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Review
, 26 (1), 65-73

Pharmacotherapy of Aggression in Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Disorders

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Review

Pharmacotherapy of Aggression in Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Disorders

Tina Gurnani et al. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol.

Abstract

Objective: Aggression is a common, yet complex, behavioral complaint, and a frequent indication for referral to child and adolescent psychiatrist treatment. This article reviews the evidence supporting pharmacotherapy of aggression in youth, with a primary focus on impulsive aggression (the primary indication for this intervention). Relevant diagnostic considerations and consensus guidelines are discussed.

Methods: Articles examining the role of medications in the treatment of aggression in youth with pathological aggression were identified using PubMed and MEDLINE® databases over the past 15 years (2000-2015); selected articles published prior to 2000 and deemed to be of high relevance were searched and also included. Search terms included: Aggression, aggressive, disruptive behavior, conduct, youth, children, and adolescents. Cited references were also searched for relevant articles.

Results: There are a number of evidence-based medication treatments for aggression, which are generally best considered in the context of differential diagnosis and ongoing evidence-based psychosocial interventions. Impulsive aggression is generally considered the type of aggression most amenable to medication, but other aggression subtypes may also possibly respond to treatment. Medication classes with positive evidence include the psychostimulants and α-2 agonists (in the presence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD] and/or disruptive behavior disorders), mood stabilizing agents, and atypical antipsychotics. Published guidelines recommend systematic and adequate trials of medications in sequential order, to optimize response and minimize polypharmacy. Guidelines for safety monitoring are available for many of the medications used for aggression in youth, and are also discussed.

Conclusions: Aggression in children carries a high risk of poor outcomes, and, therefore, a better understanding of treatment options is a high priority. The available literature points to the importance of identifying the underlying disorder, when possible, and using this information to guide treatment selection. Future studies are needed to better inform the treatment of aggression across disorders, and the treatment of different aggression subtypes.

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