Abilify (aripiprazole) is part of a class of psychotropic medications called atypical antipsychotics that work by altering the activity of various neurotransmitters—dopamine and serotonin in particular—in the brain. It is a prescription drug and is not available over the counter. People who take this medication may experience adverse side effects, and it is very important to follow the directions of a medical professional when using this medication. Abilify is commonly prescribed to treat symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar.
- What Mental Health Conditions Does Abilify Treat?
- Important Information to Consider Before Use
- Considerations While Using Abilify
- Possible Side Effects
- How to Safely Withdraw from Abilify
What Mental Health Conditions Does Abilify Treat?
Abilify is used to control the symptoms that accompany schizophrenia and bipolar in adults and teens. It may also be used to treat depression in adults by supplementing other medications. Abilify will not “cure” schizophrenia or bipolar, but it may help control problematic behaviors associated with these conditions. In some cases this medication is also used to control emotional outbursts, mood swings, anger, irritability, self-harm, and other emotional issues in children (at least six years of age) with autism.
Your doctor and/or pharmacist should share all important safety and dosage information with you when making or filling a prescription for this drug. Expect the clinician's guidance to contain the following recommendations:
- Follow your doctor’s exact instructions for taking Abilify. The drug comes in tablet, liquid, or quick-dissolve tablet form and is usually taken once per day. It may take up to two weeks to feel the full effect of this medication, and it is important to continue taking this medication even if you are feeling well. Do not take the drug in smaller amounts, larger amounts, for a shorter period of time, or for a longer period of time than is recommended by your doctor.
- If you miss a dose, take the missed dose as soon as possible. However, if you are close to your next scheduled dose, then do not take the missed dose. Taking too much of the drug too quickly may result in an overdose.
- If you suspect you have overdosed on Abilify, contact your doctor or a poison control center immediately. Symptoms of overdose include enlarged pupils, tremors, diarrhea, vomiting, drowsiness, aggression, seizures, weakness, erratic heart rate, difficulty breathing or fainting. In some cases, an overdose may result in death.
Important Information to Consider Before Use
Abilify is not recommended for use by older adults with dementia or dementia-related issues as it may contribute to heart failure, pneumonia, or death. If you have or have ever had heart disease, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, stroke, low white blood cell count or seizures, you should talk to your doctor about these conditions before you take this drug.
People who take Abilify may develop neuroleptic malignant syndrome—a potentially fatal condition. Symptoms of neuroleptic malignant syndrome include altered mental states, muscle stiffness, high fevers, increased sweating, increased heart rate, irregular blood pressure, and heart irregularities.
Abilify may result in high blood sugar levels. Tell your doctor if you or anyone in your family currently has or has ever had diabetes or breast cancer. Because orally disintegrating tablets (Abilify Discmelt) contain phenylalanine, people with phenylketonuria must advise their doctor of their condition before taking this drug. Failure to do so may result in intellectual disability and other serious health problems.
Talk to your doctor if you have or have had any problems with addictive drugs, including street drugs or prescription medication. You should also mention any serious reactions you have had to other similar medications. Abilify may interact with other medications or supplements, including vitamins, antihistamines, antidepressants, antifungals, sleeping pills, HIV medications, herbal products, high blood pressure medications, and more.
Some young people who take medication for depression or psychiatric issues report having increased thoughts of suicide. If you take this drug and experience suicidal ideation, contact your doctor or a mental healthcare provider immediateley.
Find a Therapist
Psychotropic medication combined with some form of psychotherapy usually produces the best lasting results. If you are prescribed a medication such as Abilify, it is likely your doctor or psychiatrist will also recommend other treatment protocols for your condition such as working with a therapist or counselor. Therapy can help you address the underlying causes or triggers of your condition, modify your behaviors, process difficult or debilitating emotions, and/or improve your quality of life.
Considerations While Using Abilify
As significant physiological, mental, and behavioral changes may be experienced by people who are taking Abilify, there are a few important safety precautions which must be observed:
- If you are pregnant or become pregnant while taking this medication, ask your doctor about alternative treatments. Abilify may cause problems in newborns if taken when pregnant or while nursing.
- This medication can make you extremely drowsy. Using alcohol can worsen this side effect. People taking Abilify should avoid driving or operating heavy machinery.
- Your surgeon or anesthesiologist need to know if you are taking this drug if you plan to have any type of surgery, including oral surgery.
- Taking this medication may result in increased weakness, urination, thirst, or excessive hunger due to an increase in blood sugar. These symptoms may be particularly apparent when you first start taking Abilify. People with diabetes must check their blood sugar levels regularly if they are prescribed this drug.
- People taking this medication may overheat more easily and have trouble cooling down after physical activity. Avoid over-exercising and do not spend too much time in the sun. Avoid heavy clothing. Drink plenty of fluids, especially in hot weather, to prevent dehydration.
- Avoid drinking grapefruit juice or eating grapefruit when taking this medication as it can affect the way it works.
Possible Side Effects
People who take Abilify may experience a variety of side effects. People who experience serious side effects should contact their doctor or emergency medical services right away. Serious side effects of this drug may include:
- Chest pain
- Irregular or fast heartbeat; slowed heartbeat
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing, tightness in the throat or neck
- Severe rash, itching, or hives
- Swelling of face, eyes, or extremities
- Swollen tongue, odd tongue movements, or tongue that protrudes from the mouth
- Weight loss
- Muscle stiffness
- Fever or sweating
- Unusual, uncontrollable facial or body movements
- Vision changes
Less serious and more common side effects of Abilify include:
- Drowsiness, dizziness, or tiredness
- Feeling of nervousness or anxiety
- Dry mouth
- Dry skin
- Increased appetite or weight gain
- Restlessness or agitation
- Upset stomach, heartburn, diarrhea, or constipation
- Pain in the joints, arms, or legs
How to Safely Withdraw from Abilify
Although this medication is not classified as addictive, your body may become used to having this drug in its system. As such, you should not stop taking this prescribed medication abruptly; see your doctor before reducing or discontinuing Abilify. You can reduce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms by slowly tapering off of the drug. People who suddenly stop taking it may experience any or all of the following effects:
- Psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations
- Bipolar 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). Abilify. Retrieved from http://www.drugs.com/abilify.html
- United States Food and Drug Administration. (2013) Medication guide: Abilify. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/downloads/drugs/drugsafety/ucm085804.pdf
Page content reviewed by Dr. James Pendleton, ND