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How to Manage Your Bipolar Medications

People with bipolar disorder must take medication to stabilize moods and keep the illness from worsening. Read how to manage your bipolar medications.

Reasons why people stop taking their bipolar medications and what you can do to help ensure they don't.

As we've mentioned many times throughout this area of our site, bipolar disorder is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness. It is a biochemical condition that can be made worse by stress.1 Just as those with diabetes take medication to stabilize blood sugar, people with bipolar disorder must take medication to stabilize moods and keep the illness from worsening.1 Because bipolar disorder affects the biochemistry of the brain (like diabetes affects the biochemistry of the pancreas), staying on medication is critical.

However, any concern about medication should be addressed by the patient with his or her doctor.

Do not be discouraged if results aren't seen immediately.

Medications for bipolar disorder generally do not make people feel better right away. They often take time to work completely. Sometimes a medication must be started at a lower dose and increased over time to be effective. Slowly increasing the dosage until it is effective is a tried and true way to help the body adjust to a  new medication.

Bipolar medications can sometimes cause side effects. For some people, they are bothersome but can be ignored for the most part. For others, the side effects outweigh the benefits. In that case, the doctor may either reduce the dose or prescribe another medication. Many side effects are known to go away once the body has adjusted to the medication. Some side effects may be present as long as the medication is being taken but are not enough of a problem to interfere with treatment.

If you don't see any improvement, or if your loved one is experiencing side effects, let the doctor know immediately. This may be a sign to reduce or change this particular treatment.

This chart identifies some common reasons why some people with bipolar disorder stop taking their medication and what you can do to help.

Reasons commonly given for stopping bipolar medications Reasons to keep taking bipolar medications How to help your loved one  
I don't like the idea of taking medicine for the rest of my life. Bipolar disorder can produce symptoms that last, change, or even worsen over a lifetime.1 Only with the appropriate treatment can bipolar disorder be managed effectively

Have the patient talk to a support group or others who are successfully managing a chronic illness using long-term medication

Let them know that taking medication is not a sign of weakness

I feel better. There's nothing wrong with me anymore.

Bipolar disorder affects judgment and the patient could be experiencing symptoms of a mood episode

Feeling better could just mean that the medication is working

Going off medication or adjusting it without consulting a doctor can cause symptoms to return and get worse1

Make sure they explain these feelings to their doctor. It may be necessary to adjust the medication.1 Over the course of treatment, sometimes medication is increased or reduced

Having your loved one listen to the experiences of their support group could make them feel better about being on medication

Let them know that they should not judge taking medication as weak or shameful

I'm getting side effects that make me feel physically or emotionally uncomfortable. I'm gaining weight. I feel sleepy.

The symptoms being experienced may be temporary1

Going off medication or adjusting it without consulting a doctor can cause symptoms to return and get worse1

Manageable side effects must be weighed against the benefits of mood stability

Make sure they call the doctor right away and describe the symptoms. It may be necessary for the doctor to adjust the dose of the medication or change the medication

Tell the patient to let his or her family and support group know what is going on with the side effects

Tell the patient it is not acceptable to go off the medication without a doctor's advice

I don't agree with my treatment. I don't want to take this particular medicine. Going off medication or adjusting it without consulting a doctor can cause symptoms to return and get worse1

Tell them to speak to the doctor about other treatment options1

Let them know it's okay to get a second opinion

Have them talk to others in their support group who have had similar experiences

Tell them that it is not acceptable to go off the medication without a doctor's advice

Reference: 1. Kahn DA, Ross R, Printz DJ, Sachs GS. Treatment of bipolar disorder: a guide for patients and families. Postgrad Med Special Report. 2000(April):97-104.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2008, October 23). How to Manage Your Bipolar Medications, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/bipolar-disorder/medication-noncompliance/how-to-manage-your-bipolar-medications

Last Updated: June 3, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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