Are mood stabilizers "habit-forming"?
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Are mood stabilizers "habit forming"?

Q: I have a friend who is bipolar and I was wondering about the medication she is on. I wanted to know if it is habit forming? The medications are Depakote,Lamictal,Seroquel.

Dear Brenda --
Lots of people worry about this.  So let's define two different versions of "habit forming".  Usually what people mean by this are medications (or alcohol, for example) that can cause "withdrawal symptoms" if you stop them.  Valium and its many cousins (Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Librium) are well known examples of this.  Further, these medications tend to lose their "oomph" in a few weeks and a person must take a higher dose to get the original effect.  The result there is "dose escalation" -- higher and higher doses over time.  This is another part of "addiction" to a medication.  So, as you might imagine, doctors get pretty worried about using those medications (some pain medications are like this too). 

By contrast, consider the medications your friend is taking.  If she stops these, she could have her symptoms come back fast, but they would be her old symptoms, not her old symptoms plus withdrawal symptoms (e.g shakes, anxiety, blood pressure increases).  And once a person is getting good symptom control with medications like hers, we don't usually have to increase the dose just to keep that benefit -- most people, once stable, can keep the same dose for months.  Those that have to later increase their medications we think are those whose illness is getting worse over time. 

So, the short answer is -- no!

Dr. Phelps

Published December, 2000

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