What is Abilify (Aripiprazole) Used For?
Abilify is a third-generation atypical antipsychotic medication used in the treatment of adult schizophrenia, bipolar 1 disorder, Tourette syndrome, and in young children (age restrictions apply) presenting symptoms associated with Autistic Disorder, such as temper tantrums, mood swings and aggression. Abilify (aripiprazole) research has accumulated a significant body of data from clinical trials on various age groups and populations over the time the drug was first developed in the late 1990’s and released in the US in 2002. Some side effects of aripiprazole led to the FDA placing a black box warning that restricted prescribing the drug within certain populations or age groups. (6)
The drug is used primarily in the treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder in adults. The FDA expanded approved uses to include acute mania and mixed episodes (a combination of manic and depressive symptoms), in adults as well as in children who are at least 10 years of age. Elderly patients with signs of dementia should not take Abilify, as stated in the FDA black box warning regarding an increased risk of death in that population. (6)
Abilify was also approved in 2009 for use in children aged 6 and up with autism. Studies show a reduction in irritability, hyperactivity, inappropriate speech and aggression associated with autism, but an increase in weight gain, tremors, sleepiness and drooling. There are no long term studies to show safety over long term use of Abilify in young children.
In the treatment of acute manic/psychotic episodes, Abilify is considered a maintenance medicine, and is usually minimally prescribed for a period of 1-2 years.
Abilify is prescribed for these conditions:
- Schizophrenia (impaired perceptions of reality vs unreality, paranoia, difficulty in relating or connection to others, etc.)
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder (an emotionally distressed state characterized by intentions to self harm, fear of abandonment, intense mood swings, explosive anger, etc.)
- Tourette syndrome (characterized by vocal or muscle tics, repeating phrases, movements, etc.)
- Autism (a condition in children characterized by emotional outbursts, lack of speaking or ability to articulate, social withdrawal, etc.)
- Schizoaffective disorder (mood swings and disconnection from reality)
- MDD, or major depressive disorder (severe depression that lasts over a long period of time)
- OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder (characterized by repeatedly checking or counting objects or other compulsive motions/actions, etc.)
- Mania/ manic episodes/ psychotic episodes (delusions, extreme euphoric state, impulsive behaviors that could involve harm to self or sometimes others)
- PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder (flashbacks or re-experiencing effects from past traumatic events triggered by present environment)
- Agitated State (unpleasant state of aroused negative emotions, confusion, etc.)
Abilify (Aripiprazole) Alternative Names and Slang
Abilify is a trade name for the generic drug, aripiprazole or aripiprazole systemic. Other brand names for the drug include:
- Abilify Maintena
- Aristada Initio
Abilify has not developed any significant demand or presence as a street drug, with the exception in possible cases of diversion, a potential outcome which is shared by all pharmaceutical products in general.
Abilify (Aripiprazole) Side Effects
There are some commonly reported side effects of taking Abilify which may fade within a short time. However, if these reactions linger or worsen, they should receive immediate medical attention:
- Dry mouth
- Lightheaded feeling
- Restlessness, need to keep moving
- Cold-like symptoms like runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, etc.
- Stomach pain
- Sore throat
- Anxiety, fear
- Weight gain
- Blurred vision
- Any of the above if severe or lingering needs medical attention.
Side effects that are more severe can less commonly present, and require medical intervention immediately should they occur, including the following:
- High fever
- Blood pressure fluctuations, high or low
- Difficulty with speech or articulation
- Rolling tongue
- Sweating (profuse)
- Drooling, excess salivation
- Swelling of hands, feet, bloating in the limbs, etc.
- Tachycardia (pounding heartbeat, racing heartbeat)
- Loss of balance
- Joint pain
- Tingling or numbness in the extremities
- Inability to move
- Rash, blistering rash or ulcers that develop in mucous membranes
- Trembling muscles, jerking motions, spasms
- Muscle stiffness, rigidity
- Uncontrolled facial motions
- Twisting body or limb motions (involuntary)
- Loss of bladder control
- Lip smacking, puffing of the cheek muscles
- Extreme tiredness
- Sudden loss of consciousness
- Akathisia combined with suicidality
- Other involuntary muscle movements, repetitive
- Tardive dyskinesia (very rare) usually irreversible
Aripiprazole is a third-generation type of antipsychotic medication, thought to be better tolerated than conventional or earlier antipsychotic drugs. Nonetheless, severe or persisting side effects should be monitored carefully and given medical attention if needed, without delay. (1)
Abilify (Aripiprazole) Withdrawal Symptoms
Abilify is associated with some adverse withdrawal effects and should never be abruptly discontinued. Slowly reducing the dosage over an adequate time frame is the recommended process for coming off the drug. (2)
According to studies published by NIMH, withdrawal symptoms for Abilify can include the following:
- Feeling lightheaded
- Diaphoresis (excessive sweating involving the entire body)
- Tremors, shakiness
- Flu-like symptoms
These withdrawal symptoms may range from mild to severe, and a person may experience one or multiple concurrent symptoms during cessation or tapering Abilify.
Discontinuing/Quitting Abilify (Aripiprazole)
Discontinuing or quitting Abilify (aripiprazole) can be best done by gradually tapering off the drug, with medical oversight and guidance. Symptoms may develop to a severe and intolerable level. The preferred approach if possible would be to taper while in residential care.
Aripiprazole has a half-life of 75 hours, and the half life of its active metabolite “dehydro-dripiprazole” is 94 hours. It was at one time thought that due to the drug’s long half-life, that withdrawals would not likely emerge on abrupt cessation, but this was not always found to be the case in more recent trials and research done. Sometimes even on abrupt cessation there is a delayed onset of symptoms, which can nonetheless be quite hard to tolerate, unless proper support is in place. Therefore the medical recommendation is to taper gradually from antipsychotic medications. (2)