Second-generation antipsychotics for the treatment of disruptive behaviour disorders in children: a systematic review

Can J Psychiatry. 2012 Dec;57(12):722-7. doi: 10.1177/070674371205701203.


Objective: The use of second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs) in youth has increased considerably. Increases are mainly attributable to treatment of disruptive behaviour disorders (DBDs). Our objective was to review the evidence regarding the efficacy of SGAs for DBDs in youth.

Method: We performed a systematic review of all randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of SGAs and placebo for the treatment of DBDs in youth, focusing on efficacy data.

Results: Eight RCTs in youth with DBDs were included. Five RCTs evaluated the use of risperidone in youth with the combination of subaverage-borderline IQ and disruptive behaviour-aggression. Single RCTs evaluated the use of risperidone for treatment-resistant aggression in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and for the treatment of conduct disorder (CD), and a single RCT evaluated the use of quetiapine for adolescent CD. The efficacy results of each of these studies are described.

Conclusion: Four placebo-controlled studies support the short-term efficacy of low-dose risperidone in youth with a subaverage IQ. Placebo-controlled evidence is weak or nonexistent for SGAs other than risperidone, and is weak in youth with an average IQ. Multiple factors likely account for the disconnect between this limited evidence base and the frequent use of SGAs for DBDs in clinical practice. These include extrapolation from studies in youth with autism or a subaverage IQ to normally developing youth; ease of SGA titration and the mistaken perception that little monitoring is required; unavailability of psychosocial treatments; limited familiarity with other pharmacological options; clinical and cultural norms; and the influence of the pharmaceutical industry.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / complications
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dibenzothiazepines / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / complications
  • Quetiapine Fumarate
  • Risperidone / therapeutic use*


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Dibenzothiazepines
  • Quetiapine Fumarate
  • Risperidone