man screaming in pain or anger

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. Karyl
    Arizona
    Reply

    I was prescribed Abilify as an antidepressant booster by a really bad shrink in Austin, Texas. He had our entire group therapy group on that drug.

    When Abilify did not work for me and also caused alarming, rapid weight gain (everybody in group was gaining excess weight), this shrink denied that the drug caused weight gain, and rebuffed my protestations that Abilify was worsening my depression. When I got to the Mayo Clinic, the shrink there said this drug often causes weight gain, and took me off of it immediately.

    My mood improved quickly, and the extra weight rapidly disappeared. I went thru hell on Abilify for nothing, and realized that the weight gain side effect of the drug was grossly downplayed on the warning insert, probably because nobody would voluntarily take a drug they knew was likely to cause rapid weight gain.

    I was especially alarmed when I saw that children vulnerable to peer taunting were given this drug. I tried to complain to the FDA (for the first time in my 50+ year life), and got the run-around. Abilify advertising is ubiquitous, and it scares me that it actually works to increase sales of a drug that is terrible for a lot of people. What are doctors thinking?

  2. Grace
    England
    Reply

    I was placed on Abilify at 5mg but after 3 days, I had an headache so severe I was literally banging my head against the wall. I can cope with having an headache but not when it felt like an axe was being put through my head whilst it was on fire. On top of that, I felt like the walking dead so I soon stopped taking it. At my appointment with my pdoc, I mentioned this to him, but all he told me was it’s a “common” side effect that might go with time. None of the other more serious side effects was even mentioned.
    My condition is severe as it is and I’m looking at hospitalisation, but I’m refusing to even consider re-taking Abilify and having read the other comments, it looks like I’ve made a wise choice.

  3. Kate
    Reply

    Abilify was amazing when I first started taking it for BPII, I was able to get out of bed, exercise, write.. When before I was big so by mess.
    2 weeks in the horrible inner restlessness started and wouldn’t go away no matter how much I did. The big thing was though, I almost killed my whole family by a very stupid choice I made while driving. I would never have done anything like what I did before Abilify. Now I think I have PTSD!
    On the upside, I did not have withdrawals when I stopped taking it, and no after effects have been noted.

  4. j. hawkeye
    usa
    Reply

    I have been off Abilify for two years and still have uncontrollable mouth movements and panic attacks that I did not have before I took Abilify. I think it has permanently damaged my brain.

  5. kerri
    Champaign illinos
    Reply

    I have been on abilify since 2010. It was prescribed to me for a booster for my Effexor EXR which I was taking for anxiety. I was never informed that Abilify was an antipsychotic. I always believed it was just a booster for an antidepressant which I thought was another antidepressant to treat anxiety. Within just a few days of taking the drug I felt better. My anxiety had left me to the point that I had none none meaning I didn’t worry I didn’t worry about anything I just thought wow this medicine really kicks ass it really works. Within three months of taking Abilify I started buying scratch off tickets from the gas stations the impulse to gamble was tenfold. Over the years it just increasingly got worse to the point the thoughts of gambling were consuming my mind I couldn’t think of anything else. My behavior was compulsive, things that I would never do. In the past few years I kept telling my husband there’s something wrong with me I can’t stop. It wasn’t but pure coincidence that my husband was trying to make sense of all this in the change in my behavior over the past several years that he stumbled upon an article on Abilify link to compulsive gambling. I immediately quit taking the drug within four days all of the compulsive behavior was gone. How can something that has lasted nearly 6 years in my mind that I did almost daily meaning gambling, be shut off completely no thoughts of it no urges for it nothing. Since being off the drug I have dealt with some withdrawal symptoms.The restlessness is so bad I find myself pacing up-and-down walking around my husband actually found me standing up asleep last night. I really hope that the subside soon. If I was ever informed of any of these Side effects or the long-term damage that I can do I would have never touch the drug. I feel failed by my doctor by the pharmaceutical companies and the medical professions in general. I do know that the drug may help some and I’m glad for that. But this was a total nightmare for me I have lost six years of my life due to this drug. Please if anybody has any insight or comments or related stories on this please feel free to comment thank you

  6. Patricia
    Maryland
    Reply

    I have been on Abilify along with Wellbutrin for depression and anxiety.. I have been on these drugs for about six years.. now I am having problems with tremors . I went to see a neurologist and he said to get off of the Abilify .. there is a condition called Ablilfy tremors and that is what I am going through .I wake up every morning with my mouth and chin area shaking .. like if someone was freezing .. I hate it .. this usually hits me at least two times a day .. not fun .. stay away from this drug I may have these tremors the rest of mylife ..

