Psychotropic medication use for challenging behaviors in persons with intellectual disabilities: an overview

Res Dev Disabil. 2009 May-Jun;30(3):572-86. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2008.08.007. Epub 2008 Oct 8.


Challenging behaviors in persons with intellectual disabilities are primary target for treatment in mental health clinics and institutions. Furthermore, an increasing number of people are receiving psychotropic medications for the management of their challenging behaviors. Many people are often treated with high doses of multiple psychotropic medications for extended periods of time with little or no data collected to determine treatment efficacy. Similarly, data demonstrating treatment effectiveness is at best questionable at this time. It is for these reasons that controversy exists regarding the use of psychotropic medication for challenging behaviors. The purpose of this paper was to summarize past and current studies of drug related interventions for challenging behaviors for persons with intellectual disabilities. Based on the results of this review, the effectiveness of psychotropic medications in managing challenging behaviors is best described as minimal and a need exists for controlled studies of higher scientific quality in this area. Considering alternative psychologically based interventions and careful functional assessments appear to be advisable.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / drug therapy*
  • Intellectual Disability / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Patient Selection
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Research Design
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Psychotropic Drugs