If there were one magic pill to cure bipolar disorder, everyone with the disorder would already be taking it; however, no such pill exists, so we must depend on other bipolar disorder medications to at least alleviate the most common symptoms of the disorder.

The three most common types of bipolar disorder medications are mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and antipsychotics, although other medications may be prescribed by your doctor or psychiatrist to help with such symptoms of the disorder as insomnia or anxiety.

The exact nature of how all these medications work may not exactly be known; however, what we do know is that they act upon the neurotransmitters in the brain – the chemicals involved in the functioning of nerve cells.  As you probably know, bipolar disorder is referred to as a "chemical imbalance of the brain," and these medications work to balance those chemicals.

Mood stabilizers work to both provide relief from acute bipolar manic and depressive episodes, and to prevent them from happening in the first place.  The advantage of taking mood stabilizers is that they do not worsen your bipolar mania or depression, nor lead to more episodes.

Antidepressants, when used in the treatment of bipolar disorder, must be used with a mood stabilizer; otherwise, they can cause you to go into a manic episode.  When used correctly, however, they can control the symptoms of depression in bipolar disorder.

Antipsychotic medications are used to control the psychotic symptoms – such as delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't there) that sometimes happen during a severe manic or depressive bipolar episode.


Antipsychotics can also be used in between bipolar episodes to help you as well, even if no psychotic symptoms are present.  They may be used as sedatives, for example, or for insomnia, anxiety, and agitation.


Researchers also believe that the newer (atypical) antipsychotics have mood stabilization properties and can, therefore, help control the mania and depression of bipolar disorder.  Therefore, they are often used in combination with a mood stabilizer to improve symptoms in people with the disorder, whether they have ever shown psychotic symptoms or not.  They can also be used alone if you cannot tolerate or do not respond to mood stabilizers.

Although Electroconvulsive Therapy (shock treatments) is also considered a mood stabilizing treatment, it is more of a short-term, acute intervention for people with bipolar disorder.