Abilify Side Effects
Some commonly reported side effects of taking Abilify may fade within a short time. However, if these reactions linger or worsen, they need immediate medical attention. Always seek medical guidance to deal with these adverse reactions, especially if lingering or intense. The below lists of Abilify side effects are not complete lists, and unless indicated otherwise are from the drug manufacturer’s official site,24 and the FDA label information.7
Some commonly reported side effects include:
- Impaired driving, increased accident rates.23
- Low blood pressure, fainting
- Low white blood cell count
- Heatstroke, overheating especially after exercise
- Increased cholesterol, weight gain
- High blood sugar symptoms, such as thirst, hunger, confusion, nausea, fruity breath
- Dry mouth
- Lightheaded feeling
- Restlessness, need to keep moving
- Sleepiness, fatigue
- Nausea, vomiting
- Cold-like symptoms like runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, etc.
- Stomach pain
- Sore throat
- Anxiety, fear
- Weight gain
- Blurred vision
- For any of the above seek medical attention, especially if lingering or severe.
Severe Abilify Side Effects
Side effects that are more severe may be less common, but consumers and their caregivers should be aware that they may require medical intervention immediately should they occur. Abilify was given at least 3 black box warnings. One was a warning about the increased risk of death for elderly patients with dementia due to the risk of stroke or other cardio events leading to fatality. Another black box warning was given for suicidal thoughts and behavior, in the under 25 age range, and another warning for causing compulsive behaviors such as pathological gambling, binge eating, compulsive shopping, and hypersexuality.21
Additional severe Abilify side effects include:
- Thoughts of suicide, and suicidal behavior, notably in the under 25 age range.
- Aspiration (swallowing the tongue or other objects obstructing the airway)
- 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 or 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, incontinence
- Lip-smacking, puffing of the cheek muscles
- Extreme tiredness
- Sudden loss of consciousness
- Akathisia, akathisia combined with suicidality
- Other involuntary muscle movements, repetitive movement disorders
- Tardive dyskinesia (very rare) usually irreversible 25
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 such as movement disorders should be given medical attention without delay if they manifest.1,25
Abilify is known to cause compulsive behaviors such as hypersexuality, change of sexual orientation, and pathological gambling, among others. In a case study authored by Mete et al, the patient’s compulsive behaviors ceased within 2 weeks of discontinuing Abilify and he soon after returned to a heterosexual state, and the hypersexuality ceased as did the compulsion to gamble.22
Aside from these compulsive behavior syndromes, no studies were found after an exhaustive search that demonstrates Abilify addiction or drug-seeking behavior or that show that drug cravings have been observed, documented, or studied in the available medical literature.
Does Abilify Increase Dopamine?
According to a 2015 NIMH study4 aripiprazole may bind to certain receptors in the brain, and trigger a number of responses that modulate dopamine in various ways, sometimes increasing or even decreasing the transmission of dopamine (and perhaps other neurochemicals) along certain pathways. This “adaptive” mechanism of dopamine modulation relates in particular to the mechanism of aripiprazole and not necessarily to other antipsychotic medications.
One theory relating to schizophrenia is that overactivity of the brain’s “mesolimbic pathway” may contribute to symptoms of schizophrenia such as delusions and hallucinations. Therefore, a suggested corollary seems likely, that decreasing mesolimbic pathway activity (such as suggested by ongoing pharmacology research) can reduce symptomology associated with schizophrenia.3
A 2005 study on mouse brain activity 5 showed that aripiprazole increased dopamine and did not increase other neurotransmitters such as serotonin or norepinephrine. Although more research is greatly needed, the aforementioned 2015 study gives a more expanded and optimistic view of managing and treating schizophrenia.
Research on Dopamine, Abilify Withdrawal, and Bipolar
In genetic studies we have performed clinically at Alternative to Meds Center, we have seen an association between the COMT (catecholamine methyltransferase) genetic polymorphism and certain conditions involving psychosis, mania, and features of high and low moods as described by the term bipolar.
A potential theory to explain this correlation could be due to the way that the biological pathways for catecholamines function. Catecholamines include dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline, each of which performs an excitatory response to the limbic system, also known as the emotional brain.
Dopamine is associated with the perception of reward. A person with a low sense of reward may be attracted to stimulants, and a person with an overly high sense of reward may present as manic.
The enzyme COMT can degrade dopamine and other neurotransmitters. However, COMT impairment inhibits its ability to break down dopamine. Where genetic testing shows the presence of COMT genetic polymorphism, it would stand to reason that the person could be suffering from a dopamine excess. Thus, genetic testing can provide valuable information that can assist in helping someone normalize or regulate neurotransmitter function as part of Abilify withdrawal.
The methionine variant results in a more sluggish COMT enzyme, which may leave dopamine around the prefrontal cortex for a longer period of time.6
More research studies are encouraged on this particular point, particularly considering that the aforementioned study is referring to the breakdown of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex as opposed to the striatum structures such as the caudate, putamen, and mesocorticolimbic regions.
Abilify is believed to have the capacity to deflect dopamine from the D2 receptor, and therefore, reduce manic symptoms. Unfortunately, most drugs have limitations due to the adaptations of the body. The body, perceiving a dopamine deficiency can then make more receptors for dopamine. This usually makes an antipsychotic withdrawal the most challenging of all drug classes, including the difficulties of withdrawal from heroin and benzodiazepines.
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 1990s and released in the US in 2002. Some side effects of aripiprazole led to the FDA placing a black box warning that restricted prescribing it to 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. The below list is taken from the drug manufacturer’s official site.24
Abilify is prescribed for these conditions:
- Schizophrenia (impaired perceptions of reality vs unreality, paranoia, difficulty in relating to others, delusions, hallucinations, 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 a significant demand or presence as a street drug, with the exception in possible cases of diversion, a potential outcome that is shared by all pharmaceutical products in general. For natural alternatives to Abilify please visit our Abilify Alternatives page.