Many people with bipolar disorder find that their symptoms respond well to medications. These drugs won’t cure your illness, but they can keep your moods in balance so you can get more done each day. They’re like a pair of glasses that give you clear vision when your bipolar disorder distorts your view.
Most bipolar disorder treatments include both psychotherapy and medication. Medications can help manage the highs and lows of your mood, but psychotherapy helps you understand what causes them and learn healthier coping skills.
Psychotherapy is most often used for adults, but children and teens with bipolar disorder can also benefit from psychotherapy, especially family-focused therapy. In these sessions, you and your loved ones join a therapist or psychologist in conversations about your feelings and problems. You’ll also learn to better communicate and support each other. Psychotherapy can reduce depression and anxiety and improve your ability to solve problems.
A therapist can also teach you to recognize the warning signs of an impending manic or depressive episode so you can take action before you experience a full-blown episode. You can also learn to identify triggers that may cause an episode, such as certain foods or events. Having a close relative with the same condition, traumatic life events, or drug and alcohol use are all potential triggers for new episodes of mania or depression.
Mood stabilizers are first-choice medications for bipolar disorder, and your doctor might prescribe a combination of these drugs to treat your specific symptoms. These include lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid) or anticonvulsants such as carbamazepine extended-release (Equetro, Tegretol), divalproex sodium (Depakote, Depakene) or lamotrigine (Lamictal).
If you have depression with bipolar disorder, your doctor might also prescribe an antidepressant. These medicines are a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or a combination medicine such as olanzapine and fluoxetine (Symbyax). Depression can sometimes trigger mania, so your doctor might also prescribe an antipsychotic medication such as ziprasidone (Geodon) or haloperidol (Rifadin).
Some people with bipolar disorder have trouble finding the right mood stabilizer or might need to change their dose or type of drug. Be open with your doctor about any changes or side effects you have, and ask if you can try different medications to find the best one for you. You might need to take your bipolar medication for years or even decades—this is known as maintenance therapy.
Some bipolar medications might cause birth defects or can pass through breast milk, so you should talk to your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Some of these drugs can affect how your liver works or the levels of white blood cells and platelets in your body. You might need regular blood tests to check these and other health-related issues. Some drugs interact with other medications, so tell your doctor about all of the medicines you take, including over-the-counter vitamins and supplements. Talk to your doctor about the best times to take your medication and whether it’s safe to drink alcohol while taking a particular medication.