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. Alison
    Reply

    My family friend had bipolar and was prescribed Abilify by a nurse practitioner (who should NOT have prescribed such a heavy side-effective drug without a psychiatrist). After she took the drug, not only did it not help with her bipolar disorder but it CAUSED evident nerve damage.

    She had trouble swallowing, breathing, walking, etc. Eventually, she was taken off the drug by a qualified doctor. However the nerve damage was done and she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Plus, an advanced form of Parkinson’s disease.

    Sadly, she died very soon after being diagnosed, as it was onset by the Abilify. PLEASE do NOT take this drug if you don’t have to, as there are other, safer options that do not cause your death.

  2. Mary
    United States
    Reply

    After taking Abilify for a few years, I got sick and ended up in the hospital was diagnosed with gall stones then when they were operating they found my gall bladder exploded and caused some of my intestines fused to vital organs and spine so they had to remove a great deal of my intestines.

    I spent 3 days in a medically induced coma and a total of 40 days recovering and learning to do bascule skills again ten 4 months at home having nurse and therapists coming to my house.

  3. Grace
    Reply

    When I was 13 I was on a low dose of Abilify as a mood stabilizer for my Borderline Personality Disorder (undiagnosed at the time) and when I went to the psych ward they upped the dose. Obviously there was the weight gain but my family is heavyset anyway so this wasn’t their biggest concern.

    I eventually got taken off of it all together due to nerve damage. Five years later, I have chronic pain syndrome and blood sugar issues that can be more or less directly traced back to the high dose. Gotta love psych wards, huh?

  4. Geneva B
    castle rock, wa
    Reply

    I had only been on Abilify for only a week and had sever issues with my speech and muscles in my face and tounge. I have not taken any for a week and am still having troubles speaking. I am hoping this is not long term.

  5. amber
    kent, uk
    Reply

    I was prescribed a low dose of quitiapine (Seroquel) to take alongside sertraline and promethazine for major depressive disorder and personality disorder with psychosis. At first i was really really glad for the rest i think i needed it and my delusions slowly stopped happening.

    However just over a year down the line i don’t think I’ve ever felt physically more unhealthy. I’ve gained over a stone in weight I have no motivation to do anything but eat and sleep all day and have constant sugar cravings that sometimes keep me awake!

    When i try to be physical not only does it exhaust me mentally but i come off feeling even more worthless for trying. I have periods of insomnia and restlessness that wont go away inbetween periods of dribbling and staring in to space all day with no idea where the hours have gone. Palpitations. A stammer when i speak, paranoia and horrible feeling like electeic shocks that run down my nerves are just some of the delights i have developed. But because my psychotic symptoms went away my partner insists that I keep taking this horrible poison or he won’t be here to watch me go mad because i didn’t take the pill.

    I don’t even feel like like my life is worth living any more and I’ve done enough research to understand now that there is no way out of this. Please don’t start this medication if you have any other option

  6. Katie
    Ca
    Reply

    My husband was prescribed Abilify as an add on to antidepressants. He took 20 it’s for 2 months in which he lost all desire for tobacco, sleeping eating and sex. He began uncontrollable Pacing and insomnia. He claimed he was going blind and had no memory. He had to take time off work because of this and within 2 weeks of not being able to function and being so restless, he hung himself in his shop and died. This was 2 years ago yesterday. I will never understand how the advertisers were allowed to use a cartoon to get people to take this stuff. We thought it would be harmless.

  7. Skylark
    Tx
    Reply

    I am a 51 year old female who was prescribed Abilify as an add-on for major depressive disorder. I took the first pill at 12:10 p.m. today. About 1 1/2 hours later, I was dizzy, weak, nauseated, mildly vomiting, had a sudden urge to defecate, and experienced hyperthermia. Again, this was after taking the first Abilify pill ever. Over 10 hours after taking the pill, I still feel sick, and if I move around too much I get nauseated and need to vomit. I will not take another pill and will let my doctor know on Monday what happened.

  8. Patricia
    Boston
    Reply

    My brother has had an ugly regimen of antipsychotic meds over the past 25 years due to a nervous breakdown–a breakdown that was actually unavoidable at the time.

    Now he is off most medications with the exception of Ariprazole. He got down from 20 mg to 2mg. But no matter how small the dosage, he absolutely cannot live without it. The withdrawal process caused him permanent tardive dyskenisia. However, the remaining 2mg is so powerful that without it he automatically becomes aggressive, sad, argumentative and inappropriate. A totally different man! What a horrible life sentence for any one.

