The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology


Evidence-based pharmacotherapy for personality disorders

Luis H. Ripolla1 c1, Joseph Triebwassera1 and Larry J. Sievera1

a1 Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center, James J. Peters VA Medical Center, Bronx, NY, USA


Patients with personality disorders are prescribed psychotropic medications with greater frequency than almost any other diagnostic group. Prescribing practices in these populations are often based on anecdotal evidence rather than rigorous data. Although evidence-based psychotherapy remains an integral part of treatment, Axis II psychopathology is increasingly conceptualized according to neurobiological substrates that correspond to specific psychopharmacological strategies. We summarize the best available evidence regarding medication treatment of personality disordered patients and provide optimal strategies for evidence-based practice. Most available evidence is concentrated around borderline and schizotypal personality disorders, with some additional evidence concerning the treatment of avoidant and antisocial personality disorders. Although maladaptive personality symptoms respond to antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and other medications, evidence-based pharmacotherapy is most useful in treating circumscribed symptom domains and induces only partial improvement. Most available evidence supports use of medication in reducing impulsivity and aggression, characteristic of borderline and antisocial psychopathology. Efforts have also begun to reduce psychotic-like symptoms and improve cognitive deficits characteristic of schizotypy. Indirect evidence is also provided for psychopharmacological reduction of social anxiety central to avoidant personality disorder. Evidence-based practice requires attention to domains of expected clinical improvement associated with a medication, relative to the potential risks. The development of future rational pharmacotherapy will require increased understanding of the neurobiological underpinnings of personality disorders and their component dimensions. Increasing efforts to translate personality theory and social cognitive neuroscience into increasingly specific neurobiological substrates may provide more effective targets for pharmacotherapy.

(Received October 14 2010)

(Reviewed November 29 2010)

(Revised December 22 2010)

(Accepted January 10 2011)

(Online publication February 15 2011)


c1 Address for correspondence: L. H. Ripoll, M.D., Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center, James J. Peters VA Medical Center, 130 W. Kingsbridge Rd., Bronx, NY 10468. Tel.: 718-584-9000 (ext. 5225) Fax: 718-364-3576 Email: