Mood Stabilizers

Mood Stabilizers

Treatment Options - Mood Stabilizers

Mood stabilizers are a category of medication used in the treatment of mood disorders, most often bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is when a patient has mood instability. 

A bipolar patient may experience long periods of depression, but they also have periods of mania or hypomania, which can be roughly described as the extreme opposite of depression. In other words, mania is when someone’s mood and energy are too high rather than too low. 

Similar to antidepressant medication, mood stabilizers are used to balance neurochemicals in the brain. Instead of just treating or preventing bipolar depression, mood stabilizers can also treat and prevent bipolar mania. 

One mood stabilizer may also improve unipolar depression when used in combination with other medications for depression. 

How do mood stabilizers work?

In the case of patients with mania, mood stabilizers help restore neurochemical balance by moderating brain activity. Mood stabilizers reduce abnormal brain activity and act to calm various parts of the brain. 

This medication is used to extend the duration between episodes of mania or depression and help maintain a more level mood. The type of mood stabilizer prescribed can depend on what type of disorder is being treated - mania or depression - and the patient’s tolerance for possible side effects.

Medications that are commonly classified as mood stabilizers include Lithium, Valproic Acid/Divalproex Sodium, carbamazepine, and lamotrigine. 


Lithium carbonate, or simply lithium, is one of the oldest and most consistently used mood stabilizers. While it is primarily used to treat bipolar disorders, lithium can also be effective in alleviating unipolar depressive symptoms in combination with other medications. 

Sometimes, lithium is added to an antidepressant medication regimen for major depression when antidepressants alone are not effective. Lithium has also been shown to reduce the risk of suicide, which makes lithium unique among the treatments for depression.

Valproic Acid/Divalproex Sodium, Carbamazepine, and Lamotrigine

These medications stabilize the electrical activity of the brain by stabilizing the neurons in the brain. For this reason, they are used to treat seizure disorders in addition to mood disorders.

Are mood stabilizers an effective treatment option?

For most people with bipolar disorder, depression is the most frequent symptom. Because of this, bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as unipolar depression (like Major Depressive Disorder).

In some cases, bipolar patients may be more aware of their frequent depression but may not have recognized (or are be unable to recognize) signs of mania, which stems from bipolar disorder. In these situations, they may be treated for unipolar depression instead of bipolar depression. 

Some treatments for unipolar depression can make bipolar depression worse or cause bipolar mania. If you have bipolar disorder, mood stabilizers may be a more effective and safer treatment option than antidepressants. Your psychiatrist can help verify that you have the correct diagnosis so that you can receive the most effective treatment. 

Using mood stabilizers can reduce symptoms of bipolar disorder and increase your ability to pursue your interests and participate more fully in many aspects of your life. Verifying that you have the correct diagnosis is important, so if in doubt, talk to your doctor.  They may consider the inclusion of mood stabilizers in your treatment plan.

How long do mood stabilizers take to work?

Mood stabilizers can take several weeks to reach their full effect after finding the right dose. Unlike other medications, many mood stabilizers are carefully monitored through blood tests to make sure you have a safe and effective level in your body. It can take several weeks or longer to find the dose of medication that’s right for you. 

Do mood stabilizers cause any side effects?

The side effects of mood stabilizers can vary depending on the type of medication. 

The side effects of lithium can include:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Nausea
  • Weight gain 
  • Trembling of the hands
  • Tiredness and muscle weakness
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Blurred vision
  • Impaired memory
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Kidney problems

Side effects for anticonvulsant medications, such as valproic acid (also called Depakote, Divalproex or valproate), can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and blurred vision
  • Vomiting or mild cramps
  • Muscle tremor
  • Mild hair loss
  • Weight gain
  • Bruising or bleeding
  • Liver problems 
  • Changes in the menstrual cycle
  • Stevens-Johnson syndrome (a rare but extremely severe rash)

Mood Stabilizer Medication for Depression

Finding the proper treatment when you have treatment-resistant depression can be challenging. Mood stabilizers are considered to be effective in the treatment of bipolar depression, and one can be used to treat unipolar depression in combination with other medications. 

At Options MD, mood stabilizers are one of 200 treatment options our expert team will consider when putting together a custom plan for your treatment-resistant depression. 

Do you have questions?

Options MD is here to help. Text us to start treatment now. Join our Facebook community to connect with other individuals with treatment-resistant depression. 

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