  9. Cane
    Toronto
    Reply

    You said the beginning that you have help for the salivation, but there was nothing in the text

  10. Stacie
    NC
    Reply

    My 21yo college-student daughter was put on Abilify, after telling her family doctor that she thought she might be bi-polar. Over 8 months she put on about 60 pounds, developed symptoms of pre-diabetes, and worst of all, began having compulsive sexual liaisons and binge eating. Within 3 weeks of going off of Abilify, I am starting to recognize my daughter again. My biggest complaint? She was not monitored through rechecking her condition: just wrote a Rx and sent her on her way. We are fortunate that she is not yet diabetic, not pregnant, and not carrying an STD. I didn’t know she was on Abilify or that she was being treated for anything other than Zoloft for anxiety. I understand she is an adult and the privacy laws, but as a young adult, the doctor should have monitored her more carefully.

  11. Denise
    New York, NY
    Reply

    Not bipolar but suffered continual depression. Zoloft saved my life and I’ve been on it for years. However lately, the effect from Zoloft was not sufficient (on 200mg). Asked my psychiatrist about adding Abilify. I’m on 2.5mg Abilify and have noticed dizziness and increased appetite.

    Anyone else have these on Abilify. Anything else that helps without these side effects?

  12. Deana
    Wpg, MB
    Reply

    I experience dizziness, light-headedness, constipation, nausea due to extreme sensitivity to light. These are the only symptoms that have stayed with me.

    I suffer from schizo-affective disorder and the only reason why I have stayed on this medication is because it has dissolved my hallucinations.

    I am taking 400mg needle form every 3 weeks due to the fact that I have tactile hallucinations. I have the occasional hallucination, but overall I am in a much better place.

    When I first started taking the shot form, I experienced extreme mania, paranoia, anxiety, and mood swings. I was experiencing psychosis..but I stuck it out and my psychosis has dissipated.

    I just try to keep hydrated, and now writing this I think I will talk to my eye doctor.

  13. Debbie
    Cincinnati OH
    Reply

    I’m 65 with a life long history of depression & it got worse 4 yrs ago when I took on the care-giving responsibilities of my elderly mother. Doc added Abilify to my Cymbalta 10 months ago & it helped at first BUT I sleep almost around the clock & gained 40 pounds in 10 months & I’m still gaining!! I want to taper off but can’t stand being depressed again!

  14. Naomi Q.
    Omaha, NE
    Reply

    My seven year old nephew was on Abilify for a few months, and they finally took him off of it when he started threatening suicide at school, despite continually telling the doctor about his mood changes and his rage issues.

    Today he tried to run away from school, and they had to call the cops on him as he threatened to kill everyone there and himself. This isn’t him. Please tell me the mood changes and anger go away eventually.

  15. p
    Reply

    I haven’t been on Abilify for very long… it was added to my Effexor and Wellbutrin for extra help with my depression and lack of energy. I truly know that I’ve gone from sleeping all day long to waking up early and just being a bit more productive and striving to make things happen… my only question is I started noticing my hands shaking continually and just unsteady when I’m writing… just an overall jittery feeling

  16. Serena
    Kansas City
    Reply

    I’m 16 years old and I recently just got put back on Abilify yesterday. The first time I was on it a couple years ago I had no side effects. This time I can’t sit still and my hands are very shaky. I’m constantly squirming and fidgeting. I could not even paint my nails my hands were shaking so badly. My sister had to do it for me. We have seen this kind of side effect with another medication I used to take so we’ve decided to end this drug completely. I will not be taking anymore because it stresses me out and we know that at least for me the restlessness does not seem to go away even after taking the medication for awhile.

  17. Yaris M
    NYC
    Reply

    Hi,
    I was taking Abilify for 3 years and started getting these weird side effects;
    dizziness, mixed emotions, horrible outbursts, hair loss to the point that I have bald spots now, chest pains and also I will feel my heart beat very fast for no reason while I would be sitting down and it will feel like I was running. I stopped taking it because I have noticed the change in me and a few weeks ago when I was watching the television, and saw a commercial of a warning for abilify users and thought to myself “I knew it “. Now I’m permanently bald and I suffer from eye vision which I never did.

  18. Jane
    IL
    Reply

    My teen has been suicidal and unable to function in the world. Couldn’t go anywhere that would normally be fun for a teenager without anxiety which ended up in rage. Zoloft wasn’t helping, and there were attempts and self-harm. Abilify was added two weeks ago, and it’s saving my teen’s life. My teen has been social–going to a birthday party, trick or treating and offering even to rake the yard. Anyone with a depressed child knows how big a step that is. I have noticed an increased appetite and shaky hands sometimes. I’m scared to death of this strong medicine but it’s the first med that actually worked. Tomorrow is a blood test to check sugar levels because of shakiness. I just have to pray my child does not get sicker from the medicine. It’s the first time our family has had hope.

