Patterns of psychotropic drug prescription for U.S. patients with diagnoses of bipolar disorders

Psychiatr Serv. 2007 Jan;58(1):85-91. doi: 10.1176/ps.2007.58.1.85.


Objective: Bipolar disorders are prevalent major illnesses with high rates of morbidity, comorbidity, disability, and mortality. A growing number of psychotropic drugs are used to treat bipolar disorder, often off-label and in untested, complex combinations.

Methods: To quantify utilization rates for psychotropic drug classes, this study used the 2002-2003 U.S. national MarketScan research databases to identify 7,760 persons with ICD-9 bipolar disorder subtypes. Survival analysis was used to estimate times until initial monotherapies were augmented, changed, or discontinued.

Results: The most commonly prescribed first drug class was antidepressants (50% of patients), followed by mood stabilizers (25%: anticonvulsants, 17%, and lithium, 8%), sedatives (15%), and antipsychotics (11%). At study midpoint only 44% of patients were receiving monotherapy. Those receiving monotherapy were ranked by initial drug prescribed and percentage of patients (bipolar I and bipolar II): antidepressants (55% and 65%), lithium (51% and 41%), antipsychotics (32% and 31%), anticonvulsants (28% and 29%), and sedatives (28%, 25%). Median time to adding another psychotropic was 2.5-times less than median time to changing the initial treatment (16.4 compared with 40.9 weeks), and stopping was rare. Median weeks until therapy was changed in any way for 25% of patients was as follows: lithium, 29 weeks; antidepressants, 13; anticonvulsants, 13; antipsychotics, 13; and sedatives, 9.

Conclusions: Antidepressants were the first-choice agent twice as often as mood stabilizers. Lithium was sustained longer than monotherapy with other mood stabilizers. Time to augmentation was much shorter than time to change or discontinuation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bipolar Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug Therapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use
  • Lithium Carbonate / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Lithium Carbonate