Antipsychotic medications are a common way of treating schizophrenia. They work by targeting neurotransmitters. A doctor may inject these medications or a person may take them orally.

Antipsychotic medications are first-line treatments for schizophrenia, a chronic mental health condition. The two classes of medications to treat the condition are first-generation and second-generation antipsychotics.

Continue reading to learn more about the types of schizophrenia injectables, how they work, and how to take them. This article will also cover the benefits, risks, and some alternative treatments.

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Long-acting injectables (LAIs) are antipsychotic medications that work to treat schizophrenia. They may reduce psychosis, which may include positive symptoms, which appear following the onset of the condition. Positive symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thoughts.

The injections usually last 2–12 weeks. The medications are available by prescription from a doctor.

Antipsychotic injections for schizophrenia target neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate, which may alleviate psychosis symptoms. After the injection, the medication slowly releases into the bloodstream for 2–12 weeks.

When a person first starts taking LAIs, they may also take oral medication since it can take several weeks or months for antipsychotics to take effect. During this time, the individual needs to stay in contact with their doctor.

Schizophrenia LAIs fall into two classes: first-generation (typical) antipsychotics and second-generation (atypical) psychotics.

First-generation antipsychotics

Health experts first developed first-generation antipsychotic medications to treat positive symptoms of schizophrenia. The medications block dopamine D2 receptors.

However, they may lead to:

  • severe, temporary movement disorders, or dystonia
  • long-term movement disorders, or tardive dyskinesia
  • muscle stiffness
  • elevated prolactin, a hormone that may affect fertility and other body functions

First-generation LAI antipsychotics include:

  • haloperidol (Haldol)
  • fluphenazine (Prolixin)
  • chlorpromazine (Thorazine)

Second-generation antipsychotics

Experts developed second-generation antipsychotics to be more effective in blocking serotonin 5-HT2A receptors. In addition to treating positive symptoms of schizophrenia, they may also treat negative symptoms such as social withdrawal, difficulty speaking, and reduced emotional expression.

Second-generation antipsychotics may reduce side effects or make them less severe, including movement disorders. However, they may make people more likely to gain weight and develop diabetes or heart disease. To reduce these side effects, individuals must follow a nutritious diet and take part in regular exercise.

Second-generation LAI antipsychotics include:

  • olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • risperidone (Risperdal)
  • aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • paliperidone (Invega)
  • aripiprazole lauroxil (Aristada)

A healthcare professional will inject the medication into the person’s muscle, usually in the shoulder, arm, or buttocks. They will also determine the appropriate dosage and timeline. Usually, they will start with a low dose and slowly increase it over time. Typically, an individual receives an injection once every 2–12 weeks.

People must follow the directions that their doctor outlines and keep in regular contact, so they can monitor their progress. They must not miss doses or stop taking the medication, even if they start to feel better.

There are several benefits of using LAIs to treat schizophrenia. Many people find injections are more convenient than daily medications, especially if they find it challenging to remember to take them. Compared to oral antipsychotics, LAIs may help reduce hospitalization, increase treatment adherence, and decrease the chance of relapse.

Injections help ensure the medication level remains stable, which may assist in reducing side effects. Additionally, the doctor can be certain that the person took the medication.

Regular injection appointments also give people the chance to see their doctor in person, ask questions, and discuss any other important information.

Antipsychotic injections for schizophrenia have potential risks and side effects, which may decrease over time.

Risks and side effects include:

  • weight gain
  • neurological symptoms
  • movement disorders
  • pain at the injection site
  • dry mouth
  • restlessness
  • drowsiness

If a person wants to learn more about LAIs, they can discuss with their doctor to find out if they are a viable candidate for the treatment. They can discuss the symptoms they wish to manage, possible side effects, and the potential benefits. They can also find out if the process will require blood work and what type of payment or insurance plan they can use.

A person must check in with their doctor often. They can speak with them about changes or improvements to their symptoms and daily life.

However, an individual must avoid abruptly stopping their medications, which can be dangerous and may worsen symptoms. They should consult their doctor before making any changes to their dosage or schedule.

In addition to antipsychotic injections, many people use psychotherapy and self-management techniques to ease symptoms.

Psychotherapy options include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This type of therapy helps people learn how to manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in response to symptoms that are resistant to treatment, including psychosis.
  • Cognitive enhancement therapy: This treatment combines computer-based cognitive training and group therapy sessions. The aim is to enhance brain function and build confidence in a person’s cognitive ability.
  • Supportive therapy: This treatment focuses on the present moment and allows an individual to cope with their situation and life with schizophrenia effectively.

Schizophrenia is a lifelong mental health condition with no cure. However, people can use LAIs to treat and manage symptoms.

LAIs may be suitable for individuals who find it challenging to stick to a treatment plan or do not wish to take a daily medication.

A person must check in regularly with their doctor and stick to their treatment plan, meaning they need to continue taking antipsychotic medications even if they show improvement.

People should contact a doctor to discuss LAIs and other forms of treatment for schizophrenia.