Psychotropic medication and at-risk youth: Studying its protective effects on delinquent behavior


Children witnessing violence and directly experiencing abuse and neglect are at high risk for a number of deleterious outcomes, including psychiatric disorders and involvement in the foster care and juvenile justice systems (JJS; Cuevas, Finkelhor, Shattuck, Turner, & Hamby, 2013; Sickmund & Puzzanchera, 2014). These studies emphasize the need for effective treatment programs to address the challenges facing these youth, for which an increasingly attractive option is long-term administration of psychotropic medications. Most research to date examines the utility of such medication in the short-term (Dailey, Townsend, Dysken, & Kuskowski, 2005; Loy, Merry, Hetrick, & Stasiak, 2013), but with mixed evidence as to the long-term positive gains these medications impart on reducing delinquent behaviors, including involvement in the JJS. This study sought to examine how psychotropic medication influenced total delinquent behaviors in a given year, as well as entry into the JJS, over a seven-year time period with a sample of at-risk youth. Data were taken from the National Study of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) database. Results indicate that, when controlling for a proxy of socioeconomic status, baseline externalizing behavior, and the child’s gender and race, psychotropic medication treatment of at-risk youth did not appear to exert a protective effect on their engagement in delinquent behaviors over a seven-year time span. That is, while delinquent behaviors decreased over time, it was not due to the medication regimen of the youth. Further, psychotropic medication treatment of at-risk youth does not appear to exert a protective effect on these youths’ entry into the JJS over a seven-year time span. That is, youth who were either consistently- or inconsistently-medicated were at significantly increased risk of entry into the JJS – up to 9.3 times higher risk for consistently medicated youth – particularly within the first 20 months of the study. Further, while such risk stabilized after the two-year mark, youth who received psychotropic medication remained at higher risk than never-medicated youth, particularly if the medication regimen was consistent. Explanations, and implications of, these findings are discussed, as well as future directions for research



At-risk youth, