances for one to abuse. Drug abuse usually surrounds other prescription drugs, illicit drugs and Alcohol. The reason is that Antipsychotics do not result in the euphoric experience that commonly abused drugs are known for. Therefore, abuse of Antipsychotics is typically isolated to those already abusing other substances who combine these powerful prescription drugs to enhance or alter the effects of other drugs. Combining these drugs with anything not expressly permitted by a doctor is extremely dangerous.

Factual Dangers: Adderall

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Antipsychotic Detox Treatment and Withdrawals

Antipsychotic withdrawal is not commonly seen in treatment centers. The reason is that poly-substance abusers tend to take auxiliary drugs, such as Antipsychotics, sporadically. These specific drugs do not build up in the person’s system enough to cause withdrawal symptoms. Poly-substance abusers who need detox support rarely predominately need help withdrawing off Antipsychotics. The help is needed with regards to the other substances being abused. Illicit substances combined with strong prescription medications such as Antipsychotics can be fatal or seriously injurious.

For those who have a legitimate prescription and need to cease the medication, Antipsychotics are known to cause significant withdrawal symptoms. In such a case, the individual should work closely with his or her doctor to taper down slowly, thus avoiding the worst of the withdrawal symptoms. Some common withdrawal symptoms of Antipsychotics include nausea, anorexia, anxiety, diarrhea, insomnia, agitation, restlessness and psychosis. If immediate detox is needed, the physician should be able to arrange for the appropriate medical supervision.

If a person with a mental illness that warrants the use of Antipsychotics is abusing other substances requires detox treatment, the facility will likely keep him or her on the Antipsychotics and work to negate the effect of the other drugs.

Antipsychotic Rehab Treatment

Taking prescription medication without a prescription, or other than the way than as prescribed, is considered abuse. Again, rehab is not for people who have a legitimate need for Antipsychotics. Even if the person were to have complications and problems with his or her prescription, the issue would be suited better for the prescribing physician. The physician may deem it necessary to place the individual in a higher level of care for a duration. This would most likely be a hospital or similar type of setting where the medical professionals are specifically educated in the needs of patients with bipolar, schizophrenia, extreme depression or other conditions treated with Antipsychotics.

Addiction is often dually diagnosis with another mental health condition. This other condition could require treatment with Antipsychotic medication. In this case, if a person is abusing his or her Antipsychotic medication, the medication would not necessarily be removed from his or her regiment.

Additionally, Antipsychotics do not cause the same effect as other drugs. Therefore, a person with both addiction and a mental health issue resulting in an Antipsychotic prescription would most likely turn to other substances. Addiction treatment centers would be a good choice for someone abusing other drugs such as Alcohol, prescription Opioids, or illicit drugs in conjunction with Antipsychotics.

Intervention for Antipsychotic Abuse

If you have a loved one who is abusing substances, the best method of action may be an intervention. An intervention is a loving, supportive conversation where the person abusing substances is confronted and encouraged to find a healthier way. This conversation should never be judgmental or aggressive. Remember that people with substance abuse disorders are suffering from a mental illness that requires professional help to overcome.

If the friend or family member abusing prescription drugs, illicit drugs, or Alcohol, does not have a legitimate prescription for Antipsychotics, but takes them, then this constitutes abuse and could be extremely dangerous. Pill parties are a great example of drug abuse. People are randomly selecting a pill and typically mixing it with Alcohol. Antipsychotics should never be mixed with Alcohol. If your loved one does need Antipsychotics but is abusing them and other drugs, then an intervention is a great idea. The person most likely needs to be reevaluated by a psychiatrist and may require a stay in detox and inpatient rehab treatment.

Every case is different and there is no one size fits all solution. However, a conversation communicating concern about a person’s welfare should never be problematic. If communication is difficult, consider consulting a professional interventionist or therapist.

Communicate with Your Doctor

If you or a loved one takes Antipsychotics and is having problems with these prescription drugs or other drugs, your doctor should be the first to know. Open and honest communication between patient and doctor is crucial to successfully treating any illness. Your doctor cannot understand you fully if he or she does not have all the information.

Maybe your doctor thinks that you’re overly sedated as a side effect of a prescribed Antipsychotic when you are also using Marijuana, Alcohol and other prescription pills. Your doctor may try to change medications or taper the dose of your Antipsychotic when it may not be to blame for the symptoms you are experiencing. Communicate all that you use, whether it is legal or not. Your doctor is unlikely to be upset or punish you in any way. On the contrary, he or she may have important information that will help you function better in general.

