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Understanding antipsychotic drugs

Certain symptoms, such as hearing sounds that others don’t hear or having unusual or disturbing thoughts, can be very scary for individuals at any age. For those who are teens or young adults, these symptoms are often the earliest signs of psychosis. At Northwell Health’s Early Treatment Program, antipsychotic medications are prescribed to target specific symptoms of psychosis; this helps young patients to recover and to go on to achieve their hopes and dreams.

There are many effective antipsychotic drugs available today. Most target the dopamine receptor in the brain to block dopamine—a neurotransmitter considered to be partially responsible for the psychotic experiences some individuals experience. While these medications are effective, there are potential side effects; that's why patients prescribed these medications through the Early Treatment Program are very closely monitored. Our goal is to treat symptoms with minimum side effects.

Some patients and their families have concerns over the side effects of antipsychotic medications and wonder what the potential risks are if they are not taken. It is recommended that patients follow through with the medication prescribed to them but, with that said, each individual must make their own decision and do what’s best for them. Some choose not to go on medication right away, and some never go on medication at all.

Those who decide to take prescribed medication for psychosis may need to continue treatment for an extended length of time. The recommended course of medication is at least six months in order to ensure symptoms are under control. However, some patients need a shorter duration of time for psychosis treatment, while others may require medication for life. It takes some time to determine the perfect dose of medication required or the length of treatment necessary to overcome symptoms of psychosis.

At the Early Treatment Program, we are always here to help you manage symptoms of psychosis and to support you in being the strong and resilient person that you are. Reach out to us any time if you are experiencing a change in symptoms.

Michael Birnbaum, MD

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