Expert consensus emphasizes the need for better recognition and accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Current research on lithium, divalproex, and lamotrigine provides new insight into the effective management of this illness. Advances in identifying the mechanism of action of mood stabilization has focused on signaling pathways within the cell that are associated with neurotrophic effects. Clinical research has led to confirmatory evidence of the efficacy of lithium in all phases of bipolar disorder, with the greatest effects seen in the treatment and prevention of mania. Compared to divalproex, lithium also has been found to have greater efficacy in the prevention of suicide. Lamotrigine has emerged as a first line treatment for bipolar depression, which is an area of weakness for other mood stabilizers. Oral loading of divalproex leads to rapid stabilization of mania without imposing a greater adverse effect burden than conventional dosing. Because no agent is universally effective in all phases of the illness, combination therapy with two or more agents often is the best option.