Some substances cannot be safely mixed with certain drugs, however may not pose the same or as great a risk with others. Additionally, your inclination toward using other substances may indicate that your symptoms are not being managed properly. People typically abuse drugs and Alcohol to ease mental or emotional suffering. This discomfort can be permanently treated through proper drug and behavioral therapy. Talk to your doctor about anything that is bothering you.

Addiction and Dependency vs. Therapeutic Dose

When discussing topics involving mental health, addiction and substance abuse, the terms can become confusing, even misused at times. Each term has its own defined meaning and they are not interchangeable without changing the context of the discussion.

Substance abuse refers to any substance being abused. This could mean drinking to excess, taking prescription drugs in a way other than prescribed, and use of illegal drugs at all. Addiction is when a person feels the often overwhelming need to use. The person will use despite negative consequences and start displaying compulsive drug seeking and using behaviors. The person who has become addicted is increasingly chasing a high. Dependency usually follows addiction and refers to a stage of using where the drug is now needed simply for the person to feel normal. The high is no longer possible and the person cannot go without the substance without feeling immensely sick.

These three issues deal with the disease of addiction and the culture of excess in which we live. People may abuse substances for years without becoming addicted, while others become addicted from the first experience. Addiction may be a problem for people with such mental disorders that require the use of Antipsychotics, however, it is not necessarily the case. Many people with psychosis symptoms, mood symptoms and other symptoms treated with Antipsychotics do not have addiction issues as well. Many, however, at some point do abuse substances to self-medicate against distressful symptoms.

Recovery from Substance Abuse

Substance abuse disorder, like many mental illnesses, has a way of convincing people things are too bad to recovery from. In part, this is due to the effects on neural processes and cognition that mood and mind-altering substances create.  Most substances cause a chemical imbalance in the brain, resulting in mood swings, depression, anxiety, paranoia, delusions, and other severe symptoms. The person may conclude that all has been lost, this is simply not true. You have everything to gain in sobriety and will discover more good than you can imagine.

You are not alone. How you feel, everyone experiences before they get clean and sober. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you need help with a substance abuse problem. You are not the first person to feel guilty, ashamed, scared or confused when looking for help with a substance abuse problem. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, if you remain willing to get the help you need. Every day you continue to feed your addiction is another day of happiness that you can never get back. Help is available for you, no matter how bad you think your addiction may be.

Millions of people have feared your same fears and thought what you may be thinking now, but pushed through the anxiety and doubt and found a better way to live. Do not think that your addiction is too strong to fight back against. Hope and help is available to any who seek it. Find a 12-step program in your area and get started living the solution and walking the path of a brighter future.

Dangers of Antipsychotic Overdose

Antipsychotics, each of which requires different dosing strengths. There is no set amount that is too much for people in general, however for any one person overdosing on Antipsychotics is possible.

An overdose occurs when too much of a substance is ingested for the body. Just about anything can become toxic if taking too much, including water, food, and exercise. Everything should be done in moderation and in balance with each other. Taking more of an Antipsychotic than prescribed or taking any when you do not have a prescription could be hazardous to your help. It is vitally important to take these medications exactly as prescribed. There is no way to predict how much of an Antipsychotic will prove too much for you.

An overdose of Antipsychotics tends to involve the central nervous system and cardiovascular system, although all systems are affected to varying degrees. Some of most concerning possible overdose symptoms include coma, seizures, tachycardia, delirium and death. There are no antidotes for Antipsychotics and care is mostly supportive. If you suspect that someone close to you has overdosed on Antipsychotics, get him or her to a hospital immediately. Charcoal treatment is one option once there. Others mostly involve life support systems. The only people who can assess the situation and react safely and save the life of your friend or family member are emergency room doctors- Learn More

The Problem with Antipsychotics for “Off-label” Conditions

Antipsychotics pose an interesting dilemma when discussing the negative aspects of prescription drugs. There is a significant and legitimate fear surrounding the discussion of their negative effects as some people who undeniably need them have no choice but to take them whether they are harmful or not.

They are simply the best we have to fight psychosis and major mood disturbances. If the best we have is not good enough, well, it seems the answer is “shucks.”

