Background: The association between serotonergic dysfunction and aggression has prompted the use of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) as a means of controlling impulsive violent behaviour. The aim of the current study was to examine the feasibility of using an SSRI to treat impulsivity in a group of repeat violent offenders.
Methods: Potential participants were recruited from three magistrates' court complexes in the Sydney metropolitan area and all had histories of violent offending (at least one prior conviction for a violent offence). Those who scored highly on the Barratt Impulsivity Scale (BIS-11), passed medical and psychiatric evaluations and consented to treatment were prescribed sertraline (Zoloft) over a three month period.
Results: Thirty-four individuals commenced the trial, with 20 completing the three month intervention. Reductions were observed across a range of behavioural measures from baseline to 3 months: impulsivity (35%), irritability (45%), anger (63%), assault (51%), verbal-assault (40%), indirect-assault (63%), and depression (62%). All those who completed the three month trial requested to continue sertraline under the supervision of their own medical practitioner.
Conclusion: Our findings suggest that treating impulsive violent individuals in the criminal justice system with an SSRI is a potential treatment opportunity for this population. An adequately powered randomized control trial of this intervention is warranted.