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How Effective Are Antipsychotics for Schizophrenia?

By Angela Farrer
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Prescribed antipsychotics for schizophrenia are generally effective only on a limited basis due to the high incidence of serious side effects. Medical researchers who study the brains of schizophrenia sufferers sometimes report minor brain damage in those who have taken antipsychotic drugs over an extensive time period. Many psychiatrists prescribe antipsychotics for schizophrenia due to the initial reduction in the disease's common symptom of psychosis. Although some conventional antipsychotics can lead to increased mental clarity and stronger connections to reality in some patients, these positive effects can depend on the severity of the schizophrenia and on different patients' overall health histories.

Antipsychotics for schizophrenia have been standard treatment options since the 1950s, although later research shows that some alternative treatments may help schizophrenia sufferers without the risks of long-term detriments to their neurological health. The earliest formulas for antipsychotics are known as first-generation antipsychotic medications, and later types of antipsychotics are called second-generation. Some of the most well-documented and serious side effects associated with first-generation antipsychotics include declines in Intelligence Quotient (IQ) scores, losses of the ability to perform basic mathematical calculations, and a diminished capacity to form original, abstract, or creative thought patterns. These side effects often indicate that the medications affect areas of the frontal cortex in the brain that are responsible for higher reasoning.

Some psychiatrists are opposed to the use of antipsychotics for schizophrenia due to the negative effects on higher thought processes. Many believe that the long-term uses of potent first-generation antipsychotic drugs can leave some schizophrenia patients more vulnerable to suggestion and manipulation, particularly when they are receiving treatment in an inpatient facility. Some second-generation medications can have better rates of improving overall cognitive functioning, though many psychiatrists find that they need to try several combinations of different second-generation antipsychotics before finding the best one for each patient.

The limited use of antipsychotics for schizophrenia along with other therapies is considered the most effective option for early-onset forms of the disease. Since this condition is an illness of the brain rather than a specific behavior problem, this treatment usually needs to evolve as the condition progresses. Some patients develop resistance to one type of low-strength antipsychotic over time and need prescriptions of a second, stronger medication. A few cases of advanced-stage schizophrenia become classified as treatment-resistant when at least two antipsychotic medications have been proven mostly ineffective at improving the overall condition of a patient's day-to-day functioning.

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Discussion Comments
By anon989067 — On Feb 17, 2015

Your article on these drugs neglects to mention that if a person takes them long enough they will get secondary parkinsonism, which is horrendous! Unfortunately it happened to me.

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