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Schizophrenia Medication Treatment Options

Rashmi Nemade, Ph.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA


Although there is no cure for schizophrenia, it is successfully treatable with a combination of medications and supportive counseling. Though both therapy types are important, medication is the most important. It is the only therapy that can effectively reduce the severe and overwhelming symptoms. "Talk" therapies delivered without antipsychotic medication will not help people with schizophrenia all that much.

medication bottles The effectiveness of antipsychotic drugs is well-established. These medications can make symptoms milder, shorten the length of an episode, and increase the time between episodes. These drugs are not perfect tools, however. Studies show that approximately 70% of patients improve while on these drugs, but about 25% show only minimal improvement and about 5% get worse.

These medications affect brain chemicals called neurotransmitters that enable communication between the nerve cells in the brain. Schizophrenia symptoms (at least positive ones) appear to result from problems with multiple brain chemical systems. These likely include dopamine, serotonin and glutamate. The antipsychotic medicines appear to correct or minimize these problems (see the "Evidence That Schizophrenia is a Brain Disease" section for more information about these brain chemicals).

Antipsychotic medications are effective in treating schizophrenia. However, not all medications are equal and there is no single best treatment protocol. Different people respond best to different types and dosages of medicine. Antipsychotic medicines have numerous side effects and some are serious and need to be considered before the medication is given. The type of medicine and dosage must be individually determined and balanced for each person being treated. These issues take time to get right and can only be made by a psychiatrist or medical professional working under the supervision of a psychiatrist. An antipsychotic medication can take weeks or even months to start working at full strength, so patience on the part of the clinician and patient is required.