How do mood stabilizers work?


Quick Answer

While the exact mechanism of action behind mood stabilizers is unknown, the ruling hypothesis is that they prevent parts of the brain from becoming overactive or work to stabilize these areas, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. The term is not officially recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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Full Answer

The purpose of mood stabilizers is to prevent manic, hypomanic or depressive episodes, especially in the case of bipolar disorder, states WebMD. Ideally, mood stabilizers prevent these episodes from interfering with work, school and social situations. They target long-term episodes that can last anywhere between a few days to weeks.

There are several different types of mood stabilizers, but the oldest and most well-known is lithium, according to the CAMH. Lithium is more effective at treating manic episodes than depressive. Dosage can vary highly between patients and may change over time. Other mood stabilizers include divalproex, prescribed primarily when patients do not respond to lithium; carbamazepine, which helps patients that become irritable or aggressive; and lamotrigine, which treats depressive episodes more. With mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, multiple mood stabilizers may be prescribed.

While the FDA does not technically classify medications as mood stabilizers, the term is used by doctors and patients to refer to any medication that treats manic and depressive episodes and does not cause them to worsen over time, reports WebMD.

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