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. JoeN
    Ny
    Reply

    I was prescribed 2.5mgs per day of abilify 3 months ago. Along with 300 mg zoloft I’ve been on for more than 8 yrs. my first month on abilify I noticed a gain in weight and lack of desire to go to the gym. I then suffered my first seizure ever due to extremely low blood sugar/hypoglycemia.

    3rd month on abilify had another seizure due to low blood sugar and have decided to get off of this devil of a drug!! I told my doctor I want off and he has said being on such a low dose (2.5mg) I can just stop taking it…skeptical but it has been 2 days now and I have the “spins” I have a slight pounding headache and pretty much that’s all

  2. mary
    United States
    Reply

    Hi Everyone,

    I have been on every medication. You name it, I’ve been on it.
    Remeron 90 mg a day, Wellbutrin 150mg, 300a day, and generic Deplin 15mg 1-1/2 a day. I have been taking Meds for at least 46 years for whatever Depression(?) This may go back in my childhood.

    I had a hard time in all my schooling. My doctor is finally trying Abilify 2mg which I have been on for 2 weeks, and it seems to be working. But I have noticed that I’m having trouble saying what I am thinking. These are meds that I am now on. Will be talking to my doctor about taking 2mg every other day to see if speech improves. I’m looking for any input.

    Thanks Much,
    Mary

  3. Minette
    Washington
    Reply

    I was on 30 mgs of Abilify for 6 yrs, the highest recommended dose. This was the longest period of time I have taken any medication… Over the course of a decade, I had been prescribed combinations of every other antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and anti-psychotic made before 2012, and would generally only be on them for 3 months at a time, before “plateauing” (achieving the highest recommended dose without desired results).

    I have PTSD issues, anxiety, and treatment-resistant depression. I am intelligent (4.0 GPA in college) and had always been a bookworm, but over the course of my psychiatric treatment, I found my capacity to read, learn, and form intelligent thoughts completely disappear. I wasn’t actively suicidal, but Abilify caused me to sleep 14 to 18 hours a day, and I became so function-less that I was recommended for a disability program. After seeing my husband deal with much the same and have success getting off all medications, I decided to change my life. It has not been an easy journey, mainly because I had been in a haze for so long, I never learned how to deal with my feelings. I am proud to say I have now been off all psychiatric medications for 2 1/2 years and am slowly rebuilding my intellectual abilities, creativity, and life. I battle long-term neurological damage, mainly peripheral neuropathy, which I believe was caused by the medications. I also hallucinate under stressful situations. I still struggle with depression, anxiety, and now anger, but I find other ways of dealing with it, because to me, long-term side effects of psychiatric medications are not worth getting through feelings that only last for a night.

  4. Cori
    30040
    Reply

    I dwindling down on my abilify. My doctor said I could just stop since I was only on 2.5 mg, but I feel it’s safer to start taking 2.5 mg every other day then 1.25 mg every other day and so on. I have two little kids and cannot be disturbed with side effects. The reason I am getting off of it is due to severe weight gain. I went from a 0 to a 6 in ten months even though I was watching what I was eating and running 6 to 9 miles daily. The weight gain made me very depressed. Although I thought it helped somewhat with anxiety I don’t want to take something that causes uncontrollable weight gain and makes me feel bad about myself.

  5. Kieran A.
    T.O.
    Reply

    I began Abilify in January and stopped just 3 months later. As the dose was raised slowly I began having feelings of extreme terror, anxiety, restlessness, feeling stoned and muscle spasms. Now 6 months later, the excruciating sensation (called akathisia) is subsiding. Be careful with this medication because living through 6+ months of akathisia was the most supreme suffering I will ever endure.

  6. Lindsey
    Texas
    Reply

    I was put on Abilify when I was 22. I was very excited about it because my doctor told me really great things about it. She never warned me of the side effects, probably because she was afraid I would refuse to take it. But it would have been nice for her to at least tell me that those were the possible side effects and that not everyone gets them. About 1 hour after taking it I couldn’t stop moving. I felt like I just needed to jump out of my body it was so terrible. I also felt very agitated, anxious, and like I had bugs crawling all over my bones underneath my skin so I couldn’t get them out! Of course, all medications are going to have bad side effects and they will effect some, but not others.

    Just make sure you go to your pharmacist if you are not sure if the doctor is being up front with you. It’s much better to know what is happening to you when it happens rather than not know what the heck is going on with you. The warnings and side effects are also on the typed paper they give you that goes inside the bag. Always read that.

  7. Samantha
    St. Louis
    Reply

    I went off of Abilify a month ago and am still having confusion, anxiety and depression. I feel like going back on it. I feel so bad right now, but I’m trying to tough through it.

  8. Julie M.
    Erie colorado
    Reply

    I was taking Abilify for one year, and stopped taking it cold turkey in October 2013. My first day on it, I couldn’t remember the name of the street I lived on, when asked. I was only on 15 milligrams! I have Bipolar 1, mixed, severe. My mood swings stopped, which my family was happy about because I used to get mad and yell a lot. But my friends would tell me I wasn’t myself and ask me if I was okay or tired all the time.

    It was obvious that I was a walking zombie with no emotion ever. I put on 40 lbs in about 5 months of being on it and wasn’t even told that I could get so fat and not be able to work out. I was do tired that all I could do was walk. I would sleep for an hour or two every morning. I’m someone who has alway prided myself on my looks and being very physically fit.

