Abilify (aripiprazole) is a neuroleptic or dopamine-blocking drug. My doctor prescribed it to me for my trichotillomania (impulsive hair pulling). I spoke to a close friend who was also taking it for trichotillomania. She felt like she was having some positive changes in her pulling behavior so I decided to try it out.
The rationalization for using neuroleptics for hair pulling and skin picking disorders is that there is a possible link between them and tic disorders like Tourette’s, according to Trichotillomania Learning Center. But there have been no controlled studies of this medication for trichotillomania. “Neuroleptics may result in a range of side effects: extrapyramidal side effects (Parkinson-like tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia), akathesia, dysphoria, sedation, tardive dyskinesia, weight gain, and development of diabetes and high cholesterol.”
There was a noticeable difference in my pulling however I had side effects that were too bothersome for me to continue taking it. I took it for 3 months starting with 10mg dose and when my anxiety seemed worse the doctor raised the dose to 20mg although my pulling seemed a little better. Therein lies part of the problem with doctors prescribing newer medications. This worsening anxiety symptom caused me to move my legs pretty much non-stop, I had the side effect of acute akathesia. My doctor did not realize that I was having a side effect and raised my dose making the side effect worse. According to NCBI “Akathisia is a frequent and common adverse effect of treatment with antipsychotic (neuroleptic) drugs. This syndrome consists of subjective (feeling of inner restlessness and the urge to move) as well as objective components (rocking while standing or sitting, lifting feet as if marching on the spot and crossing and uncrossing the legs while sitting). Antipsychotic-induced akathisia can be classified according to the time of onset in the course of antipsychotic treatment (acute, tardive, withdrawal and chronic akathisia).”
The other side effect I had is not on the list of thing to watch out for unless you call it sedation. I felt extremely exhausted every day and all day long. I was sleeping in, taking naps and going to bed by 6pm everyday. As a mother of a 3 year old and 3 month old baby this was the most terrible part. All I could do was feed, bathe and keep the kids safe. It seemed a contradiction that I couldn’t stop moving my legs and at the same time I couldn’t hold a book and keep my eyes open to read bedtime stories to my daughter. There was no way I could go on like this and take care of my babies.
Finally I went to another doctor who immediately recognized that the symptoms I was having were side effects of the Abilify. He had me immediately stop taking the medication and within a couple of weeks my akathisia and exhaustion had improved significantly. But I was back to pulling, and more pulling and more pulling.
I am not a doctor and this is not a medical blog, but this was my personal experience with taking Abilify for Trichotillomania. Some may have had better experiences with it and may continue to take it. We will not know the true effectiveness rate of Abilify or any other drug for trichotillomania or dermatillomania until there is more awareness and more controlled studies for effective medications. Please share with us your experience with medications and join us on our mission to create Trichotillomania Awareness.