For anyone with bipolar disorder, medications are a factor in everyday life. Medication, along with therapy, is often an indispensable part of treatment. This is no different for teenagers; however, for teens the battle to find the right meds is often much harder. To compound the issues with this search, the teenager has to try to live a normal life. Granted, at times, a “normal life” is something all teens dream of, but feel they can never achieve. However, the goal in treatment is to make reaching a normal life more possible and feasible.
Often drugs used to treat teenagers are not approved by the FDA for use in people under the age of 18. This means the medication has not been tested in clinical trials for effectiveness or to develop side-effect profiles for those in this age group. However, this does not restrict physicians from prescribing these medications. Therefore, it is important to watch for any side effects that develop, and report them to your physician even if they are not listed on the side-effect profile sheet.
One major side effect that many adolescents (and even adults) with bipolar disorder report is a manic response. This manic response is frequently seen in teens who take stimulants or antidepressants. The same applies to depression and antidepressants. Parents need to be aware, if they suspect their child has bipolar disorder, a stimulant (i.e. Adderall, Ritalin) or an antidepressant (i.e. Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil etc.), may cause increased manic behavior.
Finding the right medication combination is another story. Some doctors will put a teenager on a medication based on family response, if that information is available. But often there is some trial and error in finding the regimen that will target the teen's symptoms and be reasonably tolerated. It is not uncommon that combinations of medications will be used to try and find the optimal balance.
At times, there will be period in which a kid might have to wait as the dose is being increased and then held at a certain point to determine if the medication is effective. For some prescription drugs, it is outright clear the med is not effective. In other cases, the medication will work for awhile but ultimately become less effective. There will often need to be ongoing monitoring, adjustments and possible trials of new medications along the course of trying to manage this chronic illness.
Also, many times, teens feel frustrated that they have to take meds. Just because you are 15, 16, 17 and require 2, 3, 4 medications a day doesn’t make you a strange person. Sure, your friends might not be on numerous medications every day, but your friends also aren’t battling a mind-altering, lifelong, brain disorder either. There are thousands of other teens who go though the same thing with medications as you do every day.
Dealing with all these medication changes and the hormones of adolescence is like fighting a war on two fronts. The best thing you can do is to remember that it does get better, and a successful medication combination can be achieved. If you are still searching for a medication combination, you will find one. The full effects of medications may take some weeks or even months to become clear. Just be patient and hold out, you’ll make it. There is hope and with all the advances in science, all teenagers will find some combination in treatment if you give it time.
Finally, always remember that as you get older, and for the older teens who read this, drugs and alcohol do not mix with your meds. You will hear it over and over again, and you will get pressured in school, but losing your stability is not worth getting high or drunk with your friends. Getting involved with drugs and alcohol will screw up months of work that was spent getting you on a stable combination, and it can send you back to square one.