Is Lithium Addictive? Lithium's Use and Side Effects Explained

Lithium Addiction

Did you know that about 5.7 million adults in the US suffer from mental health disorders? The good thing is that lithium therapy is used to treat bipolar disorder. However, some patients seem to abuse lithium, leading to high lithium blood levels and, eventually, lithium toxicity.

Before you get worried about the impact that taking lithium would cause your body, the experts from Transcend Recovery Community have researched everything you need to know about lithium, including dosage, usage, and its side effects. Continue reading and be enlightened!

What is Lithium?

The first time that Lithium was used to treat mania (a mental illness) was in 1871 when it was used to treat gout. However, it wasn't until about 1950 that scientists began to realize that the drug had a positive effect on the brain. It wasn't until 1970 that a Swiss psychiatrist named Manfred Sakel published a paper describing how he had successfully treated patients with manic depression (now known as bipolar disorder) with lithium carbonate. In his paper, Sakel wrote that "the mood changes and other signs of mania disappear completely".

Lithium has since become one of the most widely-used medications for treating bipolar disorder and other forms of mood disorders. Being one of the most effective mood stabilizers for this condition, however, there may seem effects lithium contribute negatively to a person.

Is Lithium Addictive?

a man who is addicted to lithium is seen here holding his head while on a sofa

Lithium is an addictive drug that was originally used to treat the bipolar disorder but is now used to treat other conditions. It can be prescribed by a doctor and taken in the form of a pill.

Lithium impacts the brain in many different ways, but most importantly it prevents dopamine from being released when you experience stress or pleasure. This causes it to reduce your mood swings and improves your overall mental health.

It’s important to note that lithium has been linked to several side effects including dehydration, nausea, vomiting, kidney damage, and even death if taken at high doses or for long periods. Therefore, you mustn't stop taking lithium without talking to your doctor first because withdrawal symptoms can be severe if not managed properly.

However, when there is too much lithium in the body caused by substance abuse, the patient may need to undergo interventions with the help of the patient's family and licensed medical professionals to help the stop from having worsening mental health conditions.

What is Lithium Used For?

As earlier mentioned, Lithium is a very useful element for the medical field, and is an effective treatment for many conditions:

  • Treat symptoms for bipolar disorder (which can also be treated by electroshock therapy)
  • Treatment for depression, which affects millions of people worldwide
  • Reduction of suicidal thoughts in patients with clinical depression
  • Reduction of manic symptoms in patients with bipolar disorder
  • Treatment for mania and other mood disorders

Having the proper case management services may help people who have suffered or are continuously suffering from lithium drug abuse.

Lithium Side Effects

Many side effects of Lithium can affect a person who has been taking Lithium, regardless if it's for short or long-term treatment. Here are the different effects that one may feel if they prescribe lithium for their mental illness or condition.


  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremor (shaking)
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances (diarrhea, constipation)
  • Weight gain or weight loss


  • kidney dysfunction
  • nephrogenic diabetes insipidus
  • extreme thirst
  • frequent urination
  • dehydration
  • thyroid problems
  • hypothyroidism which may cause:
  • fatigue
  • intolerance to cold
  • trouble with mental faculty
  • hyperparathyroidism that may cause:
  • hypercalcemia (above normal calcium levels)

Lithium Toxicity

While lithium is generally considered safe when taken by mouth or in low doses, it can be toxic in high doses and should never be taken without the supervision of a physician. As earlier mentioned, Lithium may cause tremors, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, weight gain or loss (sometimes rapid), slowed heart rate, and slowed growth in children whose bodies are still growing.

Lithium is usually taken once daily on an empty stomach at bedtime with food or milk. If you're taking other medications with lithium—like antibiotics or diuretics—make sure your doctor knows about them so he or she can adjust your dose accordingly.

Pregnancy and Lithium

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), it is not known if lithium can pass through the placenta and affect your baby. It also says that there are no studies that show whether this medication passes through breast milk or to nursing infants (i.e. breastfeeding lithium)

However, there are some ways in which medical use of lithium affects pregnancy:

  • Lithium can cause birth defects because it increases the risk of congenital malformations, especially when taken in high doses or for long periods of time (i.e., when prescribed for depression).
  • This medication may also lead to high blood pressure during pregnancy which could cause preterm labor or preeclampsia.
  • Some studies suggest that taking lithium during pregnancy could increase the risk for low birth weight babies, especially when taken in high doses or for long periods (i.e., when prescribed for depression).

For women who have been greatly affected by the effects of lithium due to drug misuse, they can seek help from their healthcare providers and consider women's sober living as part of their treatment options to help them with long-term sobriety.

Lithium for Mental Health

While Lithium may work wonders as a medication for the treatment of bipolar disorder and depression, it can still, however, bring adverse effects on a person's mental health.

Let's look at how this substance may impact a person overall.

  • Lithium may cause a person to feel manic or hypomanic. This effect can be very dangerous and can cause the individual to behave in ways that are reckless or harmful to others.
  • Lithium may cause psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions. These symptoms are very severe and can lead to hospitalization, if not treated properly with other medications such as antipsychotics or anticonvulsants such as carbamazepine (Tegretol) or valproic acid (Depakote).
  • Lithium may lead to neuropathy or nerve damage resulting from prolonged use of this medication without appropriate monitoring by doctors experienced in treating a bipolar disorder or depression with lithium treatment alone without other drugs such as antipsychotics or anticonvulsants.

It is imperative to always consult with health care providers, particularly with a consulting physician regarding proper lithium use to prevent Lithium overdose and lithium toxicity, especially with drug interactions.

People who are suffering from lithium addiction or misuse may benefit largely from a sober living arrangement as it helps curb their addiction and lessen their chances of lithium toxicity and lithium overdose as earlier mentioned.

Can Transcend Recovery Community Assist with Recovery?

Transcend Recovery Community has been in the forefront for years in the field of mental health recovery assistance. Our comprehensive and holistic programs bring people closer to their goal of long-term sobriety and another chance to live a normal life.

Through the help of our partners and affiliates, we can provide the best care for our patients. We believe that our patients deserve compassion, love, and support. And this is what our team does best.

You may contact us to find out how Transcend Community can help you or your loved one with their mental health.

Transcend Recovery Community

Transcend Recovery Community family of sober living homes provides a safe place for those undergoing mental health and addiction treatment to live with like-minded peers. Our community-based approach to sober living (similarly to a halfway house) facilitates an open and welcoming environment, where members, staff and team can provide support and encouragement on the path to a sober and healthy life. Transcend's Los Angeles sober living homes are located in some of the most iconic areas of the city, filled with luxurious and upscale amenities, providing plenty to do for those in our transitional housing community.

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