Lithium Carbonate is a naturally occurring, mood-stabilizing, anti-manic compound that is the most widespread treatment for bipolar disorder. It has been used since the 1870s to treat a variety of illnesses, including depression, gout, neutropenia, and cluster headache prophylaxis. It was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1949 because of its toxic side effects, but the ban was lifted in 1970.
Common brand names include:
- Eskalith CR
Lithium And Addiction?
Despite its potential as an emotional stabilizer and reluctance to be prescribed in the United States, lithium is not addictive, except that anything can become psychologically addictive.
One of the major symptoms of addiction is that when a person stops taking the drug, he/she begins to experience tiredness, sweating, anxiety, pain, and most importantly, the desire to take the drug again increases. In case of long-term addiction or drugs, all a person wants is to have a lot of drugs.
Lithium causes no such cravings or symptoms. Although lithium is necessary for life, as insulin is, it is not an addiction. For example, if people with diabetes stop taking insulin, they will experience symptoms, but this does not mean that they are addicted.
The common side effects of lithium include:
- Mild thirst
- Mild nausea
- Loss of appetite
- Thinning of the hair
- Muscle weakness
- Weight gain
- Poor concentration
Some of the more serious side effects include:
- Hallucinations or seizures
- Hand tremors
- Extreme thirst
- More or less frequent urination
- Pain or discoloration in the fingers or toes
- Eye pain or vision problems
- Impaired memory
- Kidney failure
- Decreased thyroid function
While lithium is the most commonly used and widely accepted treatment regimen, there are numerous alternatives available. They mainly fall under two different categories of medications: antiepileptics (or anticonvulsants) and antipsychotics. Before deciding whether to change medications, it is very important to talk about side effects with a health care specialist.
- Olanzapine: This drug was found to be as effective in the treatment of bipolar disorder in a 2005 study reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The side effects include weight gain, constipation, sleepiness, and dry mouth.
- Quetiapine: The side effects of this drug are weight gain, constipation, sleepiness, and dry mouth.
- Aripiprazole: The side effects of this include restlessness, tremors, anxiety, weight gain, and dry mouth.
- Asenapine: This drug’s side effects include sedation, weight gain, dizziness, and insomnia.
- Lamotigrine: This drug’s side effects include gastrointestinal upset, insomnia, and rash. It also has a rare but potentially fatal side effect of Steven-Johnson Syndrome.
- Divalproex: This drug is less effective in the treatment of a bipolar disorder, and the side effects include weight gain, sleepiness, gastrointestinal upset, hair loss, and tremors.
- Oxcarbazepine and Carbemazepine: These drugs are structurally similar, while oxcarbazepine has less intense side effects, including gastrointestinal upset, dizziness, and sleepiness.
Therapeutic levels of lithium are only slightly lower than levels that are considered to be toxic. It is ideal for individuals who are using lithium carbonate to have regular blood testing done.
Symptoms of Overdose
- Loss of appetite
- Slurred speech
- Hyperactive deep tendon reflexes
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Unmasking of Brugada Syndrome
- Blackout spells
- Nausea or vomiting
- Poor coordination
- Muscle weakness
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears
Lithium poisoning is a potentially life-threatening event and should be attended to immediately by a healthcare professional.