    Being on Abilify ruined my life for the last year! I’m trying to get the weight off! I seem to be in remission now and am not on any drugs. My main reason for quitting the drug and never wanting to take another, is that my mom is on the final stages of kidney failure from being on a cocktail of drugs. Her transplant team just told her that she has the same kidney damage that they see in folks who have been on lithium for 35 years! Apparently that’s better than committing suicide, as one out of every two bipolar people actually do kill themselves. Now I’m donating my kidney to save her if I’m a match.

  9. max
    Reply

    Celexa works for my anxiety and depression.

  10. shana
    North Carolina
    Reply

    I have been on abilify since the FDA approved the medication for schizophrenia. I have schizoaffective disorder which is schizophrenia with bipolar disorder and it was the only drug that really helped.

    However now I have uncontrolled muscle movements when I told my psychiatric doctor he said it couldn’t be my meds. So I went to my regular family doctor and she said it had to be my psych meds.
    So I did some research and I found out that abilify can cause tremors.

    So I told my psychiatric doctor and he finally lowered my dose and it has gotten a little better. I have headaches now though I’m surprised that my doctor did know that my abilify could have all these side effects. Then again the first psychiatrist didn’t tell me either.

    Now I just need to know if abilify can cause speech problems? I’m having a hard time trying to say what I mean and reading outloud as well. Any help is welcomed.

    • Lindsey
      Reply

      Oh my gosh. Your psychiatrist should have already known that or at least looked that up for you to see if that was a side effect of Abilify. I’m glad you got things straightened out.

  11. Jool
    Reply

    I am currently trying to wean myself off of Abilify. I have been biting my tongue and grinding my teeth to the point that my tongue is raw and my jaw is sore. I’ve also been very shaky. I talked to my psych about the symptoms, she said it was probably the Abilify. She prescribed Lexapro and told me to stop the Abilify.
    I tried cutting back on Abilify about 4 months ago. I only take a minute dose, 2.5. So, my psych said it would be easy to quit. Uh, NO. I had the worst anxiety of my life. I was scared to leave my house. Anything would set me off, it was like living in a nightmare.
    I went back on the Abilify, and all of the anxiety stopped. I was feeling so much better. Still chewing my tongue and grinding my teeth constantly, but I felt like “myself” again. That’s when my psych said that I needed to get off the Abilify and added the Lexapro. It’s been about 10 days without Abilify, (I slowly stopped, as well as slowly added the Lexapro) and the anxiety is creeping back in. I don’t know if I can do it, live with the anxiety.
    I’m having surgery on the 18th of September, for a tumor on my spine. I’m nervous and anxious about the surgery, and I’m thinking I’ll stay on the Abilify until after the surgery. I don’t think I can stand the extra burden!
    Any advice out there? How long do you think the anxiety will last? Should I just do it? Oh my I don’t know what to do, but I know I wish I’d never been prescribed Abilify in the first place.

    • Tom
      The Netherlands
      Reply

      I have been on Abilify and similar medication for 3 years and 7 months. After tapering down for 1 year and a half I quit the lowest 2.5 mg dose on November 4, 2013. My psychiatrist also told me that this time the dose was so low so I didn’t need to worry about any side effects. Then the anxiety and hyper-nervousness started. I felt like I had to do some major presentation for thousands of people all day long. This lasted until the end of January. After that all side effects were gone. And I felt like I was born again.

      When I read about Abilify I mostly read about physical side effects and as other people have stated they are indeed horrible like; uncontrolled movements, walking out of balance, tickling of my nipples all day long, restlessness, severe fatigue beyond compare, etc. But for me, the worst side effects were the mental side effects; very severe depressions, inner restlessness, nightmares, and all kinds of emotions that hardly can be described, like not being able to have real contact with others, like living in a fish bowl, loneliness, being unable to be alone, and a continuing urge for salvation that off course would never arrive being on this nasty drug. I have suffered a severe episode of psychosis and if this will ever happen again I’d rather sit through it than ever take Abilify or Invega or Risperdal again.

  12. SP
    Reply

    I have stopped taking Abilify cold turkey for 2 weeks now after 10 months due to gaining 50 pounds. It was a great combo with my Celexa, however, I just could not bear the depression of my weight gain on top of my depression. The dizziness, the mood swings & the headaches are a bit much right now, but the psychological damage that this weight gain has caused is more depressing than I’ve ever felt.
    To go from a size 8 to a size 16 in less than a year is sickening. Especially when I was used to living my life as a size 3. I’m embarrassed to go outdoors and nobody understands how I feel looking this way. The cravings & the appetite I have now are simply ridiculous. I have no energy or “umph” to work out either. I am done with this drug. Find something else people. There has to be better than looking & feeling like a cow.

  13. JeffG
    Reply

    I have been prescribed Abilify for about 4 years. I am pretty sure I will have to stay on it for the rest of my life now. I have MDD and it’s the only drug that makes me feel normal. I have gone through several SSRI’s and other antidepressants and none of them work as well as Abilify. The problem I have with Abilify is the withdrawal symptoms after 2 weeks or longer. My depression gets worse than it was prior to starting the Abilify. I have severe agitation and other mood related issues. There is also several unpleasant side effects. That’s why I cease usage sometimes. Other than that, it’s a good medication. I would highly recommend taking it as a last resort after all others have failed.

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