Weighing the evidence for harm from long-term treatment with antipsychotic medications: A systematic review

Nancy Sohler, Ben G. Adams, David M. Barnes, Gregory H. Cohen, Seth J. Prins, Sharon Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research findings supporting the use of antipsychotic medication for acute treatment of schizophrenia are relatively consistent and undisputed. However, the rationale for recommending long-term antipsychotic medication treatment-the current standard of care treatment strategy-is unclear. A controversial hypothesis proposed recently suggests people with schizophrenia who are exposed to long-term treatment with antipsychotic medications have worse outcomes than people with schizophrenia who are not exposed to these medications. We tested whether a systematic appraisal of published literature would produce data consistent with this hypothesis. We reviewed the published literature to identify studies of patients with psychotic disorders who were followed for at least 2 years that compared outcomes in patients who received antipsychotic medication during the follow-up with patients who did not receive antipsychotic medication during the follow-up. We included all English language articles published through 2013 in this review. Our process for selecting studies and documenting study findings included a consensus decision of 2 members of the research team. We found the published data to be inadequate to test this hypothesis. By extension, these data were also inadequate to conclusively evaluate whether long-term antipsychotic medication treatment results in better outcomes on average. We conclude that careful reappraisal of existing data is useful to ensure standard of care treatment strategies are indeed evidence-based. In the case of long-term use of antipsychotic medications, new data may be needed to establish a sufficient evidence base to understand its benefit/risk balance for patients with schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)477-485
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Orthopsychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2016


  • Antipsychotic medications
  • Mental health services
  • Psychosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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