Mood stabilizers are chemicals that are designed to balance the neurotransmitters in the brain for the benefit of controlling behavior and emotional states. People who have bipolar disorder are treated with mood stabilizers for extended periods of time and bipolar is often accompanied by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Lithium is a mood stabilizer that is taken orally in either a tablet or capsule form and has been used for over 50 years as a mood stabilizer. This alkali metal comes in one of two preparations--lithium citrate or lithium carbonate--and is similar to sodium. Although lithium is the drug of choice in the United States, it is rarely used in Europe and is not included at all at the largest psychiatric hospital for children in Israel. Up to three quarters of patients experience mostly minor side effects that include hypothyroidism, kidney damage and arrhythmias. Lithium can become toxic and cause blurred vision, vertigo, nausea and confusion.
Valproic acid is available in one of two preparations: valproic acid and divalproex sodium. Divalproex sodium is a combination of valproate and valproic acid and has less serious side effects than lithium. Some of the side effects include hair loss, bruising, indigestion, sedation and dizziness. It may increase teenage girls’ testosterone levels and may cause polycystic ovarian syndrome for women who began consumption prior to 20 years of age. Other anti-epileptics and anticonvulsant drugs include carbamazepine, which has more serious side effects; oxcarbazepine; lamotrigine, which seems to be less effective as a mood stabilizer; gabapentin; topiramate; and levetiracetam.
Antidepressants take up to several weeks to become effective, reaching the full potential of the medication in up to three months of daily use. Side effects include sexual dysfunction, weight gain and negative interaction with other drugs. Seven classes exist which include monoamine oxidase inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors, norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors and dual serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors.
Anti-psychotics are not used as mood stabilizers but are used to help control some of the symptoms that come along with mood disorders. This type of drug is not used as a maintenance drug as it causes significant long-term risks and side effects. Some neuroleptics that are used include risperidone, clozapine and olanzapine.