"What You Should Know About the Untold Side Effects of Antipsychotic Medication"

Antipsychotic medication is the first line of treatment for disorders such as schizophrenia, severe depression, bipolar disorder as well as ADHD, OCD, Post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders.

They are prescribed based on the false story of chemical imbalances in the brain.

The reason it is called a story is because science does not agree with the chemical imbalance hypothesis.

The drugs actually cause a chemical imbalance in the brain.

 Renowned Harvard-trained psychiatrist Peter Breggin MD states,

“All drugs that impact on the brain and mind ‘‘work’’ by partially disabling the brain and mind. No psychoactive substance corrects biochemical imbalances or any other real and presumed defects, deficits or disorders of the brain and mind, and none improve the function of the brain or mind. The so-called therapeutic effect is always a disability.”

All medications come with the risk of adverse effects. Some of these side effects are recognized as minor and some are very severe.

Common reactions to antipsychotics are nausea, vomiting, constipation, headache, dizziness, akathisia, anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, strokes in elderly people, high blood sugar and diabetes, weight gain and more.

One of the most severe reactions is a debilitating, humiliating condition known as Tardive Dyskinesia (TD).

Tardive Dyskinesia is a neurological symptom that is characterized by involuntary muscle movements usually in tongue, mouth, lips, trunk, hands, fingers and toes.

Patients who suffer from Tardive Dyskinesia experience painful muscle spasms, grimacing, lick-smacking, fist-clenching, the tongue darting in and out, thrusting and having fly-catching movements, lateral jaw movements and gyrations of the pelvis.  

TD can affect the muscles associated with speaking, breathing and swallowing.

Click here to see examples of Tardive Dyskinesia

The rate of incidence of Tardive Dyskinesia from antipsychotic medications varies, depending on the duration of use, cumulative dose and age of the patients.

It can start to occur in as little as a few months.

The longer the use the higher the rate.

A meta-analysis of 21 studies conducted in the 1980’s estimated there were 193,000 cases of neuroleptic-induced TD. (11)

Another study noted approximately 24% of patients treated with antipsychotic medicine developed Tardive Dyskinesia and the same study suggested that the annual incidence was over 30% in patients over 45 years of age (10)

A cross-sectional study of 227 patients who had exposure to neuroleptics of at least five years, 20% developed TD. (9)

A Japanese study of 647 patients with a mean age of 49.8 years estimated the risk of persistent TD after five years to be 32%. After 15 years, 57% and after 25 years, 68%. (8) 

In another study 57% of two hundred thirty-eight patients on antipsychotic meds had developed TD. (7)   

A study of 209 Danish patients, found 68% were impaired. 28.4% had tardive dyskinesia, 56.2% had parkinsonism (Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms), 4.6% had akathisia (restlessness and an uncontrollable need to move, such as swaying, pacing or rocking), and 5.7% had tardive dystonia (involuntary painful cramping and spasms). (6)

A preview of 56 Studies involving 34,555 subjects on neuroleptics revealed a prevalence rate of 20%. (12)  

In 1980 the American Psychiatric Association (APA), proponents of drugs-first treatment, sent a letter to its members about their concern about the risk of TD and to caution the use of antipsychotics.

They acknowledged the risk of TD to be 10% to 40%.

They also stated their concern about the “apparent increase in litigation of Tardive Dyskinesia.” (quotations inserted by me). (15)

Can Tardive Dyskinesia Be Halted or Reversed?

While some cases of TD are resolved with discontinuation of medications, many are irreversible and untreatable.

In a study of 29 cases of Tardive Dyskinesia, of 12 patients that continued with medication, dyskinesia appeared in 2 after the dose had been reduced.

Of the 17 patients discontinued the treatment – 11 proved irreversible after being observed for a period of 4 to 22 months. (13)

Another study found that 2 years after patients discontinued use of their antipsychotic drug 33% experienced remission of TD.  That means that 67% still had the condition. (12)

Of 67 people with TD, 42 patients were withdrawn from the drugs and only 5 went into remission. (5)

Emory University conducted a study of 108 patients and reversal was found only in 13% of the patients. (4)

A Cochrane Review of 13 Randomized Control Trials with 711 participants who were either given a different drug or a lower dose of their drug or ceased taking the drug concluded that these approaches did not provide any convincing evidence and that more trials and a longer duration are needed.  (3)

I’m sure we could all agree these results are not what these poor souls signed up for.

 Other Alternatives to Drugs

Most people are initially prescribed antipsychotic drugs to numb their feelings of distress but sadly end up on a maintenance dose indefinitely.

There are choices other than harmful antipsychotics.

