Medication use in US youth with mental disorders

JAMA Pediatr. 2013 Feb;167(2):141-8. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.431.


Objective: To evaluate the prevalence, demographic and clinical correlates, and specificity of classes of psychotropic medications indicated for mental disorders.

Design: Cross-sectional survey.

Setting: Direct household interviews of combined household and school samples representative of the general population of adolescents in the United States.

Participants: Ten thousand one hundred twenty-three adolescents aged 13 to 18 years who participated in the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement.

Main exposures: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) (DSM-IV) mental disorders and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Outcome measure: Psychotropic medication use in the past 12 months.

Results: Among youth with any DSM-IV mental disorder, 14.2% reported that they had been treated with a psychotropic medication in the past 12 months. Strong associations emerged between specific disorders and classes of medications with evidence for efficacy. Antidepressants were most frequently used among those with primary mood disorders (14.1%); stimulant use was most common among those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (20.4%); and antipsychotic use was infrequent and mostly seen among those with serious developmental disorders. Less than 2.5% of adolescents without a 12-month mental disorder had been prescribed psychotropic medications, and most had evidence of psychological distress or impairment reflected in a previous mental disorder, subthreshold condition, or developmental disorder. Appropriate medication use was significantly more frequent among those in treatment in the mental health specialty sector than general medicine or other settings.

Conclusions: These findings challenge recent concerns over widespread overmedication and misuse of psychotropic medications in US youth. In fact, these data highlight the need for greater recognition and appropriate treatment of youth with mental health disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / therapeutic use
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Inappropriate Prescribing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Psychotropic Drugs