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Original Research

Effectiveness of Pharmacotherapy for Severe Personality Disorders: Meta-Analyses of Randomized Controlled Trials

Theo Ingenhoven, MD; Patricia Lafay, MA; Thomas Rinne, MD, PhD; Jan Passchier, PhD; and Hugo Duivenvoorden, PhD

Published: September 22, 2009

Article Abstract

Context: There has been little systematic attempt to validate current pharmacologic treatment algorithms and guidelines for severe personality disorder.

Objective: We evaluated studies on the effectiveness of psychoactive drugs on specific symptom domains for borderline and/or schizotypal personality disorder.

Data sources: The literature was searched for placebo-controlled randomized clinical trials (PC-RCTs) on the effectiveness of psychopharmacologic drugs in personality disorder patients. The PubMed, PsychINFO, PiCarta, Cochrane, and Web of Science databases were searched using the search terms borderline personality, schizotypal personality, personality disorder, cluster A, cluster B, treatment, drug, pharmacotherapy, antipsychotic, antidepressant, mood stabilizer, effect, outcome, review, and meta-analysis for studies published between 1980 and December 2007, and references were identified from bibliographies from articles and books.

Study selection: Placebo-controlled randomized clinical trials on the efficacy of antipsychotics, antidepressants, and mood stabilizers regarding cognitive-perceptual symptoms, impulsive-behavioral dyscontrol, and affective dysregulation (with subdomains depressed mood, anxiety, anger, and mood lability) were selected in patients with well defined borderline and/or schizotypal personality disorder. Studies whose primary emphasis was on the treatment of Axis I disorders were excluded. Meta-analyses were conducted using 21 retrieved studies.

Results: Antipsychotics have a moderate effect on cognitive-perceptual symptoms (5 PC-RCTs; standardized mean difference [SMD]‘ ‰=‘ ‰0.56) and a moderate to large effect on anger (4 PC-RCTs; SMD‘ ‰=‘ ‰0.69). Antidepressants have no significant effect on impulsive-behavioral dyscontrol and depressed mood. They have a small but significant effect on anxiety (5 PC-RCTs; SMD‘ ‰=‘ ‰0.30) and anger (4 PC-RCTs; SMD‘ ‰=‘ ‰0.34). Mood stabilizers have a very large effect on impulsive-behavioral dyscontrol (6 PC-RCTs; SMD‘ ‰=‘ ‰1.51) and anger (7 PC-RCTs; SMD‘ ‰=‘ ‰1.33), a large effect on anxiety (3 PC-RCTs; SMD‘ ‰=‘ ‰0.80), but a moderate effect on depressed mood (5 PC-RCTs; SMD‘ ‰=‘ ‰0.55). Mood lability as an outcome measure was seldomly assessed. Mood stabilizers have a more pronounced effect on global functioning (3 PC-RCTs; SMD‘ ‰=‘ ‰0.79) than have antipsychotics (5 PC-RCTs; SMD‘ ‰=‘ ‰0.37). The effect of antidepressants on global functioning is negligible.

Conclusions: Drug therapy tailored to well-defined symptom domains can have a beneficial effect on patients with severe personality disorder. The findings from this study raise questions on current pharmacologic algorithms.

Submitted: July 8, 2008; accepted November 19, 2008.

Online ahead of print: September 22, 2009

Corresponding author: Theo Ingenhoven, MD, Symfora Group, Postbox 3051, 3800DB Amersfoort, The Netherlands (

Volume: 70

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