However, many people taking Antipsychotics do not have a psychotic disorder and some are not even diagnosed with a mental disorder at all.

Though exact numbers seem to vary between studies, only roughly a third of people with Antipsychotic prescriptions have a condition for which the FDA has approved their use. Approved conditions for treatment with Antipsychotics include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, extreme depression and other serious mental illnesses.

The clear majority of people being prescribed Antipsychotics are taking them for conditions that are considered “off-label,” meaning not an FDA approved condition for treatment with these powerful drugs. The most common disorder treated with Antipsychotics is ADHD, followed by insomnia.

Children as young as 5 have been treated with Antipsychotics. Most people treated with Antipsychotics to treat ADHD are young children, teens and older kids. These are still, however, kids.

According to associate professor of pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, David Rubin, M.D., “there’s a societal trend to look for the quick fix, the magic bullet that will correct disruptive behaviors. But for those looking for a quick solution to escalating behaviors at home, the hard truth is there is unlikely to be a quick fix.”

They are being handed out like ticktacks, with little or no discussion or explanation of the sincere dangers associated with them. Parents are handed these drugs to treat children who are simply displaying annoying behavior that defines the pains of growing up. The argument has been made against prescription Amphetamines as well.

An even greater concern is the combination of prescription Amphetamines, such as Ritalin, Adderall or Vyvanse, with Antipsychotics. This combination of prescription drugs is commonly used despite the lack of any good idea of what they are actually doing to the brain. Studies into the effects of concurrent use of these two types of prescription medications only call for more studies but are strongly cautioned against. However, psychiatrists seem to have overlooked all warnings as Antipsychotic and Amphetamine prescriptions are still increasing amongst children and teens in the United States.

Despite the health consequences, which are not minor incidences, the biggest problem may just be in the practice of turning to pharmaceuticals for behavioral problems. In fact, some argue that these are less behavioral problems as normal development for children. We were designed to move around all day, not sit and listen. The problem seems to be that we are asking children to behavior unnaturally and when they refuse to act as instructed, we as a society hand them a pill, or two.

So, when people of a drugged generation start showing up addiction treatment centers for poly-substance abuse, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Evidence does not indicate that Antipsychotics are addictive. However, the core belief that all problems are solved by taking drugs is problematic.

Of the people who present in addiction treatment centers testifying to having abused Antipsychotics, few to none solely abused them. One study found that 84% of Antipsychotic abuse consisted of combining them with Alcohol, Opioids, Cocaine, Methamphetamine and other illegal substances. By themselves, Antipsychotics are not typically abused. If they are, they are abused without the high associated with other drugs.

Antipsychotics do not produce the euphoria associated with other drugs, however, they do alter mood and mental state. Some people do abuse Antipsychotics in an attempt to sleep. Others may take it out of boredom. They have been found at pill parties, which means they are most likely combined with Alcohol and possibly other substances.

Despite some clear abuse, these prescription medications are not necessarily to blame. The nature of Antipsychotics is such that they generally do not drive a person to seek them out for recreational use. They may counter or help with side effects of other drugs, however, they themselves do not prompt much concern regarding addiction. Anyone abusing Antipsychotics seems to be desperate for some sort of substance and would likely not choose Antipsychotics as a first choice.

The concern is not in the addiction nature of Antipsychotics specifically, but in the tendency of society to turn to drugs as the answer for seemingly everything. Especially when it involves children, the argument over the validity of prescription drug use for certain issues has no end in sight. – Learn More

Short-term and long-term Effects

Antipsychotics do not create a euphoric feeling; however, they do make the user feel different and alter mood and mental state. This can be enough to cause abuse, although these are rarely an individual’s first choice when seeking a substance. The majority people of who abuse an Antipsychotic, around 84 percent, are poly-substance users. Most Antipsychotic abuse occurs alongside other substance abuse. Detecting poly-substance abuse may be difficult as the substances can influence each other and create perplexing symptoms.

Short-term effects of Antipsychotics use vary between different pharmaceuticals. Common side effects include dry mouth, drowsiness, weight gain, blurred vision and muscle spasms. If the drug is not being taken as prescribed, the severity of these symptoms may increase and new complications may arise. It is important to note that while some Antipsychotics are meant to be used long-term, it is not definitively known what the effects of long term abuse are. The effects of Antipsychotics on the body and brain are a subject of debate. With all substances come risk. The risk associated with using Antipsychotics alone is reasonably low.

