Haldol and Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) represents a uniquely challenging medical condition. Repair of the physical, emotional, and cognitive damage is a long and often grueling process. In the wake of brain injury, patients often experience amnesia, altered consciousness, and profound confusion. Many of these symptoms mirror the psychotic states of schizophrenia; however, the root causes of these symptoms are, of course, quite distinct. Still, it’s not an uncommon practice for attending physicians to prescribe antipsychotic drugs such as Haldol (haloperidol) for TBI patients who exhibit aggression or restlessness. This practice is not without controversy, as several studies have shown that psychotropic medications, especially the typical antipsychotic drugs, may slow recovery from brain injury. A study published in Life Sciences adds even more compelling data to the argument against antipsychotic drugs for patients with TBI.

In a study of brain recovery rates under different conditions, a small group of rats were subjected to a controlled brain injury. The control group was anesthetized but no surgery was performed. The rats were further divided into three distinct groups. One group received a regular dose of Haldol, another received Risperdal (risperidone, an atypical antipsychotic), and a third group received neither drug. All the rats were given daily assessments of motor skills, reflexes, and cognitive functioning. Because antipsychotic drugs have a sedative effect, the drugs were only administered after each day’s performance testing. This is an important distinction because previous studies often gave drugs before testing, potentially skewing the results. Researchers sought to uncover any ill effects from these medications independent of sedation.

Although the sample size of this particular study was small, the results were quite significant. Regardless of whether the rats were given Haldol or Risperdal, their performance tests showed a slower rate of improvement than their unmedicated counterparts. They were slower to regain reflexes and slower to make their way through a specific kind of maze. It was previously argued that the newer so-called atypical antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal might be a better choice for aggressive or psychotic TBI patients. This study argues that there is no significant difference between the older and newer drugs. What does that mean for humans with brain injuries? In a nutshell, these results argue for avoidance of antipsychotic medications while recovering from TBI unless absolutely necessary.

Hoffman, A., Cheng, J., Zafonte, R., Kline, A. (2008). Administration of haloperidol and risperidone after neurobehavioral testing hinders the recovery of traumatic brain injury-induced deficits. Life Sciences83(17-18), 602-607.  doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2008.08.007

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The preceding article summarizes research or news from periodicals or related source material in the fields of mental health and psychology. GoodTherapy.org did not participate in or condone any studies, or conclucions thereof, that may have been cited. Any views or opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org.

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  • Erica A

    May 23rd, 2015 at 11:41 AM

    I have been suffering from brain damage from Haloperidol and other anti-psychotics given to me at the time of a ‘psychotic breakdown’ 23 years ago now. For 7 years after this I did not know what to do, how to get on with life because every skill I had developed up to then was destroyed by the drug…which every doctor since then has always maintain was caused by my breakdown. I spent the next 7 years at the hands of psychiatrists who failed to put right where they had mucked up. They tried lots of different labels and lots of different drugs each with a disabling effect. In the end I did a runner from the mental health system and,terrified, all alone and wanting to die, I used every last penny of my own to get free from the system of psychiatric control and fear. I am still here to this day to tell my tale. I know now it was the drugs that damaged me/my brain, and my life since then is one that I would prefer not to have experienced. In short it would have been better to have died at the time of my breakdown. I think psychiatrists should be shot. I have had no emotional life since then, no ability to form relationships, and struggle to maintain enough concentration and mental strength to keep even a minimum wage job in a supermarket down. For someone who gained a degree in psychology, traveled to Spain to teach English, learnt Spanish fluently, made loads of friends and enjoyed my life to that point of breaking down, I think it is criminal to have reduced me to a state where I could barely put one foot in front of the other.(tardive dyskinesia)…and say I was ‘cured’. It makes me wonder why psychiatrists have such a need to keep destroying the quality of people’s lives by using these disgusting chemicals.Do they see you as a danger in need of obliteration? do they see you as a chance for medical research and enhancing their own careers and status in their power hungry medical circles? Why do doctors have to be so arrogant and controlling? Can they not see patients as human beings in need of genuine care at a point of crisis in their lives.Why is it below them to ask the suffering person what they think they need …..and work hard to provide just that….it may be someone to talk to, it may be a consistant care person, it may a place that feels safe to the patient, not a place made safe for staff (to bring their babies into)by drugging patients up to the point of zero life quality and then preventing their suicide. What they actually do is a form of torture. State sanctioned cruelty in the name of protecting society from people who are temporarily unstable. Such is the emotional intolerance of people in the rat race, of anyone experiencing emotional insecurity and difference. It is a particularly British (and I suspect American) solution. Drugs are big business. Men in power in these societies don’t like messy emotions, and these are the people making the decisions. Also maybe the solution lies in surrounding every unstable person with 10 stable people who can tolerate the emotional instability of someone in a confused or anxious state…not just bung everyone with varying degrees of instability together to be controlled by equally instable staff who can see only drugs as the solution as they are inadequate humans themselves to deal with these issues. All I really needed at the time of my breakdown, was a place of my own that I could lock the door and lock out people I did not want to associate with. I needed 6 months off work and someone like the Samaritans to talk things through with. I did not know about them then. I had a strong fight for life , and by using haloperidol the medical profession took that fight out of me leaving me vulnerable, making me dependant on the state for benefits and breaking all ties and relations with my family….my dad had a stroke and the psychiatrist in charge decided that it would be best for my dad and me if we had no contact. What a Nazi!!!! how very arrogant and how very wrong he was. I pray that he will gets gods justice for that! Now, about healing. I currently take krill oil, vitamins and minerals, eat an extremely healthy diet. I ran for 10 years. I am on thyroxine as lithium given to me in the past stopped my thyroid working properly. I have not taken any psychiatric medicine for 20 years, and it was only when I refused these poisons and got myself away from the mental persecution environment of the mental hospital that I started to see things clearly for myself.I keep my life very very simple avoid stimulating environments, have had acupuncture which has released alot of the emotional blockages in my aura caused by the medical profession and the sense of imprisonment they instilled by sectioning me 3 times against my will. Healing has been frightening and difficult, but I can now sleep properly for the first time in 18 years since running away from the hospital. Healing, as with any so called psychiatric disorder requires so much more than the purely physical brain. It is a nonsense to only look at and study the physical. we have emotional, mental and spiritual bodies, all of which need care and gentle nurturing when out of synch with each other. In a few generations, treatment with Haloperidol will be like medieval medicine from a dark period in history. It is no different to taking a sledgehammer to the brain, and could not be more violent and inappropriate to the delicate state someone is in when experiencing emotional breakdown. What about the old christian values of sowing faith and kindness where someone is experiencing fear and paranoia. I have never met anyone, inside the mental hospital or outside who has not felt comforted by a listening ear, a cup of tea and maybe a nice warm fire in winter. The problem is that people have become too busy with themselves to care about others, and in place of community, we now have drugs and whole load of parasites who feed off others suffering and make huge profits in the process!! To this day I wish I was not here. I will remain long enough to tell my story in a book and then I may end my life…at a time and place and in a way that I choose without the intervention of barbaric medical people who think they know what is best for you.In the meantime, I hope this may give you some food for thought.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    May 23rd, 2015 at 12:22 PM

    Thank you for your comment, Erica. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at http://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

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