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Drugs with Potentially Psychotic Side Effects: Which Ones are They (& Who Deserves to Know)?

During a six-week span in 2002, four soldiers from Fort Bragg were accused of killing their wives. Three of them committed suicide. While the Army officials who investigated the cases said the killings were likely "due to existing marital problems and the stress of separation while soldiers are away on duty," many believe the true cause may have been Lariam, an anti-malaria drug.

Drugs prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia and depression can lead to suicidal thoughts, aggression, rage and violent behavior.

The drug has been given to over 20 million people, including U.S. soldiers, since it was approved in 1989. Three of the four soldiers who killed their wives, and later committed suicide, also took Lariam. The drug is known to cause neuropsychiatric side effects, including nightmares, depression, hallucinations, paranoia, psychosis and aggression.

Internal documents from the drug's maker, Roche pharmaceuticals, even show that they have received over 3,000 reports of such psychiatric problems linked to the drug.

"The military is drawing the wrong conclusion from those deaths," said public health specialist Sue Rose. "The true cluster, the true group you want to look at are those men who took Lariam, and of the men who took Lariam, who all served in Afghanistan, all three of them killed their wives and subsequently committed suicide."

Others in the military community, as well as civilians, have experienced psychotic effects from the drug. Former Green Beret John Lown said his unit called the days they took Lariam "manic Mondays or wild Wednesdays," according to a CBS New report.

His wife, Debbie, also noticed changes when John was on the drug. "He just turned ugly towards me… And when I mentioned that to other wives, they said that's the way their husbands are as well."

Other reports by CBS News include a couple who took Lariam for a vacation to Africa, and the husband committed suicide six months later. Another woman took the drug for the same reason, and experienced such extreme psychosis that she had to spend a month in a U.S. psychiatric hospital, where she was diagnosed with Lariam-induced psychosis.

ADHD, Depression or Anxiety? Psychotic Effects Possible From These Meds

Ritalin, Concerta and other ADHD drugs can cause suicidal ideation, aggression and violent behavior in kids.

Lariam is not unique in its potential to cause severe psychotic effects. Other commonly prescribed drugs, including Ritalin and Concerta for ADHD, and Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft for depression, have been linked to such effects.

In 2005, the FDA added warning labels to ADHD drugs belonging to the methylphenidate class because of concerns of psychiatric side effects, including visual hallucinations, suicidal ideation, aggression and violent behavior.

Antidepressants known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) have also been linked to suicide and violent behavior, particularly in children. Perhaps one of the most well-known and tragic incidents involved 18-year-old Eric Harris who was one of the Columbine High School shooters in 1999. Harris was taking antidepressants at the time of the shootings.

Other children, too, have committed violent crimes while taking these drugs. These include:

  • Kip Kinkel, 15, who killed his parents and two classmates and wounded 22 others while on Prozac.

  • Elizabeth Bush, 14, who wounded a classmate at Bishop Neumann High School in Williamsport, Pa. while taking antidepressants.

  • Jason Hoffman, 18, who wounded a teacher and three students at Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, Calif. while taking Effexor and Celexa.

Drugs With Psychotic Side Effects to Watch Out For

Because side effect information on any drug is often hard to come by, sketchy and, at times, confusing, knowing about the potential for psychotic side effects before taking a drug is often the exception rather than the rule.

Whether you want to know before taking a drug yourself, giving one to a child, or suspect someone you know may be experiencing psychotic effects, make a note of the drugs below, and their potential for drastic psychotic side effects.

Drug Name(s) Prescribed For Psychotic Effects

Ritalin, Concerta, Methylin and Metadate


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Psychotic behavior
  • Aggression
  • Violent behavior

Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa and Lexapro

(SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants)

Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Akathisia, an overwhelming physical and mental restlessness, which can lead to destructive behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Mania and manic-like symptoms
  • Violent behavior



Anti-malaria drug
  • Nightmares
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Aggression

Accutane, Amnesteem, Claravis and Sotret


Severe acne
  • Suicidal ideation and attempts
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Aggression
  • Violent behavior
  • Emotional instability

Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopin


Anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy, muscles spasms, anesthesia
  • Increased excitement
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Hostility and impulsivity
  • Attacks of rage or violence
  • Antisocial behaviors
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation

Is it YOUR Right to Know Who's Using Drugs With Psychotic Side Effects?

Certainly most would not argue that the patient has a right to know what types of side effects any medication might cause (though this may or may not happen).

But what about your neighbors? Coworkers? Family? Do they have a right to know that someone close to them may experience psychosis as a drug side effect? Considering that it could put them in harm's way, some would say yes. Others would say it's nobody's business but the patient's.

As it stands, no one is required to tell anyone anything. Doctors, yes, should tell their patients the risks, but do they?

Debbie Lown, whose husband was affected by Lariam while in the military, voiced her opinion when she complained about the drug to military authorities as long ago as 1996.

Said Lown, "I said, 'I'm not asking you to stop giving them the Lariam. I'm just asking you to better inform the soldiers of what they're taking, tell their wives, because they'll save marriages that way, they'll save lives that way.'"

Recommended Reading


CBS News: The Dark Side of Lariam

CNN: Military's Use of Malaria Drug in Question

CBS News: Ft. Bragg Killings Blamed on Stress

Antidepressants May Trigger Violent Behavior

Medicine Net: FDA Gets Tough on ADHD Drugs

Alliance for Human Research Protection

American Academy of Family Physicians

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