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Antipsychotic Alternatives

Antipsychotic Alternatives

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Last Updated on January 14, 2021 by Carol Gillette

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Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Written by Lyle Murphy
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Antipsychotics may have been a necessary intervention during a crisis, but there are antipsychotic alternatives that may provide a substantial number of persons other options besides being on prescription medications for life. In many cases of psychosis, Alternative to Meds Center has found that there are combinations of diet, drug use, and even genetic variabilities that were likely involved in events leading up to the crisis. When those, and other lifestyle factors are addressed, we have often found that people can reduce or eliminate reliance on antipsychotic or mood-stabilizing medications.
Does Your Diagnosis Require Antipsychotics?

successful antipsychotic alternatives
Alternative to Meds has been the world expert on antipsychotic withdrawal for over 15 years. We invite you to review our published evidence regarding the documented success of our treatment programs. The issues underlying psychosis, as well as mania and even sleep disorders, can often be addressed without resorting to toxic drugs or other harmful treatments. We have found that in many cases, medical conditions may have been mistaken as mental health issues, or that the original factors contributing to the crisis have changed, or maybe that they were misdiagnosed when, for example, drug-use contributed to the situation.

Predispositions for Antipsychotic Use

At Alternative to Meds Center, we provide antipsychotic alternatives within a comprehensive treatment plan uniquely designed for each client.

There are a few things we see that create a predisposition for antipsychotic use:

    • Previous use (and abuse) of ADHD medications 7
    • Use of recreational stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines 8
    • Long-term use of other medications such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines that have stopped working 9
    • Possibly there may be a relationship with the COMT genetic polymorphism 10,11
    • Reactive hypoglycemia 12,13
    • Cannabis use, including dabs or other concentrated products, and the inability to break down the fat-soluble cannabinoids.14,15,16

It may be possible to adjust any such precursory elements to the advantage of the patient’s well-being and result in a much more manageable life … potentially without the use of antipsychotics. Abusing ADHD medications and using recreational stimulants, for example, could be contributors to a manic break — especially if the person is not sleeping, or has a poor diet. The COMT genetic polymorphism along with other biomarkers may create an inability to metabolize dopamine effectively. 10,11 Blood sugar instability alone can cause psychosis. 12,13 And for those on antidepressants and benzodiazepines that are graduating to antipsychotics 9 — have they changed their lifestyle choices, eating habits, 17 or unpoisoned themselves from neurotoxins? 18 These potential contributors to symptoms are all areas of interest that can be explored and adjusted.

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Talk Therapy as an Alternative to Antipsychotics

Doctors prescribe antipsychotics such as Depakote, Risperdal, Abilify, and Zyprexa to people with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, mania, and other psychoses. These drugs have many side effects that are unwelcome. 22 Some antipsychotic side effects make mental conditions worse and sometimes the drug itself makes mental health worse. Prescribing these medications to children puts them at risk, as one of the common side effects that can occur especially in the first month or two of treatment with these drugs is suicidal thoughts or behavior.

open dialogueIn stark contrast to the above, over a period of 10-20 weeks, patients have achieved major progress from just talk therapies alone, as an effective, natural alternative to antipsychotic drugs. Positive results were found to be sustained in assessments at 6-month and 1-year follow-ups. 1

There is the fascinating work of Open Dialogue, which began in Tornio, Finland. Open dialogue is a social network approach to acute psychiatric episodes. This psychosocial intervention has two aspects:  (1) an integrated treatment system that brings in stakeholders from the individual’s families and social networks, and (2) a unique type format for creating dialogues within-group psychiatric meetings. The open dialogue model has been shown to reduce symptoms of psychosis, resulting in fewer and more brief hospitalizations, reductions in antipsychotic use, gains in life functioning, and higher employment rates. 27

Counseling and Talk Therapy Antipsychotic Alternatives Include:

talk therapyTalk therapy provides one of the most effective backbones of effective antipsychotic alternatives treatment, such as:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy CBT 1,19
  • Open Dialogue Therapy 20
  • EMDR (For psychosis with PSTD features) 21
  • Prolonged Exposure therapy 21

CBT and Exposure Therapy as Antipsychotic Alternatives

antipsychotic natural alternativesAntipsychotic alternatives in a specialized treatment plan will usually contain more than just one treatment. Treatment plans can combine several or many different therapies. Through talk therapy of various kinds, patients can honestly express themselves, face their fears, better understand their illness, and begin to identify triggers and learn how to prevent and control them. For instance, cognitive-behavioral therapy helps patients to undo negative or unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, as well as rationalize fears and anxieties, balance mood swings, and continuously and gradually work towards a more complete internal peace.

