a bottle of Abilify & aripiprazole

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. Debbie
    Australia
    Reply

    I was drugged by someone & was admitted to mental health. All I remember is passing out twice & waking up with professionals all around me. I was misdiagnosed with drug induced psychosis & was put on an involuntary order.

    I was forced to take Abilify. It is the devil’s drug!!! There is nothing worse!! For the first time in my life, I started having suicidal thoughts & suffered from severe depression. I was unstable on my feet & my memory started to fade. I was always tired & was sleeping a lot, I was sedated a lot of the time.i didn’t have the energy to exercise.

    I was on 10mg, it then got reduced to 5mg. I ended up only taking half then eventually just stopped taking it altogether when I was still on the order which forced me to take them. I was on them for 3 months & it was 3 months of hell. I never suffered from suicidal thoughts or depression before taking Abilify!!! I have been off it for 6 months now & I am still suffering from depression & I’m worried that it will never go away.

    That Abilify has altered my mind as I can’t seem to shake this depression off. I was always very happy before taking Abilify now I’m worried it’s damaged me for life :( can anybody shed some light on this? Does it take a while to get out of your system or has it damaged me for life?

  2. Dean
    New York
    Reply

    Hi I was put on Abilify in 2007 then stopped taking Abilify in 2010 since then I can’t seem to stop wiggling my toes I know that doesn’t sound like much but wiggling your toes every waking & sleeping second of your life the toes begin to hurt where pain goes up both legs

  3. valentina
    Trento
    Reply

    I am worried reading that such drugs are prescribed to children as young as 12. I do hope that children and parents had the opportunity to consider psychotherapy first.

  4. krystal
    qld
    Reply

    I’m reading this to get some clues as how to get my daughter off Abilify and Fluvoxamine. I have to admit it seems really daunting but what I do get is that she has to take it really really slowly. I don’t want her to have those symptoms. Any one heard of any vitamin therapy that could help. I heard mega doses of vitamin B3 like 7000 mg can help.

  5. dominique
    Pittsburgh,pa
    Reply

    abilify ruined my life. I am not sure what else to say. The list is too long to type. I personally stopped taking abilify on my own. I couldn’t take it anymore.

    I was on it for 4 years. I was getting worse and worse and worse. (AND I was already worse….hence why I was seeing a “medical” professional. Anyway. after 3.5-4 years I had enough. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was literally throwing up every single morning for 2 years. My depression was getting worse.

    I would tell my doctors, phycicartist, therapist, and NO ONE listened to me. NO ONE. Not my friends, not my parents, just no one. It was frustrating but I believed in myself. I knew I wasn’t crazy. I knew I would get through this but I am not sure what I did to deserve such a journey, I am not going to play a victim but I am. I am 100% am.

    I am now taking the steps of healing by going to a alternative to meds center in Arizona. I am feeling better, it is only my first day here but I can tell by just talking to the people here that I am not alone; this is the most comforting thing after feeling alone for a very very long time (in and out of relationships).

    I did manage to graduate school, and hold 3 jobs, but I look at these as distractions from what I was really going through. Thank goodness I enrolled in college when I did because it gave me a goal: to graduate. And after college I worked multiple jobs; all unfulling but some were great experiences. I am still processing everything but all I know is I am happy I am in a place that can finally get me the help I need. I wish everyone the best who is going through something similar. Don’t give up.

    Abilify was the most debilitating experiences of my life and I am only 26. I gained a lot of weight on the drug, my face is breaking out but I am starting to come back to myself and see the old me. The old me was suffocated by the oblivion of a false promise which I knew from the start that I did not want any part of. If anything, trust your instincts. Cut people out of your life that do not have your best interests in mind, and most importantly if you have a family thank them every day for not giving up on you. My family was my foundation, our relationships are extremely flawed but I am started to realized the potential of a healthy family relationship for once. xo xo -dom b.

