Stepped Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Aggressive Behavior: A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Adjunctive Risperidone, Divalproex Sodium, or Placebo After Stimulant Medication Optimization

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2021 Feb;60(2):236-251. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2019.12.009. Epub 2020 Jan 30.


Objective: Stimulant medications are the most prevalent first-line pharmacotherapy for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, but children with aggressive behavior often receive multiagent treatment. There is sparse evidence for the benefits of adjunctive medications when stimulant monotherapy provides inadequate benefit for aggressive behavior, yet the adverse effects of common adjuncts are well established. This study compared the efficacy in reducing aggressive behavior of risperidone (RISP), divalproex sodium (DVPX), and placebo (PBO) added to stimulant medication among childrenwhose symptoms persisted after individually optimized stimulant treatment.

Method: This trial enrolled 6- to 12-year-old with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a disruptive disorder, significant aggressive behavior, and prior stimulant treatment. Open, systematically titrated stimulant treatment identified patients with inadequate reductions in aggressive behavior, who were then randomly assigned to receive adjunctive RISP, DVPX, or PBO under double-blinded conditions for 8 weeks. Family-based behavioral treatment was offered throughout the trial. The primary outcome was the parent-completed Retrospective Modified Overt Aggression Scale.

Results: Participants included 175 children (mean [SD] age 9.48 [2.04] years, 19% female). Of participants, 151 completed the stimulant optimization phase, with aggression remitting among 96 (63%), and 45 were randomly assigned to adjunctive treatment groups. The adjunctive RISP group showed greater reductions in aggression ratings than the PBO group (least squares means difference [ΔLSM], -2.33; 95% CI, -3.83 to -0.82; effect size [ES], -1.32), as did the DVPX group (ΔLSM, -1.60; 95% CI, -3.18 to -0.03; ES, -0.91). Mean standardized body mass index scores increased more among RISP-treated participants than participants receiving PBO (ΔLSM, 1.54; 95% CI, 0.68 to 2.40; ES, 0.58).

Conclusion: High response rate during the trial's open stimulant optimization phase suggests that rigorous titration of stimulant medication and concurrent behavioral therapy may avert the need for additional medications. Among nonremitters, RISP and DVPX were efficacious adjunctive treatments, although RISP was associated with weight gain.

Clinical trial registration information: Effectiveness of Combined Medication Treatment for Aggression in Children With Attention Deficit With Hyperactivity Disorder (The SPICY Study);; NCT00794625.

Keywords: aggression; anticonvulsants; antipsychotic agents; attention deficit and disruptive behavior disorders; central nervous system stimulants.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aggression
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / drug therapy
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants* / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risperidone / adverse effects
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Valproic Acid / therapeutic use


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Valproic Acid
  • Risperidone

Associated data