How Schizophrenia Works

By: Jane McGrath

Schizophrenia Treatment

Medications called antipsychotics are available for people with schizophrenia. Unfortunately these are not always entirely effective, and most schizophrenics live with at least some symptoms. As many as 14 percent of those schizophrenics who take antipsychotics show no significant improvement [source: Javitt].

Antipsychotic drugs affect the amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, in your brain by blocking dopamine receptors. When their effectiveness in fighting schizophrenia was first discovered in the 1950s, scientists came to the conclusion that an improper balance of dopamine in the brain led to schizophrenia. However, with the 1980s came the development of new atypical antipsychotics that inhibited dopamine receptors less and that of other neurotransmitters more. When these proved effective in fighting more symptoms and causing fewer side effects, it prompted a reexamination of other neurotransmitters' role in schizophrenia. Although older versions of antipsychotics are only effective in fighting positive symptoms of the disorder, atypical antipsychotics treat negative symptoms as well. Finding the appropriate medicine and dosage for each patient can be a difficult process, as side effects vary depending on the individual.


Some of the possible side effects with antipsychotic medications are weight gain, restlessness, stiff muscles, drowsiness and muscle spasms. Although lowering the dosage or finding a different antipsychotic may help get rid of these symptoms, many people stop taking the medication because of the side effects.

In addition to medications, other treatments for schizophrenia can help, such as community support activities and psychotherapy. Community support activities can include training schizophrenic people in particular skills to help them become contributing members of society. Psychotherapy can add structure and confidence to the patient's life, increasing their ability to perform daily activities and chores on their own. Group therapy and family therapy have been shown to help as well [source: Grohol].

Despite falling out of favor in the mid-20th century, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) (also known as shock therapy) is still practiced for such disorders as schizophrenia and severe depression. About 100,000 Americans receive ECT every year [source: Mayo Clinic]. Though the process has changed dramatically since its first inception in the 1930s, it remains controversial. In ECT, electric currents sent to your brain cause seizures and change chemical activity. Though no one is sure how exactly it works, after recurring treatments, it may improve schizophrenic symptoms.

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