Abilify (aripiprazole) is one of the most successful drugs in the pharmacy. Last year this medication had sales of over $5,000,000,000, making it the # 2 medication on the top 10 hit parade of best selling drugs (in dollars).

One of the reasons for such popularity might be the amazing direct-to-consumer advertising campaign for Abilify. Perhaps you have seen the commercials on television.

In one, a cartoon woman complains that although her antidepressant works hard to help with her depression, it just wasn’t up to the task. She still “struggled to get going, even get through the day.” So, the cartoon character is seen confiding to her doctor that she has been “stuck for a long time.”

The cartoon doctor recommends adding a cartoon Abilify (in the form of a big letter A with eyeballs) to the poor inadequate cartoon Rx pill antidepressant. Now the cartoon woman is seen smiling together with a smiling Abilify and a smiling antidepressant pill. They leave the cartoon doctor (who is also smiling) with the hope that the combination would make her feel better soon. Her only regret: “I wish I had talked to my doctor sooner.”

Then, in the classic voice-over, we hear about some of Abilify’s side effects:

“Abilify is not for everyone.

Call your doctor if your depression worsens or if you have unusual changes in behavior or thoughts of suicide…

Elderly dementia patients taking Abilify have an increased risk of death or stroke.

Call your doctor if you have high fever, stiff muscles and confusion to address a possible life threatening condition or if you have uncontrollable muscle movements as these can become permanent. High blood sugar has been reported with Abilify and medicines like it and in extreme cases can lead to coma or death.

Other risks include increased cholesterol, weight gain,, decreases in white blood cells which can be serious, dizziness on standing, seizures, trouble swallowing, and impaired judgment or motor skills.”

While this long list of scary side effects is being read by the announcer we see our cartoon woman interacting with her smiling cartoon character colleagues at work and then serving lemonade to her smiling cartoon family at a backyard barbecue. It’s hard to worry about life-threatening drug complications when everyone seems to be having such a good time.

Abilify was developed as an antipsychotic medication to help people with schizophrenia. For such patients it may be quite appropriate and help them maintain functionality. But it is a powerful medication with many serious side effects. To better understand how this drug and other “atypical antipsychotics” (Risperdal, Seroquel, Geodon, Zyprexa) affect people we offer some stories from real patients who have posted their comments to this website, without the distraction of smiling cartoon characters.

Judy writes:

“I was on a low dose of Abilify for a year and a half. The drug was discontinued but I still developed tardive dyskinesia of the mouth that has persisted for over a year. It is debilitating.

“My psychiatrist who prescribed it was so surprised that I developed this. He said he never had anyone else with it.

“How can he be so clueless? I can only guess that with time, he will find more people who develop serious side effects as well. The TV ad lists the side effects casually, as if they are minor, or will go away if the drug is stopped. Please warn others!”

PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE:

Tardive dyskinesia (TD) can be incredibly debilitating. It results from drug-induced damage to the brain and can cause uncontrollable muscle movements such as lip smacking, tongue protrusion and grimacing. Some people develop rapid eye blinking or other involuntary movements. Most of the antipsychotic medications can cause this, and we are surprised that your psychiatrist was unaware of this potentially irreversible neurological complication.


Chica shares her experience:

“I was put on a very low dose of Abilify yet had severe weight gain and developed diabetes. I wasn’t on this drug for more than 3 months. I am very disappointed and Abilify didn’t help relieve my depression either.”


Bryan provides this account of TD & akathisia:

“I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was placed on a mood stabilizer and antidepressant. The psychiatrist indicated that Abilify would be helpful to add to my regimen to assist towards reaching the desired therapeutic effect.

“I began to pace and was unable to sit still. I literally walked the halls for three days straight. I was desperate for relief and felt in order to keep myself safe I needed to be hospitalized during that time.

“The symptoms persisted long after the medication was taken away. I also had uncontrollable movements with my tongue and slurred speech. None of these side effects were discussed with me.

“May I strongly encourage that you develop a strong alliance with your psychiatrist. If you feel your doctors are not proactive and forthright about the effects of your meds, find a health professional who is. Your quality of life could be adversely and permanently affected.”

PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE:

It sounds as if you experienced something called akathisia as well as tardive dyskinesia. Trying to explain akathisia to someone who has not experienced it can be challenging. It is characterized by an inner restlessness that won’t stop. Your description of having to walk the halls continuously just begins to get at this devastating side effect. Other people report pressure on their knees that forces them to pace nonstop or jiggle their legs for hours or even days. It is incredibly debilitating. As mentioned above, symptoms of tardive dyskinesia (uncontrollable muscle movements) can be permanent.


This from Stan:

“Abilify was a horrific drug for me. Used as an adjunct to my antidepressant regimen at the time, it seemed to ‘dumb me down’ severely, and was detrimental to my memory and cognitive abilities. Didn’t work for me. This may be a less reported side effect.”


Jewel’s experience with Seroquel for insomnia:

“I am a 40 year-old female. After suffering a rare stress-induced heart attack I was given Seroquel. I wasn’t asked of course or told what it was.

“I was very stressed and agree I needed the rest for sure, however I was out of it on this medication. Someone from smoking cessation came to talk to me and I would have thought it was a dream but he left paperwork beside my bed.

“I was amazed as I have never had a medicine that just literally paralyzed me physically and mentally. Had they admitted me to a facility and continue on Seroquel until I died I would have opened my mouth and took the pill and did as instructed. My ability to think and/or say no was gone. I am a single mother of 3 and they actually sent me home with a script for this stuff. No way was I going to continue taking it.”


A tragic death reported by E.N.

¬†“Risperdal killed my mother. In 2002 she was in her mid-eighties and in assisted living. The psychiatrist on call put her on Risperdal [risperidone] because she was “argumentative.”

“My mother was also a type 2 diabetic and had been on oral meds for that condition for over 20 years. She was only on Risperdal for a short time, maybe two months, when she tested very high for sugar one day. She was given an injection of insulin that evening and not checked on for several hours. At that time, she was “unresponsive” and taken to the hospital where she died a short time later, never having regained consciousness.

“The doctor said she died of natural causes. In researching her meds, I came upon the information about Risperdal being dangerous for diabetics.”


There is a black box warning about Risperdal (and other antipsychotic medications):

“Elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis treated with antipsychotic drugs are at an increased risk of death. RISPERDAL® is not approved for use in patients with dementia-related psychosis.”

ABILIFY (ARIPIPRAZOLE) SIDE EFFECTS

  • Digestive tract distress, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, constipation, incontinence
  • Weight gain, increased appetite
  • Headache, dizziness, lightheadedness
  • Anxiety, agitation, restlessness, tremor, akathisia: uncontrollable urge to move or pace
  • Insomnia, fatigue, sedation
  • Dry mouth, excessive salivation, drooling
  • Blurred vision
  • Arthritis, muscle pain
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Fever (a potentially life-threatening symptom requiring immediate medical attention)
  • Tardive dyskinesia, uncontrollable muscle movements, lip smacking, grimacing, neck twisting
  • Stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Low blood pressure, especially when standing, dizziness
  • Diabetes, elevated blood sugar
  • Seizures
  • Irregular heart rhythms, palpitations,
  • Pancreatitis, gall bladder problems
  • Blood disorders
  • Low sodium, high potassium
  • Worsening depression, suicidal thoughts

SUDDEN DISCONTINUATION SYNDROME (WITHDRAWAL): A Dirty Little Secret!

The track record of psychiatry has been abysmal when it comes to studying sudden withdrawal from commonly prescribed medications. It took years for researchers to discover that when patients suddenly stopped benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium) or lorazepam (Ativan) they often experienced very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Ditto for antidepressants like citalopram (Celexa), duloxetine (Cymbalta), escitalopram (Lexapro), sertraline (Zoloft) and venlafaxine (Effexor).

Stopping atypical antipsychotics suddenly may also lead to withdrawal symptoms, but this phenomenon has not been well studied. Some possible reactions that have been reported include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, anxiety, agitation, confusion, uncontrollable muscular movements and sweating.

Because withdrawal from antipsychotic medications is underappreciated, there are few guidelines given to physicians on how to wean patients off such drugs. The FDA has not been very helpful. No one should ever stop such drugs suddenly, though. Please discuss this potential complication with a health professional before beginning this journey.