  7. Bianca
    NSW
    Reply

    I was prescribed Abilify approximately two weeks ago for my depression and anxiety disorder and of all the medications I have tried over the past 24 months, this one has had the worst side effects and continuing effects after being taken off the drug. I have never before felt so fatigued that all I can do is lie down and stare straight ahead, and even THIS feels like a huge effort! Whilst on the medication I experienced unwavering, debilitating fatigue, mouth spasms and difficulties with bright light and looking upwards for any amount of time. Due to such exhaustion and side effects my psychiatrist agreed to take me off Abilify three days ago. For the past three nights I have remained extremely fatigued and exhausted, however become so restless, agitated and achy at night that I have not been able to grasp a wink of sleep at all over the past three nights and often find myself tearing my hair out or pacing restlessly or searching for things without apparent cause or reasonable explanation. My experience with Abilify has been absolute hell, so much so that its residual effects after withdrawing from it have perhaps been even worse than the side effects I had whilst on the drug. And what makes this whole experience even worse is the fact that I was never foretold of these possible side effects, and thus was unsure if these were side effects of the new drug (Abilify) or the side effects of withdrawal from another drug I was on (venlafaxine). I am wondering if my side effects and symptoms would not have been so bad had I not been put on Abilify and taken off venlafaxine (which I had been on for quite some time) both within the same day.

  8. J
    Australia
    Reply

    I’m on it now. Finding it devastating. Nobody’s listening to me. It made me schiz worse not better and a whole hoast of physical problems. I do not reccomend it.

  9. Calli
    Arizona
    Reply

    Could I still feel the bad effects from taking this drug years later? I am really tired all the time and my limbs feel like they are 1000 pounds! I can’t focus or concentrate on anything. It’s hard to do anything a lot of the time. Except to eat and sleep.

    • Cat
      Los Angeles
      Reply

      Thank you so much for writing about your reaction to Ability. Yesterday I realized I felt like I was walking around with bags of sand on my shoulders. When I lie down on my bed it takes too much energy to rollover yet at the same time I feel too restless to relax. What an awful, awful feeling! Will be calling my doctor to address this issue.

  10. Catherine
    London
    Reply

    Our daughter was precribed Abilify in 2014,ans is still on medication 2.5mg.
    Some side effects, nothing serious,
    No weight gain/but increased appitite,managable but difficult most of the time/
    Sleeps well after exercising: eg: swimming,walking,horseriding,
    I am of the thinking,a complete excersise programme should coincide with taking any form of psychotic drug ,this is the way forward to recovery.
    We are dealing with an active energised ,full of beans person,
    Would climb any mountain if there was a bar of chocolate on the summit.
    So why get depressed about antidepressants or suppressors.

  11. Elizabeth
    USA
    Reply

    I was abruptly discontinued from Abilify (20mg/day) in 2013 and went through four months of unvarnished physical withdrawal hell, exactly like going cold turkey off heroin or cocaine. I had gained over fifty pounds despite hard weight training and cardio. The doctor and nurse actually believed that only walking for half an hour a day would take the weight off.

    Please run if anyone tries to prescribe Abilify or any other atypical antipsychotic for you or a loved one.

    This drug is

  12. Cassandra
    Reply

    It works great for me. Took my depression away, however the voices still tell me to hurt myself. I tell the voices to shut up. Before abilify, I had very bad depression and attempted a serious suicide attempt (4 weeks in the ICU) plus a month stay in the mental ward. This is all before I started abilify. I had a lot of attempts in my life other meds does not work as well. This is the best med for me. I give it an A+. All meds affect people different ways.

    I stayed out of the mental ward for 2 years now!!! The depression got better, but if a major life event happens, who knows if I will keep myself from hurting myself again. Abilify is the best!!!
    I love Abilify.

  13. T
    New Smyrna
    Reply

    7 year old started on this after having to stop another due to adverse and irreversible side effects. After about 3 weeks agitation continues to increase and he is less happy. He us starving all the time and gained 12 pounds. Wish we could find what works with less side effects

  14. Aaron
    Wisconsin
    Reply

    Took 2.5 mg for a month then went up to 5mg. Decided to cut those in half. After two months, my blood sugar levels jumped drammatically to a prediabetes level. No way that I’ll continue this medication and risk getting full on diabetes.

  15. Lisa
    Victoria BC, Canada
    Reply

    I’ve been on Abilify for 5 years only because I can’t get off of it. It’s caused me to go broke and now that I’m on disability it’s taking most my my grocery money to buy it. I hate the stuff but going off makes me feel I’d be better off dead. What can I do, I’ve tried at least a dozen times to wean off of it but my symptoms are 100 x’s worse than what I went on it for.

    • nagbys
      perth australia.
      Reply

      what did it do for your intellectual pursuits? (im pretty sure, from my experience, reduced them to 0) …. :(

    • kerri
      Reply

      Why did it make you go broke?

  16. Jennifer
    USA
    Reply

    Abilify has been a miracle drug for my BP 1 disorder. I was on lamictal for a year because Abilify became unaffordable and ended up in the hospital with suicidal ideation. Put back on abilify now in a generic form and back to “normal”. Although it always makes me very tired. It is the only medication/treatment that lifts the dark clouds for me. 15mg dose…. Titrated up from 5 over a few months.

