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.
(Reprinted with permission from Internationl Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology 2011;14:1257–1288)