Exposure therapy 3 allows patients to gradually begin to face their fears, anxieties, phobias, and triggers within a safe, familiar, and controlled environment. The opportunity to experience exposure therapy naturally results in more comfortable encounters for these patients when dealing with their fears in the outside world.

These examples of talk therapy make effective and available alternatives to antipsychotic drugs. When these therapies are used in conjunction with other healing, stabilizing therapies and treatments, effectiveness rates are even higher. 2

Holistic Antipsychotic Alternatives

Holistic antipsychotic alternatives are often overlooked but are valuable treatments to consider. The Alternative to Meds Center provides these alternative treatments along with dietary changes, nutritional therapy, and other lifestyle changes.

Alternative to Meds Center provides holistic antipsychotic alternative treatments that are effective without the liability of antipsychotic side-effects. 22 In terms of schizophrenia, there are certainly some people who do better without antipsychotic medicating, and then there are others that seem to have a better quality of life as a result of being medicated. 23 Particular consideration should be given to those who have had a first-episode psychotic break. They tend to fare much better with a deeper inquiry into drug use, dietary factors, and possible remission without ongoing medication. 25 An older (1975) long-term study set the rate of remission of schizophrenia as high as 29%. 24 So why does Alternative to Meds Center claim 75% long-term success after cessation of antipsychotic use? It is likely that unmedicated people who did worse in published studies were most often not given a good diet or the other supporting mechanisms used at Alternative to Meds Center. Also, the Alternative to Meds Center does choose who we feel is a good candidate for our program, which likely drives the success rate higher. There is little to no research available outside of our own externally validated studies that delve into what happens when someone reduced their antipsychotics AND follows a holistic lifestyle.

Orthomolecular Treatments of Dr. Abram Hoffer

high dose vitamin cIn a 1951 double-blind pilot study with 30 schizophrenics, Dr. Abram Hoffer MD, a Canadian psychiatrist, found that out of the 10 patients receiving nicotinic acid (a niacin type) seven of them had remained well during the one-year study. Another 10 patients were taking nicotinamide (another type of niacin) and “seven or eight had remained well,” while out of ten placebo patients, only three had remained well. That means approximately “75% of the patients receiving vitamins [niacin] had remained well, whereas only one-third of the patients receiving placebo had remained well.” 48 Dr. Hoffer then did a ten-year-long double-blind study using niacin and high dose vitamin C. Hoffer claimed a 75% cure rate meaning that subjects endured a 5 year-long period of not having hospital readmission. Hoffer’s work laid the paving stones for what would later be termed orthomolecular medicine. 26 Alternative to Meds Center uses these orthomolecular treatments, and others, in the treatment plan for our patients and have attributed much of our success to these principles.

Natural Alternatives to Antipsychotic Medications

Many people are actively seeking to overcome the side effects of antipsychotic medications that pose dangerous risks to health. 22 Antipsychotic medicines have proven to be ineffective in many cases, and many individuals just don’t want to be medicated. 4

Natural Alternatives to Antipsychotic Medication Include:

  • Clean diet, keto-based, organic where possible, gluten-free. 6
  • Minimize the use of MSG and other Glutamate containing foods. 31
  • Adopt a hypoglycemic diet that maintains blood sugar levels. 12,13
  • Eliminate caffeine. 35
  • Tryptophan. 32
  • Test for and cleanse the body of toxic accumulations. 36,38
  • Testing for nutritional deficiencies. 17
  • Exercise, especially cardio, or yoga, walking. 37
  • Lithium Orotate and Taurine. 29
  • High dose Niacin and Vitamin C. 26
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Eicosapentaenoic acid. 34

Pacheco et al. in their 1965 study, as described by Dr. Erik Messamore found that the severity of psychiatric symptoms significantly decreased when patients switched to a keto-based diet. They also found similar results when gluten was eliminated from the diet, and those symptoms returned when they went back on a high-carb diet or when gluten consumption was re-introduced. 6 Glutamate, an amino acid present in MSG may cause excitability that can escalate a psychotic disorder. 31 Tryptophan, another amino acid, may be lacking in those with schizophrenic presentations. 32 A Danish study demonstrated better outcomes for schizophrenic patients as a result of residing in a country where high-fat consumption is common, particularly omega-3 fatty acids. 33 Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which is one of the components of omega-3 fish oils, has been used to treat schizophrenia. 34 Lithium orotate when delivered 4 to 5 times a week, showed a reduction of manic and depressive symptoms in bipolar patients. 29