  17. Lori
    Texas
    Reply

    My daughter, age 17, was on the 15mg dose for about a year, during which time we tried unsuccessfully to wean her off twice. The drug seemed to curb some of the eating disorder thinking, and at first her depression subsided. But this was all replaced with debilitating anxiety, hyper-sexual behavior, delinquency, involuntary muscle spasms, and inability to focus. She stopped going to school, ran away, was in court twice, was covered in cuts and burns, and ended up back in the hospital (out of control) several times. The withdrawal symptoms are HORRIBLE- and it was never worse than when we tried to wean her off. She suffered paranoia, uncontrollable rage, panic,etc. We finally admitted her for two weeks to a facility to get her off of the drug. I highly suggest this! Honestly, how no one, including her, died during that year was astonishing!

    Background: Her issues started presenting at age 12- depression, eating disorders, obsessive tendencies. These were hard to sort out because they coincided with a sudden move across country and puberty. She has had about 7 different diagnosis in total but I believe she suffers from a chemical imbalance- similar to ADHD. She survived one major suicide attempt and has been hospitalized 6 times with suicidal tendencies–each time trying to switch meds.

    She is off of it now, and finally the suffering has ended, and she’s doing really well! I know everyone will react to this drug differently but, in our experience, it was the worst one my daughter ever took. DANGEROUS is an understatement.

  18. michelle
    Brockport NY
    Reply

    My son was out on it at age 6 and he now at age 10 doesn’t even look like my child anymore with all the weight gain. He has aspergers and was having some wandering and emotional lability at school and summer camp so we kept increasing this right up to 10mg. I accidentally took one of his pills once ( single mom of 5, 3 on autism spectrum and in college for architecture on a busy school morning) and a 2 mg almost knocked me out. When my son’s psych office closed I titrated him down on my own to 2 mg’s and recently have been cutting them in half. He wants to eat all the time, and has rapid eye blinking for days on end at random times. I have had him off this med fully for about a week now and his eyes have very dark circles under them and he is experiencing shooting pain through his head as a withdrawal symptom. ( I think this is what they refer to as “brain zaps”) I will not be putting him back on this no matter how much his teachers may complain. This may help some with no problems but it is not for my child. It breaks my heart to watch him go through this knowing I am the one who ok’d it.

    • Shelly
      Pittsburgh
      Reply

      I have been on Abilify since 2011, with the highest dosage being 5mg. My P-doc reduced it to 2 mg then I decided to get off of it completely. I’m going into my third week and my other two anti-depressants are keeping me stable, but my teeth and gums ache. I have beautiful teeth and don’t have any cavities but my dentist says it’s part of the Abilify withdrawal process. She’s advised that I take low doses of pain reliever to take the edge off, but that only lasts for an hour or so. My food has to be eaten at room temperature as my teeth and gums are extremely sensitive to the point that I want to pull them out for relief, which I dare not do! On top of that, I also have dark circles under my eyes and gained 60 pounds with a pot belly. Hate it! Although Abilify was part of the cocktail of anti-depressants I was taking for my major depression disorder and OCD, I hope to never have to take this drug again😞

  19. Sam
    USA
    Reply

    This drug was HORRIBLE for me. I took the first tablet in the evening, 10mg. Went to bed. Dozed on and off. Woke up with my legs moving under the sheets as if peddling a bicycle. Next morning, terrible headache. Blurred vision. Severe anxiety. Picture on TV screen appeared 3-dimensional. Looked as though there was a leathery filter over my vision. Could barely think. The next night I could not bring myself to swallow another one of those pills from hell. AWFUL!!!

  20. Angela
    California
    Reply

    My son who has taken Abilify for 5 years is currently in the process of getting off this medication. He went from 30mg to 20mg for a month then decreased to 10mg for a month. Has already lost 25lbs and is feeling better, more energy, clear mind. Side effects from withdrawal are dry mouth, trouble sleeping or staying asleep, frequent urination. Soon he will be taking 5mg and hopefully after that be done completely. This is his second attempt to get off this medication. First time he did it too quickly. We are thankful his doctor is supporting his efforts to live a drug free life. These drugs are great for a short term solution but long term they destroy health of body and mind.

    • Gavin
      England
      Reply

      I take 30mg a day have only one side effect at present and that is my blood pressure drops when I stand up making me dizzy and sometimes need to sit back down been on this a year for schizophrenia and bipolar 1 this stuff is a life saver. In the first couple months I did have really bad restlessness and insomnia and an inability to get comfy my legs ached none stop from pacing around but these have gone away.

  21. Marian
    NH
    Reply

    Abilify was my life saving “go-to” drug. It worked so well for me when we got the dosage level right. Now this was a bit of a challenge, because one mg too much and I did experience the uncontrollable muscle movements….and they were severe! Still, it did such a good job of eliminating the circular thoughts, the suicidal thoughts, that I was willing to work with it until I hit the right dosage. Then the assistance program through which I was getting the medication was eliminated and I could no longer afford the drug. I was forced to make a change two weeks ago. I am no longer on the abilify and am having some strange reactions. My legs, arms and head feel as though they’ve been loaded with lead. Lifting my limbs is a task. And I am having muscle tremors. Is this part of the withdrawal? I think it must be. I’ve not changed anything else that I’m doing. Please respond if you have any insights on the withdrawal symptoms. I’ve been on Abilify for years……4mg a day. Thanks

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