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Category: Mood Disorders

How Do Mood Stabilizers Work?

Mood disorders, like bipolar disorder and depression, are fairly common types of mental health disorders in the US. According to MedlinePlus, “Nearly one in ten people aged 18 and older have mood disorders.” Mood stabilizers, such as lithium, Seroquel, and Depakote, work to treat symptoms of these disorders by restoring the chemical imbalances responsible for mood swings.

North Atlanta Behavioral Health provides treatment options for mood disorders as well as other common mental health disorders. Visit our admissions page today to get started.

How Do Mood Stabilizers Work? (And Why Do They Help?)

Mood stabilizers work by decreasing abnormal activity in the brain. This abnormal activity can deplete or flood the brain with important chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemical imbalances can cause symptoms like depression, mania, psychosis, and seizures.

Mood stabilizers, like other psychiatric medications, treat mental health conditions by restoring chemical balances in the brain. By balancing these chemicals, you will notice relief from psychiatric symptoms.

What Conditions Do Mood Stabilizers Treat?

Mood stabilizers treat the following psychiatric conditions:

  • Bipolar disorder: Mood swings are the defining characteristic of bipolar disorder. Stabilizers help to keep your mood from going into manic and depressive states.
  • Schizoaffective disorder: This disorder is similar to bipolar, except that you will also have symptoms of psychosis. Antipsychotics with mood stabilizing properties can treat both the psychotic symptoms and mood swings present in schizoaffective disorder.
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD): Significant mood swings and difficulty regulating emotions are common symptoms of BPD. Therefore, mood stabilizers can help you control your moods and emotions.
  • Depression: Sometimes, mood stabilizers treat depressive disorders. Generally, your psychiatrist will prescribe mood stabilizers if antidepressants don’t treat your symptoms.
  • Anxiety: Like depression, your psychiatrist could prescribe mood stabilizers if other types of medications don’t reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders.

3 Most Common Types of Mood Stabilizers

The following are three of the most common types of mood stabilizers:

1. Lithium

Lithium is a naturally occurring element, which treats mood swings in people with bipolar disorder. It helps to stabilize your mood and prevent manic episodes. However, lithium has a limited therapeutic range, so you will need blood work regularly to ensure you don’t have too much or too little in your system.

Common side effects of lithium include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Tremors
  • Nausea and dizziness
  • Weight gain
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Headaches

The above-mentioned side effects tend to decrease in severity over time as your body becomes accustomed to lithium. Still, there is a risk of severe side effects, such as diarrhea, vomiting, and confusion.

2. Anticonvulsants

Anticonvulsants typically treat seizures and epileptic disorders. Since they reduce brain activity, some anticonvulsants also treat mood disorders. Some of the most commonly prescribed anticonvulsants that work as mood stabilizers include: Tegretol (carbamazepine), Lamictal (lamotrigine), and Depakote (valproic acid).

Tegretol and Depakote reduce symptoms of mania, whereas Lamictal helps with depressive episodes.

Common side effects of anticonvulsants include:

  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue and drowsiness
  • Skin sensitivity/rashes

Similar to lithium, regular blood work will ensure you have a therapeutic level of your medication in your system. By remaining within therapeutic ranges, the risk of side effects lessens. Severe side effects, however, could occur, including vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, vision problems, confusion, jaundice, and liver damage.

3. Antipsychotics

Antipsychotics treat symptoms of psychosis—hallucinations and delusions—which sometimes occur in people with mood disorders, especially during acute manic episodes. Psychosis is also a hallmark of schizoaffective disorder.

Like anticonvulsants and lithium, antipsychotics also reduce activity in the brain. Thus, they can also work as mood stabilizers for those with bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder.

Antipsychotics that also stabilize mood disorders include:

  • Risperdal (risperidone)
  • Abilify (aripiprazole)
  • Seroquel (quetiapine)
  • Zyprexa (olanzapine)
  • Haldol (haloperidol)

Common side effects include:

  • Weight gain
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Agitation

Some people have severe side effects, such as low blood pressure, tics and tremors, blurred vision, vomiting, and low white blood cell count. Therefore, like other mood stabilizers, it’s critical to have routine monitoring and blood work.

Do I Need a Mood Stabilizer?

If you struggle with manic, hypomanic, or depressive episodes, you could benefit from a mood stabilizer. These episodes are indicative of a mood or personality disorder, such as bipolar, depression, schizoaffective disorder, or borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Most mood stabilizers help to regulate manic or hypomanic episodes. However, some mood stabilizers also help those with depression or anxiety when antidepressants aren’t effective.

You might need a mood stabilizer if you experience the following symptoms of mania or hypomania (similar to mania, but less intense):

  • Racing thoughts
  • Pressured or rapid speech
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Trouble focusing and easily distracted
  • Oversharing personal information with people you just met
  • Difficulty maintaining or establishing healthy boundaries
  • Insomnia
  • Impulsivity
  • Overindulgence in certain behaviors—like shopping, gambling, drug and alcohol use, and sex—leading to negative consequences

While mood stabilizers are more commonly used for mania and hypomania, they could also help with depressive symptoms, such as:

  • Low mood or lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness
  • Overwhelming shame, guilt, and doubt
  • Irritability
  • Appetite changes
  • Unintended weight gain or loss
  • Thoughts of death
  • Suicidal ideations

In addition, if antianxiety and antidepressant medications don’t relieve symptoms of anxiety, a mood stabilizer could work for you.

Regardless of the mental health condition you have, it’s also important to have a well-rounded treatment plan with psychiatric medications, therapy, peer support, and holistic approaches.

Get Help for Mood Swings Today

At North Atlanta Behavioral Health, we’re here to help you find mood stabilizers that work for whatever disorder you have—bipolar, schizoaffective, depression, or anxiety. We also offer comprehensive treatment plans that focus on all aspects of your health and well-being. This approach leads to the best outcomes for mental health disorders.

Contact us today to get your mood swings under control and start living the life you deserve.

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