What has your experience been with medications like aripiprazole (Abilify), risperidone (Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel), ziprasidone (Geodon) or olanzepine (Zyprexa)? We recognize that such medications can be very valuable, especially for patients with schizophrenia. Others, however, may find such drugs difficult to handle. Please comment below so that other people can benefit from your story.

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  1. eugen
    bucharest
    Reply

    I took abilify for 2 and 1/2 months, and at first I had slept 16 hours a day,next my shrink told me to take sleeping pills like zolpidem or stillnox, one month I slept 6-8 hours a day and everything seems ok. Next month I began to get worse, to sleep I need more and more sleeping pills, and being overactive until I couldn’t bear it, I suffer from paranoia my doc has no guilt.

    I switched back to 4mg of risperidone I have trouble with sleep -5 hours a day! I hate to say I drool a lot I feel like a stupid for taking this stuff !

  2. Carmelisa
    Reply

    I took Abilify for about 8 or 9 months, in addition to Paxil and a few other psychotropic meds for mood stabilization as part of my Borderline Personality Disorder. Oddly enough, I didn’t fully understand how negatively it was affecting me from the start. I developed akathisia gradually over a month or so but didn’t recognize the restless feeling inside for what it was, because I didn’t pace, or at least not at first. I got to the point where I experienced the urge to move all the time and sitting reading a book became almost unbearable. Despite the purpose of the med to stabilize my mood, I developed a numb feeling where even crying when I felt sad deep down was quite the task. On the other end of the spectrum, true happiness felt far away as well (although I think personal depressive symptoms contributed a little, too). I definitely noticed the cognitive side effects, but again didn’t trust myself enough to know that a medication could affect me in this way. I thought I suddenly became incompetent in school and memory, or that maybe I had always been this way and never “realized” it. It affected my memory and concentration in a HUGE way, and even though I’ve been off the medication for almost five months, I’m still recovering from this med-induced deficit. Fortunately for me, it was temporary, but please don’t hesitate to approach your psychiatrist if you are experiencing cognitive issues or anything that may not have been explicitly mentioned to you as side effects. Be brave, embrace your right to recovery, and only stay committed to therapy and medications that truly help relieve the symptoms you experience.

  3. Steven
    Reply

    Abilify left me with permanent heart damage and now I’m disabled because of it. Why this poison is legal is beyond me.

  4. kendall
    college station
    Reply

    Hi I took Ablify for a short period of time in my teens and I still have muscle spasms. I also sometimes can’t be happy. When I was younger I was angry about all the things I hadn’t been able to talk about and they put me on a mood stabilizer. I feel like I have long term depression because of the Ablify.

  5. jenn
    87533
    Reply

    I’ve been taking a low dose of abilify for a few years now its made me gain a lot of weight an I developed a lot of face movements, not knowing the side effects that happen to be one of them. I thought the cause of the face movements was anxiety and the weight gain I developed was due to depression. After reading the side effects that was not discussed with me by my doctor I will discontinue taking this medicine hope this helped.

  6. Abilify victim
    Toronto
    Reply

    ABILIFY causes permanent side effects from short term exposure. I have found many other people who have experienced akathisia, tremors, blurred vision, tinnitus, twitching, jerking, dizziness, confusion and more for years after stopping. I took it for 8 weeks and am left immobilized after 14 months of no exposure. I do not know what the future holds for me with this but I now realize this is not my fault for being more careful. Don’t think this can’t happen to you.

  7. Brian
    United States
    Reply

    I was put on aripiprazole as an assistive drug to antidepressants and anticonvulsants to treat my bipolar disorder type 2. Although I don’t recall many side effects of being put on it, it was the withdrawal that got to me. As I am writing this I am up from sleeping with insomnia and periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) which affects my torso and mainly my arms. I’ve been noticing this awful side effect for about a week now, about two to three weeks after abrupt cessation of Abilify. “Thank you very much” to my clueless psychiatrist who blindly advised me off of it.
    To anyone out there who might know of a home remedy or natural treatment for this malady, I would be very grateful to know about it, as I am quite reluctant to go on yet another pharmaceutical that will supposedly “fix” this problem. I need to sleep again.

