Inter-relationships between isotretinoin treatment and psychiatric disorders: Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, psychosis and suicide risks

World J Psychiatry. 2015 Jun 22;5(2):222-7. doi: 10.5498/wjp.v5.i2.222.


Isotretinoin (Accutane) is a treatment for severe acne that is resistant to other forms of treatment, including antibiotics and topical treatments. The prescription of this drug has been controversial ever since its initial marketing in 1982. It is the only non-psychotropic drug in the Food and Drug Administration top 10 drugs found to be associated with depression. Recently, Bremner et al published an extensive review (until 2010) of the evidence for the association of retinoic acid (RA) with depression and suicide. Some patients who are admitted in psychiatric hospitals report a history of present or past treatment with isotretinoin. Then, the imputability of the molecule in the occurrence of disorders represents necessarily an important question for both professionals and their patients. This paper aims to specify the links between the drug and specific psychiatric disorders. A review of the literature related to isotretinoin, RA, vitamin A, depression, suicide, anxiety, bipolar disorder, psychosis, schizophrenia was performed. Many studies demonstrated an increased risk of depression, attempted suicide and suicide following isotretinoin treatment. However, isotretinoin may have an antidepressant impact, according to some dermatological papers. They consider treating acne with this efficient treatment could improve self-image and make the patient feel better. Several studies showed that patients with bipolar disorder had an increased risk for a clinical exacerbation of symptoms undergoing treatment with isotretinoin. A few studies also seem to suggest a possible link between isotretinoin and psychosis. Nonetheless, studies point out a link between retinoid dysregulation and schizophrenia through modulation of dopamine receptors. From this review, we propose guidelines for isotretinoin prescription to healthcare professionals.

Keywords: Anxiety; Bipolar disorder; Isotretinoin; Psychosis; Retinoic acid; Schizophrenia; Suicide; Vitamin A.

Publication types

  • Review