Haldol (haloperidol) is a typical, or first-generation, antipsychotic medication. This drug is the first major antipsychotic from the butyrophenone series and is only available via prescription. It works by blocking several receptors in the brain, but is primarily targeted for receptors of the neurotransmitter dopamine. It is most commonly prescribed to treat symptoms of schizophrenia and psychosis, but has several other applications.
What Mental Health Conditions Is Haldol Used to Treat?
Haldol is primarily used to treat schizophrenia and associated symptoms of psychosis. It may also be used to treat children and adults who display the speech and motor tics usually associated with Tourette’s syndrome. Children with severe behavioral issues—such as chronic violent behavior, explosive aggression, anger issues, or hyperactivity—who have had limited success with psychotherapy, may benefit from this medication.
If you are prescribed an antipsychotic medication to treat a mental health issue, GoodTherapy.org recommends pairing your treatment with a type of psychotherapy. Many prominent studies show that medication in conjunction with psychotherapy often yields the best long-term results. Therapy can help a person understand his or her condition better, and aid in developing positive, healthy coping strategies when symptoms arise or become triggered.
- How can I take Haldol safely?
Haldol is administered as an intramuscular injection. It is not approved for intravenous administration. Haloperidol, the active ingredient in Haldol, may be presented in tablet form, as an oral concentrate, as an intramuscular solution, or as a compounding powder. This drug may be taken with or without food. As there is considerable variation in the amount of medication required from person to person, dosage is individualized. Most doctors prescribe this drug at a low dose and increase the dosage if needed. Once the medication begins to provide relief from symptoms, the dosage amount will level off and remain the same each day. Always follow the exact instructions of your doctor when taking this medication.
- What should I do if I miss a dose?
Take the missed dose as soon as possible. If the time for the next scheduled dose is near, then do not take the missed dose. Do not take a double dose of this medication to make up for a missed dose. Doing so may cause an overdose.
- What should I do if I overdose?
If you experience an overdose, contact a poison control center or seek urgent medical attention immediately. Having too much haloperidol in your system may lead to serious heart rhythm issues or even sudden death. Symptoms of overdose may include difficulty breathing, stiff or weak muscles, unusual and uncontrollable body movements, sleepiness, and loss of consciousness.
Important Information to Consider Before Using Haldol
You should not take Haldol if you take certain medications, including narcotic pain relievers, sleep aids, antihistamines, vitamins, cold medications, tranquilizers, and blood thinners. Let your doctor know about all of the medications, herbal remedies, and supplements you consume if you are prescribed this drug.
Let your doctor know if you currently have or have ever been diagnosed with thyroid disease, breast cancer, seizures, liver disease, kidney disease, bipolar issues, an electrolyte imbalance, or heart conditions including long QT (LQTS) syndrome, and chest pain. These conditions may affect your ability to tolerate Haldol. People who have Parkinson's disease should not take Haldol. If you have ever had an extreme reaction or side effect to another medication prescribed to treat mental health issues, relay this information to your doctor. This drug is not recommended for elderly people experiencing dementia or related conditions as it may increase the risk of death.
Using this medication in high doses or over a prolonged period of time may lead to serious and irreversible issues with body movement known as tardive dyskinesia. Women and elderly people are at a higher risk of developing this adverse effect.
Important Information to Consider While Using Haldol
Taking Haldol carries significant risks and hazards of which to be aware. Your doctor or pharmacist should cover the following information if prescribing you this drug:
- If you become pregnant while taking Haldol, you should notify your doctor. However, it is important that you do not stop taking this medication unless advised to do so by your doctor. You will likely need to taper off of the medication because it may cause problems for newborns if taken during the third trimester. Though there is limited data available on human pregnancy, there are cases of limb malformation in newborns whose mothers used Haldol and other drugs while pregnant. Do not breastfeed while taking this drug as haloperidol may pass into breast milk and harm a nursing child.
- People who take this medication are more prone to heat stroke. Avoid becoming dehydrated or overheated, particularly when engaging in physical exercise or during hot weather.
- This drug may impair your thinking, alertness, and reaction time. Be very cautious if you need to drive. Avoid operating heavy machinery.
- Getting up from a lying or sitting position may cause dizziness and loss of balance.
- Avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medication. Alcohol can increase the severity of side effects.
- If you are having sedation dental work or any type of surgery, let your surgeon or dentist know that you are taking this drug.
- If you are prescribed this drug, consider finding a qualified therapist or counselor to supplement your drug treatment. Many prominent studies show better mental health outcomes when psychotropic medication is paired with a type of psychotherapy.
Possible Side Effects of Haldol
Seek emergency medical assistance right away if you experience severe side effects from Haldol. Serious side effects may include:
- Irregular or fast heartbeat
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing; tightness in throat or neck
- Tongue or mouth problems, including a tongue that protrudes from the mouth, unusual tongue movements, or uncontrollable movements of the mouth, face, or jaw
- Stabbing chest pain
- Sudden weakness, easy bruising, or bleeding
- Eye issues, including discoloration, vision problems, or pain
- Skin sores, skin rash, or yellowing of the skin
- Erection that lasts for hours
- Fever, sweating, or muscle stiffness
- Hallucinations, sudden mood changes, or unusual behavior
Less serious side effects may include:
- Upset stomach and digestive system, including constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting
- Difficulty sleeping, restlessness, mood changes, nervousness, or agitation
- Uncontrollable or unusual movement of body parts and eyes
- Missed menstrual periods, breast pain or enlargement, and breast milk production
- Headaches, drowsiness, blurred vision, or dizziness
- Increased sexual desire in men and women; decreased sexual ability in men
- Difficulty urinating
How to Safely Withdraw from Haldol
You should not stop taking Haldol abruptly as it may lead to the development of withdrawal symptoms. For less severe withdrawal symptoms and best results, slowly taper off of this medication. Consult with your doctor before reducing or stopping your use of this drug. Possible symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Muscle tremors or unusual movements
- Hallucinations, confusion, and delusions
- Return of psychotic symptoms
- Citizens Commission on Human Rights International. (2012). The side effects of common psychiatric drugs. Retrieved from http://www.cchrint.org/pdfs/The_Side_Effects_of_Common_Psychiatric_Drugs.pdf
- Drugs.com. (2014). Haldol. Retrieved from http://www.drugs.com/mtm/haldol.html
- Medline Plus. (2011). Haloperidol. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a682180.html
- Royal College of Psychiatrists. (2014). Antipsychotics. Retrieved from http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/treatmentswellbeing/antipsychoticmedication.aspx
- RxList. (2011). Haldol. Retrieved from http://www.rxlist.com/haldol-drug.htm
Page content reviewed by James Pendleton, ND
Last Update: 03-12-2015