  8. jacob
    Reply

    Worst month of my life thanks to Abilify. As I am still currently going through side effects coming off of it. I literally almost died last night due to a panic attack I got while driving. The people it does help I am glad though. Unfortunately there are different reactions. For me I haven’t been more scared of anything in my life

    • Sabrina
      united States
      Reply

      Have you tried the natural supplement “melatonin”? I would get it from a healthfood store / natural grocery vs. main stream drug store. You do not need to take it every day – once or twice should assist your own natural balance of Melatonin / serotonin levels in your body (what helps you naturally sleep in the first place. Google it for better facts; I’m no doctor.

  9. Mayra
    Phoenix, AZ
    Reply

    I have bipolar disorder, was put on Abilify to keep the mania away, works ok except now I have uncontrolled eye movements, and blurred vision, as well as high red blood cell count.

    • Carmelisa
      Reply

      While I don’t know the specifics of your symptoms and experience, I still believe that you should not feel afraid to approach your doctor to try a new medicine. You shouldn’t have to live with those side effects! Explore the options with her/him and weigh the pros and cons with adequate information about all possible side effects. This is not necessarily the only med that can help you. The side effects, even if only physical, can interfere with a personal sense of recovery. That is what happened for me during my experience with Abilify before I switched to something different.

  10. Annie
    United States
    Reply

    I’m lucky in that Abilify works for me as a sidekick to five other anti-anxiety drugs. It’s excessive, but this cocktail has worked when nothing else has and I’m able to leave the house to do things for the first time in my adult life.

    As a former psychiatry, current psychology student, I do worry about TD. I do deeply worry.

    People criticize my medication regimen, but they don’t understand what years of constant anxiety feel like. They don’t understand worrying to the point of having a psychotic episode, your hair turning white before you hit thirty, or dreaming every rare night that you can sleep of vivid, very real images of decomposition and putrefaction. It was rough, I obviously couldn’t work, but no amount of exercise, positive thinking, or clean living helped.

    For people like me, Abilify is a literal lifesaver. I owe my life to this drug. That’s something I want people to keep in mind when I say that our policy towards advertising and over-prescribing this drug *has to change*. SSRI and SNRI discontinuation is a very serious problem that doctors don’t seem to know or care about. Aside from serious neurological effects, I very seriously worry about people struggling with current or past addiction who may be triggered into using again to escape the nightmare of withdrawals.

    To prescribe this medication to a crowd watching the commercials and empathizing with a little cartoon woman who can’t picnic with her family is just criminal, and yes, I do still worry very much about TD.

    • Steven
      Reply

      Abilify is likely WHAT CAUSED your problems in the first place… It should be banned and anyone who prescribes it should rot in a cell somewhere.

      • anom
        Reply

        I would like to know more about you experience, it clearly impacted your life in an extremely negative way. I not a psychiatrist but I work closely with them and find when I’m more informed and better able to articulate my concerns on behalf of the people I work with I am more effective in being an advocate for them.

        I’m working with someone now and what they have expressed is a sense that their ‘mind is empty” as well as feeling like they are not able to think…. and weight gain and all the negative implications that follow.

    • anom
      Reply

      Thank you for your insight, I work in mental health and have many concerns about the effects of these powerful drugs on my clients. I appreciate people’s experience in order to inform me in my work, your experience is helpful. Thanks.

  11. MC
    USA
    Reply

    Thank you to everyone for sharing your experiences. The Association for Comprehensive NeuroTherapy (ACN Latitudes) just recently posted a story from a parent whose child was treated with Abilify for Tourette’s Syndrome and he experienced some very debilitating side effects from the drug. His story can be read here: http://latitudes.org/abilify-for-tourette-syndrome-my-sons-tragic-story/

  12. Lily
    USA
    Reply

    I have been on seroquel for about a year. Taking it before bed 100-200mg. I had weight gain so asked Dr to switch me. I got replaced w Abilify half of 5mg in am. So drowsy dizzy nausea … Initially I was hot to the touch an hour after taking it. Now just trying to stay awake at daytime. Hope will pass after few days but if not I’m going back to seroquel at pm. Abilify is a weird drug. Not to mention I had no fear drinking some wine on seroquel but reading Abilify and some wine sounds worthless! My cocktail is lamactle for mood stabilizer 100mg and klonapin as needed for my panics and anxiety but now w Abilify.. bipolar is so hard to get it right. Very frustrating- thoughts?