  19. Bm
    Reply

    Abilify is a dirty nasty drug giving you all sort of side effects including restlessness,major anxiety,depression rapid change of mood. This shitty drug costs so much and does shit but makes your symptoms worse.

  20. Laura
    Ca
    Reply

    My 13 year old daughter was given Abilify while hospitalized for suicidal ideation. She has had insomnia, restlessness, pacing, muscle spasms, and increased desire for suicide. They discount all of her concerns including claiming that she can’t sleep because the beds are uncomfortable and her eyes are closed when the counselors come in at night… i.e. she’s lying. Today I insisted they take her off, but am worried that she’s going to have complications from stopping abruptly. I really hate pharmaceuticals, but this stuff is a nightmare!

    • Frances
      California
      Reply

      I was on Abilify to add to my anti-depressant. It was increased over two years. This drug almost ruined my life. The OCD behavior included gambling like an insane person as well as drinking until I blacked out. I am 58 years old. Who starts drinking alcoholically and gambles like you a rich when you are not. My psychiatrist never told me this. He just kept increasing it. This drug should be taken off the market. Nearly ruined my life and I considered taking my life.

  21. Kayla
    Canada
    Reply

    I was diagnosed with psychosis approximately 7 years ago. When they put me on abilify it helped me immensely! All of my strange thoughts went away etc. However, after about 6 years my medication started to have the opposite effect. I started becoming very angry and irritable about anything and everything. I began to feel very depressed. Granted I had a lot also going on at the same time, however I recently started the medication again, worrying I might be getting sick again and I feel the same as I did last time, right before I decided to stop the medication. uncontrollable bouts of anger that can last days, inability to calm down, hearing voices/ thinking people have said something when they have not (yet I heard them), a weird twisting in my neck and neck muscle stiffness. Tremors. Etc. I’m going to stop this medication.

  22. marilyn e.
    United Kingdom
    Reply

    My granddaughter took aripipozole for 12mths. She gained 50lbs. She was dizzy, had headaches, depression, 2 suicide attempts. She has autism. She screams when she’s angry and they want to put her back on aripipozle even though she’s happy, not depressed. I’m saying no.

  23. Stephen
    TN
    Reply

    About 4-5 years ago..my nurse practitioner. decides to put me on abilify for schezo aff do…my was that a mistake…one morning during this upstanding…being nice…..My throat closes upon me or rather starts to close…I kept clearing my throat…calmly i sat in my chair chair while this happens…most medical professionals. will tell you to keep calm in a disturbing situation such as this….I calles my doctor and discontinued the regimen…now I see it causes compulsive gambling….whats next??? mind control???? this garbage is some scary trash!!!

  24. Michelle
    WA
    Reply

    I recently had abilify prescribed for extreme neasua and chronic migraines. She said it would stop neasuay. Everything I read says causes vomiting. I already have that now. Confussed.

  25. Shari
    Reply

    Hi I’m Shari C. I was on Abilify for a few years, 15mg a day. As soon as I started on the medication, I began bouncing my left leg and my left arm was twitching. I wasn’t told by psychiatrist to watch out for any symptoms. I read the medication side effects section that said nothing about what I was experiencing.

    I continued taking it and the twitch in arm went away but the leg bouncing never stopped. I ended up taking myself off it by skipping doses. Take one day but not the other. I was taking it once a week when I stopped. Now, I have uncontrolled muscle movement that is wasting me away to nothing.

    Also, I cannot cook or do anything which requires prolonged focus as this just makes the movement worse. I am going to a neurologist to see if something else is causing this. So far all tests are coming back normal.
    We will see soon enough if Abilify is the true culprit.

  26. Joan
    USA
    Reply

    I tapered off of Abilify about 6 months ago (10mg a day for over 2 years), and during these past 6 months I also started taking Kratom. Note: prior to Abilify I was on Lithium, Depakote, and a lower dose of Abilify. I have felt as though I am still feeling withdrawal symptoms from the Abilify, but since I tapered down to taking almost no Kratom this past week, these symptoms seemed to have worsened. I am having restless leg syndrome and restless genital syndrome, which I never even knew existed but realize now I have felt it happening occasionally in the last 6 months. Is it possible that I have been having Abilify withdrawal symptoms all this time, and am just now noticing them because the Kratom, acting like an opiate, was relieving the withdrawal symptoms? On the other hand I am wondering if it is possible I might be having some withdrawals from the Kratom, although despite the symptoms worsening upon stopping Kratom, they have not been present every day since I stopped the Kratom, which makes me think it is not a Kratom withdrawal issue. I am curious and slightly concerned about the situation, any information would be great.

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