Long-term effectiveness has been called into question and no clear answer has been presented. The best analysis seems to be that some people benefit from long-term use, while others see no difference between a full dose and little to no medication. If you are concerned about the long-term effects of taking an Antipsychotic consult a physician.

What Constitutes Abuse?

Although this seems obvious, many people today engage in substance abuse without realizing it. Millions of people take pharmaceuticals for a myriad of reasons. Few people adhere to the conditions outlined. Prescription drugs have clear instructions for use. These instructions should be explained by your doctor when the prescription is written. Additionally, these instructions appear in a prominent place on the prescription bottle when filled.

Taking the right amount of the prescription drug but in a manner not condoned is also abuse. If the drug is supplied as a pill, it is typically meant to be swallowed. Crushing and snorting or injecting the drug is definitely abuse. Using prescription drugs without a prescription is considered abuse. Although using illegal drugs at all is considered drug abuse. This is because they are not recognized as having a therapeutic reason for use.

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance on the planet. It is legal and does not come, unfortunately with a dosing requirement or warning label. Drinking to excess or drinking more often than is considered healthy is considered abuse. In general, people know when they are abusing substances. There are exceptions to this statement, most notably regarding Alcohol, but for the most part it is correct. When it comes to Antipsychotics the idea of drug abuse and addiction is tricky. However, taking as prescribed or doing one’s best to adhere to the prescriber’s instructions is generally considered more within the realm of dosing issues.

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Your loved one feels isolated and alone in their fight against their addiction. Give them the backup that they need. Holding an intervention for a loved one not only brings their problem to the surface, but shows them that people still care about them. They might be in denial with other people, but most people who have a substance abuse problem are not in denial with themselves. Deep down inside, they know they need help. If you show them that they have support if they decide to get that help, they will be more willing to go to rehab. Let them know that you are not giving up on them.

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Co-Occuring Disorders

Co-Occurring disorders are two simultaneously active mental health disorders. Also termed dual-diagnosis, one disorder is usually a substance abuse disorder, while the other can be any sort of mental health issue. When combined with another mental health disorder, the combined symptoms can become complex and serious.

Studies indicate that amongst those with a mental illness, substance abuse is common. The reason for this is logical. People often attempt to treat themselves and the symptoms of their mental illness with drug and Alcohol.  Some common mental health issues seen in connection with substance abuse disorders are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. This is not a complete list; however, it shows that the types of disorders are many and varied in symptomology.

Often, people with mental illness do not realize that their experience is unusual. Depression is so common that it is arguable whether experiencing depressive symptoms qualifies as unusual at all. Regardless, symptoms of mood swings, restlessness, general anxiety, fatigue, and low mood are all discussed socially such that it is easy to understand why some might assume everyone feels the way that he or she does. Unlike everyone else, though, the person with mental illness may struggle more to function and cope with stress. Not knowing what else to do, he or she reaches for a bottle, a pill bottle, a spoon or a pipe. – Learn More

Antipsychotic Drug Use on the Rise

Access to healthcare is undeniably not only necessary, but a basic human right. Perhaps increased accessed to medical care can explain why an increasing number of children are being prescribed Antipsychotic medication. Of the hundreds of thousands of children in the United States taking Antipsychotics, less than half, or possibly less than a third, have a condition for which the FDA has approved the use of Antipsychotics.

This means that half to two-thirds of all people receiving a prescription for these drugs is using them to treat a condition considered “off-label” for the drug. The culprit is ADHD and people are using these powerful drugs to treat symptoms. Some children are prescribed both Amphetamines and Antipsychotics for the management of symptoms. According to an article released in the New York Times there were 3.1 million antipsychotic drugs prescribed in 2011 alone. Between 2010 and 2011, that marks a 13 percent increase according to IMS Health, a market research company. That same article cited that the number of annual Antipsychotics prescriptions rose 93 percent from 2001 to 2011.

The controversy is less with regards to those with psychotic or severe mood symptoms, as it does the majority of patients receiving a prescription for off-label issues such as ADHD, insomnia and a host of others. These drugs are most likely turned to as a way of avoiding famously dangerous and addictive drugs like Adderall, Ritalin and Ambien – Antipsychotics demand caution and respect from prescribers and patients.