  6. Ellie
    Brockville, Ontario, Canada
    Reply

    With all these side effects and my telling my psychiatrist about my face twitching and fatigue, also nausea, she has told me to increase the dosage. I do wonder if psychiatrists learn the dangers of certain medications while attending school for their degree, or perhaps they could just go to the internet to find out the dangers if certain drugs. I note that the face twitching does not ever go away which certainly can ruin one’s self esteem.

  7. marne
    ohio
    Reply

    My fiance”s (of 3 years) mother was put on this horrendous Abilify. She literally went insane, from functioning 65year old to having to be placed in a nursing home because of the damn drugs her idiot psychiatry NP put her on. Abilify led her to deadly akathisia.

    She didn’t gain weight on the abilify (even though it irreversibly messes up your metabolism, leading to every calorie of energy consumed or made by your body-being made into fat)–she lost weight and almost killed herself by never-ending pacing, moving, bobbing,…… Then to knock her out at night, they gave her 150mg of trazodone. They kept INCREASING the abilify.

    The NP would do telecom visits with his mom (his mom would be in the Nursing home office room, and the Nurse Practitioner would be in the comfort of her own damn kitchen!. The NP insisted! that she did NOT have AKATHISia and it was just anxiety and OCD!! This went on for an entire 6 months…..meanwhile i fought with my fiance telling him it was the MEDS!!! causing all her problems and he needed to get her off!!

    His mom was so destroyed at that point that she couldnt really comprehend anything going on around her because all she felt was the hellish akathisia. She literally couldnt ride in a car because she said she needed to jump out of it. This destroyed her husband, he had to be admitted to the hospital multiple times because of the detriment to his own health that this nightmare caused, and it destroyed my fiance and our entire relationship. There is no fix for that.

    His mom did resolve enough to go back to living at home once they took my advice that i told them from the beginning and got her to another psychiatrist and to an actual psychiatric facility where they took her off of all the meds except for benzodiazepines and then gently started her on a plain SSRI/NRI It took months though to get her back from hell (meaning, it took months for her to recover enough to function after the abilify and trazodone were finally completely stopped)

  8. Lori
    Reply

    This is lori again ,Charlie my roommate is on risperdone and some long word starting like trifenhexalin and clonzclonazepam and Selena at night this is all to counteract the ability, now the neurologist said he’s illiterate,but I know my roommate and it makes me angry that we should feel less of a person because they can’t fix this.

  9. MIchael
    NYS
    Reply

    Was given Abilify to take after being put in a hospital against my will. I was first given the liquid form of Abilify. I have since heard that this treatment was discontinued because it was deemed to dangerous. Nevertheless I started on 10 mg… and then 20 and then 30 after being in the hospital for almost a month. I was non-suicidal and not a danger to anyone. Now almost a year later I have weened myself down to 10 mg and hope to be off this medication soon.

    • Lori
      Reply

      My roommate was diagnosed no polar in 2010,we have been roommates since 2009,he went to the doctor to have a major surgery and the surgeon wanted a release from family dr and mental health dr, the mental health dr said he needed ability to help him with anxiety over surgery, immediately he said his eyes were burning and.

      Itching two weeks after taking ability, the dr said take him to eye Dr and eye Dr said he had chronic dry eye and had surgery to widen tear ducts, the eye Dr said it was drug related and i said the only medicine he’s on is ability and he said thats what he meant, anyways this happened 2 years ago, he was taken off ability but has uncontrolled eye movement and grimacing of mouth.

      We are going to a neurologist to cure this or fix it. There is so much emotional pain.

