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Abilify Side Effects

Common Abilify (aripiprazole) side effects include nausea, vomiting, headache, insomnia and weight gain. Serious Abilify side effects include tardive dyskinesia and neuroleptic malignant syndrome. Stopping Abilify may cause withdrawal. Abilify withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, panic attacks and sweating.

Last Modified: September 5, 2023
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Common Abilify Side Effects

Common side effects of Abilify include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, anxiety, insomnia, constipation, movement disorders and restlessness. The most common side effect is headaches.

Abilify, also known as aripiprazole, is an atypical antipsychotic medication that doctors prescribe for major depressive disorder, bipolar I disorder and schizophrenia, and to manage irritability from autism spectrum disorder or Tourette’s syndrome in children.

Other common side effects of Abilify include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Drooling
  • Drops in blood pressure when standing up
  • Constipation
  • Choking or trouble swallowing

Sleepiness is a common Abilify side effect for children ages 6 to 18. Other side effects for children include headache, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, movement disorders, increased appetite and weight gain.

If the drug does not reduce psychiatric symptoms, consider asking your doctor to switch you to a different antipsychotic medication.

Serious Side Effects of Abilify

Abilify can cause serious side effects, many of which can be dangerous to long-term physical and mental health. These include seizures, involuntary muscle movements and neuroleptic malignant syndrome. The drug is also associated with harmful metabolic changes, including weight gain, increased cholesterol, low white blood cell counts, insulin resistance and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Abilify can cause new and worsening suicidal thoughts and impulse control disorders. People experiencing impulse control while taking Abilify might engage in behaviors such as compulsive gambling, hypersexuality, compulsive shopping and spontaneous wandering. Recent reports suggest Abilify might also cause obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors.

Black Box Warning for Elderly Dementia Patients

Abilify’s drug label includes a black box warning stating that elderly people with dementia who take the drug are at an increased risk of death. In clinical trials, elderly people with dementia taking atypical antipsychotics such as Abilify were 1.7 times more likely to die than those in the control group.

Clinical data does not spell out the reason for this increased mortality risk, but suggests the problem is caused by multiple factors. Elderly people who take antipsychotics such as Abilify are more likely to suffer strokes, which are often fatal within this population. They may also be more vulnerable to cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and serious infections such as pneumonia.

Doctors normally prescribe Abilify for elderly patients with dementia when there is a serious risk the person will harm themselves or others. In some cases, the risks are necessary to prevent greater harm. If you or a loved one with dementia have a prescription for Abilify, take it exactly as directed by your doctor.

Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome

Neuroleptic malignant syndrome is a rare, life-threatening reaction to antipsychotic drugs such as Abilify. It is a potential side effect of almost all antipsychotic drugs.

Characteristics of NMS include fever, altered mental status, muscle rigidity and instability of the autonomic nervous system. This system controls unconscious functions such as breathing, heart rate, digestion, urination and sexual arousal.

Tardive Dyskinesia (Uncontrolled Body Movements)

Tardive dyskinesia, another serious side effect of Abilify, is characterized by involuntary muscle movements throughout the body, but mostly in the lower face.

TD is most common among people who take Abilify for months or years, but it can manifest as soon as six weeks after beginning the drug. TD can go away after you stop taking Abilify, but sometimes it becomes a permanent condition.

Abilify and Weight Gain

Studies also link Abilify to weight gain, particularly in children. A 2022 review in Australasian Psychiatry examined 11 studies and found that young people (mean age 18) gained an average of 2.7 kg (6 pounds) while on aripiprazole. Youths who took the drug for longer periods (more than 12 weeks) gained more weight than those who took it for shorter periods. Dosage sizes had no impact on weight gain.

Abilify sometimes causes weight gain in adults. This happens less often than it does in children, and the total weight gain is usually less significant. Studies suggest that aripiprazole is less likely to cause weight gain in adults than most other antipsychotics in use today.

Abilify Withdrawal

Because Abilify affects how your brain works, stopping the drug all at once may lead to withdrawal symptoms. This is more likely when you quit the drug after long-term use or if you are used to taking high doses of the medication.

Abilify withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Appetite changes
  • Concentration problems
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Panic attacks
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

Experts recommend tapering off Abilify if you want to stop taking it. Always consult your doctor for correct dosages when weaning yourself off of the drug.

Impulse Control Issues from Abilify

In 2014, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that dopamine receptor agonist drugs such as Abilify were associated with new and worsening impulse control disorders. This research led to a new warning on the drug’s label, mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This warning cautions that the drug may cause serious impulse control problems such as problem gambling, compulsive shopping and binge eating.

A 2022 review of impulse control disorder reports uploaded to the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System since December 2020 confirms that this association is still ongoing. About 94% of the impulse control disorder reports examined during the study involved people taking aripiprazole.

Many people who feel their lives were irreparably altered from gambling or uncontrolled impulse spending after taking the drug filed Abilify lawsuits to seek compensation.

Impulse control problems related to Abilify often go away when you stop taking the drug or reduce your dose. If you struggle with impulse control, talk to your doctor about reducing the dose or switching medications. Don’t lower your dosage or stop taking your medication without informing your doctor.

Compulsive Gambling

Problem gambling is the most common impulse control-related side effect of Abilify. The medication may be more likely to cause gambling problems than other related drugs with similar impulse control effects. A 2021 study of Swedish health records found that people taking Abilify were significantly more likely to develop problem gambling behaviors than people taking other dopamine agonists.

Most of those who develop gambling issues while taking Abilify have no prior history of problem gambling. Contact your doctor immediately if you have the urge to gamble more frequently than usual.

Sexual Side Effects of Abilify

Hypersexuality is another manifestation of Abilify’s effects on impulse control. This includes having unprotected sex, compulsive masturbation, having sex with multiple partners, or having sex outside of a committed relationship. Some people engage in sexting or share explicit images of themselves.

FDA data shows that 34% of people affected by antipsychotic-related impulse control disorders display uncharacteristic hypersexual thoughts or behaviors. Like Abilify’s other impulse control side effects, hypersexual behavior usually stops when you stop taking the drug or lower your dose.

Suicidal Thoughts

People who take Abilify have an increased risk of developing suicidal thoughts and behaviors. For those who already experience these issues, Abilify may worsen them. The drugmaker now notes this side effect in the black box warning on the drug’s label.

Monitor yourself for new or worsening suicidal thoughts while taking Abilify. Contact your doctor immediately if you notice them. Don’t stop taking your medication without your doctor’s knowledge.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.