What Is a Mood Stabilizer? - Effects & Types

Instructor: Sarah Lavoie

Sarah has taught Psychology at the college level and has a master's degree in Counseling Psychology.

The definition of what constitutes a mood stabilizing drug varies, particularly as science identifies new drugs that can be used to stabilize mood. Learn about the varying types and effects of mood stabilizing drugs in this lesson, then test your knowledge with a quiz.


We all know the range of our own moods. We recognize that everyone has a 'good day' or a 'bad day' here and there. The clinical depression or mania found with a mood disorder goes beyond good and bad days. Having a mood disorder disrupts the normal range of moods. People with bipolar disorder fluctuate between both extremes of mania and clinical depression within days or weeks, with little or no normal moods in between.

What is a Mood Stabilizer?

Mood stabilizers are a group of drugs that work to stabilize mood, specifically in people with the bipolar type of mood disorder. The definition of what constitutes a mood stabilizer is controversial because they are categorized by the drugs' effect on the body, not how they work. Scientists are not yet sure how mood stabilizers work, only that they balance brain chemicals in a way that stabilizes mood fluctuations. While most mood stabilizers have more antimanic properties, it varies depending on the substance. Drugs that are primarily antimanic reduce the symptoms of mania. However, some mood stabilizers have antidepressive traits as well. These reduce the symptoms of depression.

What is considered to be a mood stabilizer varies among professionals. Although major depressive disorder and other depressive disorders are technically a class of mood disorder, antidepressants are often considered their own class of drug. Antidepressants are known for relieving depression. They are not effective treatment for the highs of manic episodes found in bipolar disorder. However, since they affect mood, they are often considered a part of the class of mood stabilizers.


Lithium is a naturally occurring element that was accidentally found to stabilize mood. It was originally sold as a replacement for table salt, but was found to have toxic properties. However, Lithium was approved by the FDA in the 1970's for use as a mood stabilizer and has since been the most popular drug for treating bipolar disorder. Some brand names of Lithium include Eskalith® and Lithobid®. Lithium can still be toxic, and requires close monitoring by a doctor to ensure correct levels. Incorrect use of lithium can cause side-effects as serious as seizures, renal failure and coma. More common side effects are weight gain, nausea, sedation, and increased thirst and urination.

Anticonvulsant medications

Many anticonvulsant medications are also classified as mood stabilizers. Anticonvulsants, also known as antiseizure or antiepileptic drugs, are a class of drugs used to treat and prevent seizures. Scientists understand how the drugs prevent seizure, but not exactly how they treat mood disorders.

generic and brand name anticonvulsants
anticonvulsant drug list

Anticonvulsant medications vary significantly with their measure of antimanic and antidepressant properties. For example, lamotrigine, known as the brand name Lamictal®, is a more recently developed mood stabilizer that has been found to be particularly helpful in treating the depressive episodes of bipolar disorder. On the other hand, valproate is known to treat manic episodes in particular. However, anticonvulsants that are used as mood stabilizers have been shown to have some effect on stabilizing the change between high and low moods.

Anticonvulsants also vary widely in their side effects and safety. Among the more prominent dangers of anticonvulsant medications are increased thoughts of suicide, and birth defects if used in pregnant women.

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