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When do you stop taking antipsychotics?

Antipsychotic medications are commonly prescribed for conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses. While these drugs can be very effective in managing symptoms, a common question is how long someone needs to stay on antipsychotics. There is no single answer that applies to everyone, so it’s important to work closely with your doctor to determine the right timeframe for you.

How long do people usually take antipsychotics?

For many people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, antipsychotics are taken for long periods of time, often years or even decades. This long-term treatment helps manage symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse. Some guidelines recommend continuing antipsychotics for at least 1-2 years after a first psychotic episode before considering tapering off medication.

In other cases, like when antipsychotics are used for short-term treatment of conditions like bipolar mania or psychosis, the medications may only be taken for a few weeks or months until the acute symptoms subside.

Condition Typical duration of antipsychotic treatment
Schizophrenia Years or decades (long-term)
Bipolar disorder Months to years, depending on response
Major depressive disorder with psychotic features 4-6 months
Schizoaffective disorder Years (long-term)

The decision of how long to continue taking an antipsychotic medication is an individual one that the patient and psychiatrist make together based on each person’s unique situation.

When is it appropriate to stop taking antipsychotics?

Stopping antipsychotics should always be done carefully under a doctor’s supervision. Abruptly stopping these medications can lead to withdrawal effects or a worsening of symptoms. However, there are some cases when discontinuing or reducing antipsychotics may be appropriate:

  • After 1-2 years of treatment for a first psychotic episode if symptoms are well-controlled.
  • When side effects outweigh the benefits of the medication.
  • During pregnancy or breastfeeding (under guidance of a doctor).
  • In older adults due to increased sensitivity and side effect risks.
  • When the condition has completely resolved, such as with short-term treatment of acute psychosis.

Even in these scenarios, most doctors will recommend a very gradual tapering off process over a period of weeks or months to minimize risks.

Factors to consider when discontinuing antipsychotics

The decision to stop taking antipsychotics should take many factors into account:

  • Severity of the underlying condition – People with severe illnesses like schizophrenia often require medication long-term.
  • History of relapse – Frequent relapses after stopping medication in the past indicates long-term treatment may be needed.
  • Duration of stability – After 1-2 years of stable remission, discontinuation may be considered.
  • Environmental stress – High-stress situations are not optimal times for tapering medication.
  • Support system – Having family/social support through the process improves success.
  • Willingness to restart treatment – The person must be willing to go back on antipsychotics if symptoms recur.
  • Risk factors – Substance abuse, poor adherence, and lack of insight increase risk of problems.

Discussing all these factors thoroughly with your psychiatrist is crucial before attempting to stop an antipsychotic medication.

How to taper antipsychotics safely

Stopping antipsychotics should always be done through a gradual tapering process under medical supervision. This is the safest approach to avoid withdrawal symptoms and minimize risk of relapse. Some general guidelines for tapering include:

  • Go slowly – Reduce the dose by about 10-25% every 1-2 weeks.
  • Listen to your body – Go even slower if withdrawal symptoms emerge.
  • Pause if needed – If symptoms worsen, pause the taper until stable.
  • Communicate regularly – Report any concerns or new symptoms to your doctor.
  • Allow months – It often takes 3 months or longer to safely taper off antipsychotics.
  • Consider alternatives – Adding mood stabilizers or anti-anxiety medication can ease the process.
  • Prepare a plan – Having an agreed-upon plan for restarting treatment if needed provides reassurance.

With this gradual approach, many people are able to successfully transition off antipsychotic medication, either because their condition has stabilized or side effects have become too problematic. However, patients should always be aware of potential risks and prepare a contingency plan in case issues arise.

Risks and side effects when stopping antipsychotics

While tapering antipsychotics is sometimes appropriate under medical guidance, there are also risks associated with suddenly stopping or too rapidly decreasing medication dosage. Potential side effects include:

  • Withdrawal symptoms – Agitation, nausea, dizziness, flu-like symptoms.
  • Rebound psychosis – Worsening of delusions, hallucinations, disordered thinking.
  • Mood swings – Anxiety, irritability, suicidal thoughts.
  • Insomnia and nightmares.
  • Tardive dyskinesia – Involuntary movements that can emerge or worsen.
  • Relapse – Recurrence of acute psychotic or manic symptoms.

To minimize these risks, work closely with your doctor on a gradual tapering schedule and avoid stopping medication abruptly whenever possible. Tell your doctor right away about any new or concerning symptoms that emerge during the process.

How to handle relapse or recurring symptoms

Some people experience the return of symptoms like psychosis, delusions, or mania when antipsychotics are stopped. This is known as relapse. Warning signs of impending relapse include:

  • Increased stress
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Depressed or anxious mood
  • Irrational or disorganized thinking
  • Decline in self-care
  • Strange beliefs or behaviors
  • Hearing or seeing things that others cannot

At the first signs of relapse, restart antipsychotics immediately and notify your doctor. In many cases, quickly restarting medication can prevent full-blown recurrence of symptoms. Patients and family members should have an emergency plan in place for getting back on medication if warning signs emerge.

Some other steps that can help manage relapse include:

  • Talk therapy to manage stress and reinforce medication adherence
  • Resuming the previously effective antipsychotic medication
  • Adding an antidepressant or mood stabilizer
  • Avoiding drug and alcohol use which may trigger psychosis
  • Utilizing support systems like peer groups and counseling
  • Practicing self-care and stress management skills


Deciding when to stop taking antipsychotic medication requires carefully evaluating many individual factors under the guidance of your psychiatrist. While some patients require lifelong treatment, for others tapering off medication may be considered after a period of sustained remission. To minimize risks, work closely with your doctor on a gradual tapering schedule of 10-25% reduction every few weeks. Be alert for any signs of relapse and have an emergency plan to restart medication if needed. With close medical supervision, many people can successfully transition off antipsychotics, but only when the time is right for their situation.