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Drug Treatment for Childhood Anxiety Often Lasts Years, Despite Guidance

July 01, 2019

Many children and adolescents with an anxiety disorder remained on medication for at least 5 years following their initial diagnosis, according to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

“For pediatric psychiatric disorders, given the marked increase in use of medications without an understanding of the typical treatment course, the primary goal of the current study was to examine the course of pharmacotherapy over 5 years in children with newly diagnosed anxiety disorders,” researchers wrote.

The study team looked at billing and prescription ordering records for 108 children with a newly diagnosed anxiety disorder treated at a tertiary medical center. In an aim to identify a typical medication treatment course of patients, researchers evaluated prescribing for the years 2010 through 2015.

Over the 5-year period, 73.1% of the study population received pharmacotherapy at least once, researchers found. Nearly 42% received medications from multiple psychotropic drug classes.

Among the patients who received pharmacotherapy, 50% stayed on prescribed medication for all 5 years of the observation period. When researchers looked specifically at patients who were medication-naïve at the start of the observation period and were still in high school at year 5, 71% remained on medication for all 5 years.

“Guidelines implying discontinuation of medication after symptom remission and a limited period of stability do not accurately reflect clinical practice,” researchers concluded.

—Jolynn Tumolo


Whiteside SP, Sim LA, Olsen MW, Hord MK. The 5-year course of medication treatment in childhood anxiety disorders. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2019;80(3):18m12318.

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