As a growing body of research demonstrates, certain children and adults may be able to overcome many mental disorders without drugs. Many holistic practitioners would rather try alternatives to psychiatric treatments before prescribing drugs. Unfortunately, there is usually a crisis involved in a manic or psychotic event, and the first prescriber in those situations is typically a psychiatrist. People are usually first prescribed medication, and then after enduring the unwanted side-effects, they seek Depakote alternatives, Risperdal alternatives, Abilify alternatives, Zyprexa alternatives, or other antipsychotic drug replacement plans. The addition of antipsychotic medications inherently creates a scope of practice challenge for many alternative providers because most holistic practitioners, like naturopaths, cannot legally alter antipsychotic medications. And, it may be difficult for the holistic practitioner to then align with a prescriber as the philosophies and treatment styles may differ too widely for there to be a good continuity of care. The Alternative to Meds Center has both psychiatrists and holistic practitioners including naturopaths to form a well-balanced integrative team.

Reducing Toxic Burden May Help

Old, built-up toxins can be gently but effectively detoxed (removed) providing many benefits within an antipsychotic alternative help plan. Purging the toxic residues that antipsychotic or other drugs left behind also contributes to a better state of health. Lead, tetrachloroethylene in dry cleaning, endocrine disruptors like BPA, phthalates, and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) have been identified as possible contributors to schizophrenic presentations. 38

Do Antipsychotics Help or Hurt?

Doctors usually prescribe psychiatric medication after the person has gone through a psychotic episode, or after other medications have not worked. These drugs may seem to work during the onset of symptoms. But for many, they are often not well tolerated due to side-effects, especially after prolonged use. One study showed that more than 70% of schizophrenics continuously prescribed antipsychotics over a 20-year duration experienced ongoing psychotic symptoms. 39 In contrast, those not prescribed antipsychotics showed significantly less psychotic activity during the same period. 39 There are even some psychiatrists, doctors, and others who believe that the antipsychotic drugs themselves may be perpetuating the psychosis problems in certain patients. 40,41 We want to bring awareness to comments of some patients doing better without antipsychotics and not have it be construed to mean all patients. Alternative to Meds Center vets out good candidates based upon a long history of work in this area. There are certainly some that we feel are not good candidates or are not ready to engage in an antipsychotic medication reduction or elimination.

Are Mania and Psychosis a Dopamine Excess?

mania and psychosisThe answers to why an individual has experienced psychosis are specific for each person. However, our experience has revealed some common denominators of interest. For instance, one neurochemical believed to be significant in psychosis is the presence of excessive dopamine or disinhibited dopamine receptors. 42 Dopamine is an excitatory neurochemical that is involved with the perception of reward. 43 An excess of dopamine may cause internal preoccupations and external stimuli to overstimulate the person, which can result in mania. 44 It is known that certain catecholaminergic neurotoxins can affect dopamine in parkinsonian patients. 45 Similar toxins or even distinct toxins may also have an effect on dopamine levels as it relates to mania. Methyl mercury for instance has been attributed to dopamine excitotoxicity and dopamine excess. 46 For this reason, we feel that exposure to certain neurotoxins is likely to contribute in whole or in part to mania or psychosis. Also, a genetic problem may present difficulties in clearing toxins from the body. For example, an insufficient methylator may be unable to get rid of toxic heavy metals. As a defense mechanism, these are stored in the brain, nerve, and other tissues. 47

Integrating Your Antipsychotic Alternatives

Once you have found which alternative antipsychotic options work for you, stick with them every day. For some people, it may be counseling once a week, exercising several times a week, eating healthy clean foods every day, 5 drinking plenty of water, taking daily supplements or vitamins, getting enough sleep every night, and participating in healing therapies such as counseling, yoga, or massage. If these actions help, do them regularly.

At Alternative to Meds Center, our inpatient facility is welcoming and comfortable. We do lab testing to discover the potential causes of the original symptoms. The testing identifies when hormonal or medical factors exist, or when nutritive deficiencies are the culprit. We then focus on addressing these issues and reducing the body burden of toxic accumulation. We restrict sugar, processed food, and caffeine and use organic foods. Supplements are given to support the inhibitory function of healthy neurochemistry. Our program aims to use naturally occurring substances, amino acids, and orthomolecular medicine to act as precursors in building neurochemistry. Body detoxification is designed toward the removal of environmentally accumulated neurotoxins, hormone mimickers, and endocrine disruptors. The center provides safe and comfortable medication withdrawal methods, therapy with amino acids, targeted nutritional treatments, and counseling for trauma and other psychological contributors. Peer support, yoga, personal training, massage, equine therapy, and many other program services offer additional tapering and treatment options.


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This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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