Turn on the TV for two or three hours and you\u2019re likely to see a commercial for Abilify \u2013 one of the newer antipsychotic medications being used to treat a variety of symptoms and disorders.\u00a0 It\u2019s advertised as an adjunct medication for those taking antidepressants for depression who aren\u2019t quite experiencing the benefits they\u2019d hoped for. Antipsychotics, as the name suggests, were primarily developed to treat symptoms of psychosis.\u00a0 For years, they were used almost exclusively for the treatment of the two most common psychotic disorders \u2013 schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.\u00a0 The two most common psychotic symptoms are hallucinations \u2013 e.g. hearing voices \u2013 and delusions \u2013 e.g. the bizarre belief that aliens are controlling your mind via an implanted microchip.\u00a0 For many individuals suffering from psychosis, these medications have been life-changing. Schizophrenia is one of the most debilitating and serious psychiatric disorders known to humankind.\u00a0 These drugs \u2013 which were first used in the 1950s \u2013 radically changed its treatment in a very positive way (in most cases). As time went on, scientists and physicians found that these powerful medications could also be beneficial for other symptoms and disorders.\u00a0 Today, they are often used in the treatment of bipolar I disorder \u2013 particularly mania but also bipolar depression \u2013 as well as several other disorders that will be discussed later. Because of their highly sedating effect, antipsychotics are often referred to as \u201cmajor tranquilizers.\u201d\u00a0 They are also known as \u201cneuroleptics,\u201d due to the way they work in the brain.\u00a0 They are also split into two categories, based primarily on when they were developed \u2013 first generation and second generation. \u201cFirst Generation\u201d Antipsychotics Antipsychotic medications in this early group were the first ones used to treat schizophrenia.\u00a0 They are sometimes referred to as \u201ctypical\u201d or \u201cconventional\u201d antipsychotics.\u00a0 These early drugs are still very effective.\u00a0 Unfortunately, though, their benefits often come at a high price in the form of serious - and sometimes permanent - side effects.\u00a0\u00a0 In many cases, however, the life-altering benefits seem to significantly outweigh any risks. Medications in this early group include: \tCompazine (prochlorperazine) \tHaldol (haloperidol) \tLoxitane (loxapine) \tMellaril (thioridazine) \tMoban (molindone) \tNavane (thiothixene) \tOrap (pimozide) \tProlixin (fluphenazine) \tStelazine (trifluoperazine) \tThorazine (chlorpromazine) \tTrilafon (perphenazine) \u201cSecond Generation\u201d Antipsychotics After nearly four decades of reliance on first-generation antipsychotics, the second generation or \u201catypical\u201d drugs began to appear on the market.\u00a0 These drugs became quickly popular, largely because they were thought to have less intense and fewer side effects than conventional antipsychotics. Medications in the \u201catypical\u201d group include: \tAbilify (aripiprazole) (aka the first \u201cthird generation\u201d antipsychotic, but generally included with other second generation drugs) \tClozaril \/ FazaClo (clozapine) \tFanapt (iloperidone) \tGeodon (ziprasidone) \tInvega (paliperidone) \tRisperdal (risperidone) \tSaphris (asenapine) \tSeroquel (quetiapine) \tSymbyax (olanzapine and fluoxetine) \tZyprexa (olanzapine) Not everyone agrees as to whether the newer antipsychotics provide any significant benefits over the earlier ones. Research has shown that some of the earlier medications are no less effective than the more recent ones.\u00a0 This is important to consumers because the first-generation drugs (those that are still available today) are significantly less expensive than the newer ones. Indications Although antipsychotics were originally indicated for the treatment of psychotic disorders, especially schizophrenia, they\u2019re use is much more far-reaching today than 20 or 30 years ago.\u00a0 In fact, some experts are alarmed at how widely and easily these potentially dangerous medications are prescribed\u2013 especially when they are prescribed to children for \u201coff-label\u201d use.\u00a0 (Off-label use of a drug means that the FDA has not officially approved it for the disorder or symptoms for which it is being prescribed. It\u2019s a common practice, but one that has raised a growing number of concerns in recent years.) Besides being used in the treatment of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and other psychotic disorders, antipsychotics are frequently used to treat: \tBipolar I disorder (including both depression and manic symptoms) \tTourette\u2019s syndrome (which involves the presence of troubling and involuntary tics) \tMajor depression with psychotic features \tAutism-related irritability in children \tAgitation (Haldol is a popular drug of choice to calm agitated patients in hospital ERs and inpatient units.) \tSevere nausea and vomiting A frequent and alarming off-label use includes treating kids who struggle with ADHD or conduct disorder.\u00a0 This practice has raised some serious eyebrows, as doctors are prescribing antipsychotics off-label for youngsters as young as 3. Impact on the Brain Like almost every other psychiatric medication available today, these powerful medications target specific neurotransmitters \u2013 chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine \u00a0\u2013 in the brain.\u00a0 These chemicals are believed to be associated with mood symptoms as well as psychosis. Side Effects\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0 \u00a0One of the primary reasons there is a lot of controversy around the use of antipsychotic drugs, especially for off-label use for so many disorders and in vulnerable individuals (such as young children), is the very serious potential side effects for which these drugs are notorious. All medications come with an array of potential side effects \u2013 many of which are listed only because they occurred in a very tiny percentage of those who participated in early clinical trials.\u00a0 But the serious side effects associated with antipsychotics are not highly unlikely or extremely rare.\u00a0 This isn\u2019t to say that these medications don\u2019t have their place in the treatment of psychiatric disorders, but they should always be used with extreme caution \u2013 especially when prescribed for children, adolescents, or elderly individuals. Some of the most serious side effects include: \tTardive dyskinesia (a challenging movement disorder that can become permanent in some cases, particularly with long-term use) \tNeuroleptic malignant syndrome \u2013 which is potentially fatal \tDiabetes \tElevated cholesterol \tSevere weight gain Some side effects occur more frequently in the typical antipsychotics, while others tend to be more often associated with the atypical drugs. A few, other less severe antipsychotic side effects include: \tDry mouth \tSexual dysfunction \tSeizures \tRestless leg syndrome \tSedation \tMuscle spasms \tNausea and vomiting \tBlurry vision \tSleep disturbances \tConstipation \tHeadaches \tChanges in behavior \tTiredness \tDizziness Use Caution Medication should always be used cautiously, and only if truly necessary.\u00a0 This is particularly true when it comes to antipsychotics.\u00a0 It\u2019s vitally important that you inform your physician of the following: \tPast or present medical conditions \tIf you\u2019re pregnant, planning to get pregnant, or nursing \tAny alcohol or drug use, including any history of addiction or abuse \tDrug allergies \tOther medications you\u2019re currently taking, including supplements, herbal remedies, and OTC medications Once you start taking an antipsychotic medication (and any medication for that matter), be sure to take it exactly as your doctor prescribed.\u00a0 Just because one is good doesn\u2019t mean two is better.\u00a0 Playing around with the dose or skipping your meds from time to time can lead to serious problems.\u00a0 Be sure to inform your doctor of any side effects, and never stop your medication without talking to your doctor first. Antipsychotic medications have literally changed millions of lives over the past 60 years, particularly for those struggling with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.\u00a0 But that doesn\u2019t mean they\u2019re right for everyone.\u00a0 They don\u2019t always work for everyone who takes them \u2013 no medication works 100% of the time for 100% of those taking it.\u00a0 Because of the potential for serious side effects, always carefully weigh the pros and cons.\u00a0 Do your research and make an informed decision.