N-Acetylcysteine in the treatment of pediatric trichotillomania: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled add-on trial

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2013 Mar;52(3):231-40. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2012.12.020.


Objective: To examine the efficacy of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) for the treatment of pediatric trichotillomania (TTM) in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, add-on study.

Method: A total of 39 children and adolescents aged 8 to 17 years with pediatric trichotillomania were randomly assigned to receive NAC or matching placebo for 12 weeks. Our primary outcome was change in severity of hairpulling as measured by the Massachusetts General Hospital-Hairpulling Scale (MGH-HPS). Secondary measures assessed hairpulling severity, automatic versus focused pulling, clinician-rated improvement, and comorbid anxiety and depression. Outcomes were examined using linear mixed models to test the treatment×time interaction in an intention-to-treat population.

Results: No significant difference between N-acetylcysteine and placebo was found on any of the primary or secondary outcome measures. On several measures of hairpulling, subjects significantly improved with time regardless of treatment assignment. In the NAC group, 25% of subjects were judged as treatment responders, compared to 21% in the placebo group.

Conclusions: We observed no benefit of NAC for the treatment of children with trichotillomania. Our findings stand in contrast to a previous, similarly designed trial in adults with TTM, which demonstrated a very large, statistically significant benefit of NAC. Based on the differing results of NAC in pediatric and adult TTM populations, the assumption that pharmacological interventions demonstrated to be effective in adults with TTM will be as effective in children, may be inaccurate. This trial highlights the importance of referring children with TTM to appropriate behavioral therapy before initiating pharmacological interventions, as behavioral therapy has demonstrated efficacy in both children and adults with trichotillomania.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00993265.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / administration & dosage
  • Acetylcysteine / adverse effects
  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology*
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Free Radical Scavengers / administration & dosage
  • Free Radical Scavengers / adverse effects
  • Free Radical Scavengers / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Placebos
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Trichotillomania / drug therapy*


  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Placebos
  • Acetylcysteine

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00993265