Most studies of the efficacy of drug treatments for schizophrenia are relatively short, lasting a few months or possibly as long as a year. Such studies often compare the relapse rates for patients who continue or don’t continue taking drugs, finding that continuing with drugs is better. A recent, much longer study (Wunderink et al. 2013) has found otherwise. After two years of receiving medication, patients in this study were randomly assigned to one of two groups: one group continued their drug treatment while the other group stopped.
Initially the patients assigned to the stop medication group showed a higher relapse rate (i.e. continuing with drugs was a better option). However after seven years there was no significant difference between the groups – continuing medication had no effect on the likelihood of relapse.
Furthermore, those patients in the stopped medication group had a much better chance of leading a ‘normal’ life. 40% of this group were able to hold down jobs and look after themselves as compared to 18% of those still taking their medications. The concern is that the drugs may serve some benefit initially in subduing symptoms but ultimately they prevent recovery because they affect a person’s ability to think or function.