Antipsychotics, also known as neuroleptics or major tranquilizers, are a class of medication primarily used to manage psychosis (including delusions, hallucinations, paranoia or disordered thought), principally in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They are increasingly being used in the management of non-psychotic disorders. Antipsychotics are usually effective in relieving symptoms of psychosis in the short term.
The long-term use of antipsychotics is associated with side effects such as involuntary movement disorders, gynecomastia, and metabolic syndrome. They are also associated with increased mortality in elderly people with dementia.
Antipsychotics are routinely used, often in conjunction with mood stabilisers such as lithium/valproate, as a first-line treatment for manic and mixed episodes associated with bipolar disorder. The reason for this combination is the therapeutic delay of the aforementioned mood stabilisers (for valproate therapeutic effects are usually seen around five days after treatment is commenced whereas lithium usually takes at least a week before the full therapeutic effects are seen) and the comparatively rapid antimanic effects of antipsychotic drugs. The antipsychotics have a documented efficacy when used alone in acute mania/mixed episodes.
The American Psychiatric Association and the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommend antipsychotics for managing acute psychotic episodes in schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and as a longer-term maintenance treatment for reducing the likelihood of further episodes. They state that response to any given antipsychotic can be variable so that trials may be necessary, and that lower doses are to be preferred where possible. A number of studies have looked at levels of “compliance” or “adherence” with antipsychotic regimes and found that discontinuation (stopping taking them) by patients is associated with higher rates of relapse, including hospitalization.