Avante Health: Understanding the Side-effects of Common Psychiatric Medications

Avante Health LogoMany people are afraid to take medications to treat their psychiatric conditions. In the past, the side-effects of medications used to treat mental illnesses were extremely unpleasant. But over the past 25 years there have been tremendous advances in the development of medications to treat mental disorders, and the side-effects of the medications used today are fewer and significantly more tolerable than the medications previously prescribed.

Avante Health, our Behavioral Health vendor, offers the following information to help you better understand the common side-effects of medications routinely prescribed to treat psychiatric conditions.

Antidepressant Medications

Most commonly prescribed medications for depression are the Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin-Norepinepherine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs). Common medications include Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, Celexa, Cymbalta, Pristiq, and Effexor. These medications have similar side-effect profiles, with the most common side-effects being increased perspiration, nausea, change in appetite, less formed bowel movements, insomnia, and changes in sexual functioning and desire. In children and young adults (up to age 25 years old), these medications may cause or worsen suicidal thinking and thus should be closely monitored during the initial phase of treatment. Most of the side-effects from this group of medications are very temporary and often improve or completely resolve within a few weeks. The different medications vary in how often they cause different side-effects, and sometimes an individual may need to try a few different medications to find the one which is effective and has the least side-effects.

Mood Stabilizers

Lithium was the most commonly prescribed mood stabilizer for many years, but has many side-effects. These side-effects can include tremors, weight gain, diarrhea, metallic taste, skin rashes, and several others.

Most psychiatrists today prefer to use newer mood stabilizers because they are better tolerated than Lithium. Two of the most commonly used mood stabilizers are Depakote and Lamictal. Depakote may cause increased appetite and weight gain. It may also cause sedation. At high doses some people may be unsteady when walking. Some people also may experience thinning of their hair. Lamictal’s dosage must be slowly increased to an effective level to avoid a serious allergic reaction called Steven’s-Johnson Syndrome. However, the side-effects of Lamictal are generally minimal. These may include nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, loss of appetite and weight loss, and a rash. These side-effects generally resolve over time.


There are generally two classes of antipsychotic medications. The older class of medications include medications such as Haldol, Prolixin, Navane, Loxitane, Thorazine, and Mellaril. These medications cause side-effects of sedation, tremors, muscle stiffness, dry mouth, and blunted emotional expression. More serious side-effects include the possibility of involuntary movements (which may be permanent) and a loss of ability to regulate the body’s temperature which can lead to very high fevers. These agents are used much less commonly today.

The newer class of antipsychotic medications are known as Atypical Antipsychotics. Examples include Zyprexa, Seroquel, Risperdal, Geodon, Abilify, Saphris, and Latuda. While they are better tolerated, these medications are associated with the potential for increased appetite, weight gain, elevated blood sugars and development of diabetes, and raising the blood cholesterol level. Some of these medications also may be sedating and cause tremors. Although some people may develop involuntary movements with long-term usage, this is less common than with the older class of antipsychotic medications. These medicines also can cause a lack of ability to regulate body temperature, although this is a rare side-effect.


These medications are used to treat anxiety, but are primarily intended for short-term use due to the possibility of developing tolerance to the therapeutic effect and subsequently development of dependence. The common side-effect to these medications include sedation, slowed reflexes, and short-term memory problems. Medications in this group include: Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium.


These medications are used to treat Attention Deficit Disorders, or may be used to treat severe depression. The most common side-effects of this group of medications include loss of appetite, weight loss, insomnia, motor tics (involuntary movements), and increased heart rate and blood pressure. These medications have the potential for abuse and development of dependence. Common medications used include: Concerta, Ritalin, Dexedrine, Adderall, Vyvanse, Focalin, and Daytrana.

There are very effective medications to treat psychiatric illnesses available. It is important to keep in mind that ALL medications have possible side-effects, but usually these are temporary and will improve. Physicians are aware of these side-effects and will closely monitor for the more serious side-effects. It is important to discuss any problems which develop while taking these medications with your doctor and to ask about possible side-effects of any medication(s) you are being prescribed.

Being informed will improve the medical care you are provided and result in the best treatment available.

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