The numbing of feelings is also achieved with sedatives or benzodiazepines which have less damaging side effects than neuroleptics.

Dr. Peter Breggin does not believe in the use of drugs, does not hospitalize his patients unless they want to be and has never lost a patient to suicide.

The ongoing treatment approach Dr. Breggin uses is what he calls Empathic Therapy.  He describes this as an empathic approach that allows a therapist to use the healing power of professional therapy relationships.

Here is what he says about Empathic Therapy…

“Blunting ourselves with drugs is not the answer to overwhelming emotions. Intense emotions should be welcomed. Emotions are the vital signs of life. We need and should want them to be strong. We also need our brains and minds to be functioning at their best, free of toxic drugs. That allows us to use our intelligence and understanding to the fullest. Thinking clearly is one of the hallmarks of taking charge of oneself instead of caving in to helplessness.”

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a therapy where the therapist and the patient to work together to change harmful thought processes that the patient experiences.

To assess schizophrenia, clinicians use a rating system known as PANSS (Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS), The higher a patient’s PANSS score is, the more symptoms of schizophrenia that the patient is experiencing.

Researchers found that the mean PANSS scores for those who received CBT was consistently lower than scores for the group that received antipsychotics. (2)

Open Dialogue is an approach to psychosis where skilled therapy teams meet people in their own homes where they work with the person’s family and social and support network in open dialogue meetings.

In a 5-year follow-up 86 percent of people with first episode psychosis had returned to work and only 29 percent were taking medications. (1)

There are many more psychiatrists who use therapies with minimal use of drugs and psychotherapy.

A statement in a special report by an FDA Task Force as far back as 1973 suggested…

“Minimizing the unnecessary use of neuroleptic medication (especially at high doses) in long-term patients. Many chronic patients can be satisfactorily maintained for long periods without antipsychotic drugs.” (14)

It seems fairly clear, there is hope and other alternatives for those who suffer from negative mental emotions instead of a lifetime sentence to the traumatic effects of antipsychotic medications.


  1. JAAKKO SEIKKULA, JUKKA AALTONEN, BIRGITTU ALAKARE, KAUKO HAARAKANGAS, JYRKI KERA¨NEN, & KLAUS LEHTINEN. Five-year experience of first-episode nonaffective psychosis in open-dialogue approach: Treatment principles, follow-up outcomes and two case studies.
  2. Cognitive Therapy for People with Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders Not Taking Antipsychotic Drugs: a Single-blind Randomised Controlled Trial. Morrison, A. et al. Feb, 2014, The Lancet.
  3. Hanna Bergman, John Rathbone, VivekAgarwal, Karla Soares-Weiser. Antipsychotic reduction and/or cessation and antipsychotics as specific treatments for tardive dyskinesia.
  4. Deepti Zutshi, Leslie J. Cloud, Stewart A. Factor. Tardive Syndromes are Rarely Reversible after Discontinuing Dopamine Receptor Blocking Agents: Experience from a University-based Movement Disorder Clinic.
  5. KangUJ, Burke RE, Fahn S. Natural history and treatment of tardive dyskinesia.
  6. Bakker PR, de Groot IW, van Os J, Van Harten PN. Long-stay psychiatric patients: a prospective study revealing persistent antipsychotic-induced movement disorder.
  7. Oyewumi LK, Lapierre YD, Gray R, Batth S, Gelfand R. Abnormal involuntary movements in patients on long-acting neuroleptics.
  8. Koshino Y, Madokoro S, Ito T, Horie T, Mukai M, Isaki K. A study of tardive dyskinesia in psychiatric inpatients in Japan.
  9. GO CL, Rosales RL, Caraos RJ, Fernandez HH. The current prevalence and factors associated with tardive dyskinesia among Filipino schizophrenic patients.
  10. Jeste DV, Caligiuri MP. Tardive dyskinesia.
  11. Hal Morgenstern, PHD, William Glaer, MD, Donna Niedzwiecki, PHD and Parivash Nourjah, MSPH. The Impact of Neuroleptic Medication on Tardive Dyskinesia: A Meta-Analysis of Published Studies.
  12. Olga Waln, Joseph Jankovic. An Update of Tardive Dyskinesia: From Phenomenology to Treatment.
  13. L. Uhrbrand, A. Faurbye. Reversible and Irreversible Dyskinesia Treatment With Perphenazine, Chlorpromaine, Reserpine and Electroconvulsive Therapy.
  14. 1973, FDA Task Force. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/490868.
  15. American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/.../Psychiatrists/...force.../tfr1979_TardiveDyskinesia.pdf. [Online]



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