Lithium in the treatment of aggression

J Nerv Ment Dis. 1975 Feb;160(2-1):108-18. doi: 10.1097/00005053-197502000-00005.


Lithium has become a widely accepted treatment for manic-depressive psychosis. It is dramatically effective for many cases of mania and is useful in the prevention of manic and depressive episodes. Hyperaggressiveness and hypersexuality are frequent components of manic-depressive illness and abate under the influence of lithium. A brief review is presented of the behavioral and biochemical pharmacology of lithium. This documents the inhibitory role which lithium can play in several examples of animal aggressive behavior including pain-elicited aggression, mouse killing in rats, isolation-induced aggression in mice, p-chlorophenylalanine-induced aggression in rats, and hypothalamically induced aggression in cats. The use of lithium to control human aggressive behavior has resulted in controversial findings. In epileptic conditions, improvement has been reported in interseizure aggressivity, but other reports indicate the possibility of increased seizures. Improvement in aggressive behavior in childhood has occasionally been reported as well as in emotionally unstable character disorders in young female patients. Te was a single blind study and the other a large but uncontrolled study. Both studies reported an improvement in aggressiveness as indicated by fewer recorded reports (tickets) for fighting. The final study reported is a study of 12 male delinquents age 16 to 23. They received lithium or placebo for 4 months inside an institution and then a trial of lithium for 1 to 12 months on an outpatient basis. Analysis of results in terms of the number of aggressive antisocial acts showed fewer serious aggressive episodes when the lithium level was between 0.6 and 1 meq/liter than when it was between 0.0 and 0.6 meq/liter. These results must be viewed with caution and are only suggestive since the study was not double blind.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aggression / drug effects*
  • Animals
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / drug therapy
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / complications
  • Cats
  • Child Behavior Disorders / drug therapy
  • Cricetinae
  • Epilepsy / complications
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Humans
  • Hyperkinesis / drug therapy
  • Hypothalamus / drug effects
  • Lithium / adverse effects
  • Lithium / pharmacology
  • Lithium / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Personality Disorders / drug therapy
  • Rats
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder / drug therapy
  • Schizophrenia / complications
  • Serotonin / biosynthesis


  • Serotonin
  • Lithium