Tips for Boosting Medication Compliance

By

Gina Garippo

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If you or a loved one has struggled to stay on a treatment plan for schizophrenia, you're not alone. Taking medications as prescribed can be difficult for people with this illness. But complying with a treatment plan can help those with schizophrenia improve their overall health and make life more fulfilling. The key is to tackle the reasons that make compliance tough by creating and following an action plan.  

Some research shows that more than half of people with schizophrenia don't fully follow their medication treatment plan. And the reasons are many. Some simply forget to take their medication for a day or more. Others stop taking medication because they don't believe they have schizophrenia or aren't convinced they need drugs—a common aspect of the illness called lack of insight. Others forego medication because they want to avoid negative side effects or are embarrassed they need daily medication.

But it's important to follow your treatment plan as prescribed. Studies show that missing even a day or two of medication can nearly double the risk for hospitalization. It can also increase the likelihood of depression and suicidal thoughts. To help steer clear of relapse, try these tips:

  • Talk with your doctor. If you have problems with your medication, such as with side effects, give your doctor a call. Never stop taking medication on your own. Your doctor may be able to adjust your dosage or find a different medication that works better for you. To help pinpoint problems, write down how you feel each day. Then bring the journal to your doctor's appointment.

  • Connect with others. Consider joining a schizophrenia support group. They're available for both people with the disease and their family members. Talking with people who have experienced the same struggles can help you learn how to better manage the illness and live a fuller life. It can also help you realize that you're not alone.

  • Seek therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to help people with schizophrenia gain better insight into the illness and understand why their medication is so important. This can lead to better treatment compliance. It can also help people better manage the symptoms of schizophrenia and handle day-to-day problems.

  • Use reminders. Simple reminder tools can be an effective way to help you stay on your treatment plan. At the beginning of each week, fill a pill box with sections labeled with each day to reduce medication confusion. Put up signs or ask a family member to call to remind you to take your medication. Pair medication time with a regular routine, such as eating a certain meal or brushing your teeth. There are many smartphone apps that will help you take your meds as prescribed. Or set a watch or other alarm to prompt you when it's time. Consider carrying medications with you in a pill box attached to your key chain.

  • Address substance abuse. If you or your loved one uses recreational drugs, seek help to overcome the addiction. People with schizophrenia who abuse drugs are less likely to stick to their treatment plan. Plus, alcohol and drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines can actually make symptoms of schizophrenia worse.

  • Ask about long-acting medications. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of long-acting injectable medications. Many of these antipsychotics are administered once or twice a month and have been shown to increase compliance and improve clinical outcomes in people with schizophrenia. 
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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 5, 2017

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Medical References

  1. List Results: Schizophrenia. U.S. National Institutes of Health. http://clinicaltrials.gov/search/open/condition=%22Schizophrenia%22
  2. Columbia’s Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman Leads Nationwide Effort to Develop Early Intervention for First Signs of Schizophrenia. Columbia University Medical School. http://cumc.columbia.edu/news/press_releases/Early_Intervention_Schizophrenia.html
  3. North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study. http://napls.psych.ucla.edu/
  4. Research. Johns Hopkins Medicine. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/psychiatry/specialty_areas/schizophrenia/research.html
  5. Understanding Schizophrenia and Recovery. National Alliance on Mental Illness. August 2008. (http://www.nami.org/Content/Microsites316/NAMI_PA,_Cumberland_and_Perry_Cos_/Discussion_Groups559/No...
  6. Schizophrenia. National Alliance on Mental Illness. February 2007. (http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=By_Illness&Template=/TaggedPage/TaggedPageDisplay.cfm&TPLID...;
  7. Impaired Brain Connections Traced to Schizophrenia Mutation. National Institute of Mental Health. March 31, 2010. http://www.nih.gov/news/health/mar2010/nimh-31.htm
  8. Schizophrenia. National Institute of Mental Health. 2009. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/schizophrenia/complete-index.shtml#pub7
  9. Depot Medication. The Royal College of Psychiatrists. January 2010. http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mentalhealthinfo/problems/schizophrenia/depotmedication.aspx
  10. Benefits of Dept Antipsychotics. Schizophrenia Daily News Blog. Sept. 5, 2005. http://www.schizophrenia.com/sznews/archives/002371.html

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