Using Abilify for Treatment of Bipolar Disorder

Female depressed patient sitting on the bed in a hospital ward

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Abilify, known by the generic name aripiprazole, is an atypical antipsychotic medication that is approved to treat a number of disorders, including bipolar disorder. It's specifically used to treat manic and mixed episodes in bipolar disorder, either alone or in combination with other anti-manic medications.

Let's gain some insight into Abilify, like what health conditions it's used to treat, side effects, and two black box warnings. This way you feel informed if prescribed this medication.

What Is Abilify Used to Treat?

Abilify is FDA approved to treat the following health conditions:

  • Schizophrenia in people age 13 or older
  • Bipolar I disorder in people age 10 years or older
  • Major depressive disorder in adults—used in combination with another antidepressant when a person does not respond to that single antidepressant
  • Agitation associated with schizophrenia or bipolar mania
  • Agitation associated with autism disorder in children ages six to 17
  • Tourette syndrome in children and adolescents, age six and older

Common Side Effects

In adults, common side effects include nausea, constipation, headache, dizziness, akathisia, anxiety, fatigue, blurred vision, and insomnia.

Side effects in children are similar, with the addition of nose congestion, drooling, and an increased appetite.

Potential Serious Side Effects

  • Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome: A potentially fatal complication of taking antipsychotic medications characterized by a number of symptoms like high fever, rigid muscles, and rapid swings in blood pressure
  • Increase in blood sugar
  • Change in cholesterol levels
  • Weight Gain
  • Tardive Dyskinesia: A disorder that causes uncontrolled facial and other movements
  • Orthostatic hypotension: Feeling lightheaded when moving from a ​lying or sitting position to a standing position too quickly, due to a drop in blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty Swallowing

Helpful Tips When Taking Abilify

  • Never stop taking Abilify or change its dosage without first consulting with your healthcare provider
  • Be sure to notify your doctor of all your medications, as your dose of Abilify may need to be changed based on this information. 
  • Do not drink alcohol while you are taking Abilify.
  • Avoid overheating and dehydration while on Abilify
  • Abilify may also pass into breast milk, so be sure to discuss your therapy plan if breastfeeding or planning on breastfeeding.

Abilify was previously listed as a Pregnancy Category C drug, meaning that animal studies suggest Abilify may cause birth defects. The FDA recently amended their pregnancy labeling for prescription drugs so the categories are being phased out. The current system requires prescription labeling to summarize risk in order to allow healthcare providers to make prescribing decisions and to advise women about the use of the drug during pregnancy. Speak to your doctor right away if you are planning on getting pregnant or are pregnant.

Two Black Box Warnings on Abilify

  • Increased Mortality in Elderly Patients With Dementia-Related Psychosis: Abilify is not approved by the FDA to treat people with dementia-related psychosis, although it is sometimes used for this purpose. Treating elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis with an antipsychotic medication puts them at a somewhat increased risk of death.
  • Suicidality and Antidepressant Drugs: Although no technically an antidepressant, Abilify carries the standard warning that antidepressants increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in children, adolescents, and young adults.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
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  1. Brown R, Taylor MJ, & Geddes J. Aripiprazole alone or in combination for acute mania. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Dec 17;12:CD005000. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005000.pub2

  2. FDA . Medication Guide: Abilify

  3. FDA. Pregnancy and lactation labeling (drugs) final rule. Updated March 2, 2020.