  10. Bryan
    California
    Reply

    Abilify at first worked great for depression, almost an instant relief for the first month, but after the first month, it just destroyed all joy and beauty in life, and in my personality. I’m assuming because it is such a strong drug, it obliberates depression and even my general happiness at dosages of 5 – 10 mg. It’s led me to relapse on narcotic drugs twice, at which, one point I had 18 months sober. It kills my joy in life so much that I resorted back to a drug problem that I thought I was done with. It’s also given me a mild to moderate compulsion to gamble, an issue I never had a problem with. To top it off, quitting Abilify for good has been an ordeal in itself. The first time I abruptly quit Abilify 10mg, I began rapid cycling from high to low moods, which I’ve never done before. And then the 2nd time I quit by titration, it seemed like there was a reoccurring periodic depression that would just come and hit me out of nowhere, which is a symptom I never had before taking Abilify.

    After reading some of these other posts by commenters, I see that there are much more worse cases than mine, which makes me question whether or not this drug should even be on the market or not. It’s great that it’s curing some people’s depressions, but at the same time, it’s permanently ruining the lives of others.

  11. Lori
    Washington
    Reply

    I was on 2mg abilify for 6 years when one day I ran out of it and decided to quit taking it. I didn’t feel any withdrawl symptoms for about a week and then the symptoms came on with a vengence. I developed horrible restless legs, profuse sweating, nausea, stomach pains and a creepy crawling sensation that buzzed through my body like an electric current.

    This went on for months and now its been a year since I quit. I still have that creepy crawling sensation thats toned down a bit, but it’s still there. I still have the horrible restless legs and have developed high blood pressure that causes migraine headaches. Cognitively I have a poor memory, poor judgement, and I can’t socialize and I feel like I’ve had a chemical lobotomy.

    I haven’t been to the Dr about it because it’s embarrassing to me that I did such a stupid thing. The positive things are I lost 30 lbs and I have no interest in binge shopping anymore. Anyway if you are on this medication, DO NOT QUIT COLD TURKEY….. It can really mess you up. I am hoping my withdrawl side effects will go away but I realize they might not.

  12. Kim
    Canada
    Reply

    My 13 year son is on Zoloft and Abilify, we are in the process of weaning him off of Abilify, he is on 12mg and started at 3mg when he was 10. After reading the side effects I’m really worried. He has ADHD and unspecified depressive disorder, gets very angry and has extremely low self esteem and self worth. His Abilify is being replaced with Biphetin, I hope this will help with the withdrawals.

  13. Melissa
    Houston
    Reply

    I had been taking mellaril and risperdone, and a few months later was diagnosed with epilepsy when taken to hospital in ambulance. For 3.5 years I tried every antiseizure med and did eeg studies in and out of hospital and then had ekg while eeg and the combination of meds caused ventricular tachycardia and long qt syndrome. So I wasn’t really having epilepsy. They were essentially aborted heart attacks. With long qts you can only take a few antipsychotics. The one they have me on is ABILIFY.

    Omg, I don’t think my husband, psychiatrist and cardiologist seem to get it in their heads. I would rather have a pacemaker/defib combo than take Abilify. I can’t sleep; hair falling out; insomnia; aggressive; agitated; grumpy; depressed yet anxious. I can hardly be around people without feeling like I am jumping out of my skin! It’s ruining all of my relationships. I tried latuda which was supposed to be safe but spent two weeks curled up in a ball suicidal in bed. Couldn’t even get up hardly to go to bathroom and cried constantly. So, my drs put me back on abilify. My tardive dyskinesia is getting so bad that I can’t even wear glasses, and I have bite sores in my mouth because my jaw hurts so much. I’m begging you do not take ability. It will ruin your life.

    • Damien
      Australia
      Reply

      Omg I develoed T.D from just a few weeks of Mellarill and 20 years later its no better. It ruined my life. Made me look like a retard. My neck grimaces so hard that it pulls my head down. My biceps are always in a contracted state. My legs twitch n bounce constantly. The muscles in my face that make you smile are 3/4 paralysed.. I was an aspiring Guitarist n keyboarder but cannot play either as arms twitch too much and i look like a retard.
      My doctor didnt warn me about any of this. He just put me on a huge dose of benzos to hide his mistake, which has also ruined my life, and he gets off scott free while i live through hell..

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