    • laura
      vancouver
      Reply

      I have/had PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive issues, pretty much my whole life. I was put on seroquel (900 mgs!!), which I didn’t know at the time was such an insanely high dosage. I was on it for about five years. I gained 110 lbs. in about 4 – 5 months. It was beyond horrifying!! That stuff is the freaking devil. After a couple of years of being on it, it also exacerbated the pain in my lower back to the point I couldn’t walk for months. I complained and fought (yes!) fought with my doctor more times than I can count to get off that stuff. I and quit the 900 mgs. cold turkey. Within three days, my back was almost pain-free, I could walk again and lost 10 lbs. in the first week. I had no withdrawal whatsoever!! I didn’t know that people did until I read about it, about 3 months after stopping. (Maybe ignorance IS bliss!). I am having a hell of a time getting rid of the rest of the weight, but I am believing that it is going to all come off, some way or another. My doctor put me on 2 mg. of Abilify two weeks ago and so far, I have already lost 10 lbs. Oh my God!! I was terrified to leave the house because of my embarrassment about my weight. I have been tall and slim my whole life. Just the loss of the recent 10 pounds have made all the difference in my life. I have been out almost every day, bought some plants, having conversations with people, just normal, everyday things that I was incapable of even attempting 2 weeks ago. I am hoping that the weight loss continues and I feel better about myself than I have in over six years! God bless everyone who is trying to find their way through these brutal mental health mazes and issues and I am feeling so fantastic right now, I feel like *I* will be able to, and I hope you all can as well. We deserve to be happy.

    • Annie
      United States
      Reply

      It’s so hard with some drugs, and bipolar is such a difficulty to deal with anyway. Waiting up to a month for that class of medication’s side-effects to wane isn’t uncommon, but sometimes they just don’t go away. In that case, I think you’ll have to decide whether it’s helping or hindering your life and compare your quality of life before to what it is currently. If you aren’t doing well and decide to stop taking it, talk to your doctor about beginning a slow taper (abrupt withdrawals are awful) and then trying something else.

      I hope you feel better soon. It’s so frustrating, but someday you’ll find something that works for you and life will open up so beautifully that you’d never believe the pain and aggravation of right now. That day is possible for you, don’t give up! :)

  13. Leisha
    AL
    Reply

    I have had PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, Insomnia for 8 years now. I was placed on Seroquel for the last three; during the last four months I experienced severe anger and rage episodes that were unprovoked and unreasonable to the situations. Additionally, my diabetes worsened on this medication and I gained over 60+ pounds on Seroquel (200mg)–I called it zombie eating because though I was not hungry, I had a “driven” feeling to eat. Just two weeks ago my Psychiatrist jerked me off Seroquel and added Abilify to my Citalopram + Lamotrigine + Prozasin + Valium. The withdrawals from Seroquel is a nightmare: insomnia, diarrhea, weakness, body aches, head aches to mention a few. The last two days have been better, and the addition of Abilify seems to have given me my mind back and my energy level back. Moreover, I have lost ten pounds in two weeks. The only thing negative I see thus far from Abilify is tremors. Before I take it in the morning, I feel very shaky inside and my hand tremors are like a 90 year old’s tremor; my balance seems to be a little off, kind of clumsy. This is a new med for me and I hope it continues to work because Seroquel, though it stopped nightmares and allowed me to sleep, robbed me of living my life. Everyone is different, what works for one does not work for another and I think we all need to keep that in mind. I am just praying I do not face the nightmare others have faced with Abilify because Seroquel turned out to be a nightmare in it’s own right. Seroquel withdrawal is still causing issues with my quantity and quality of sleep and other things, but I have prepared myself, based on what others have gone through, that this may take quite some time. Good luck to you all!

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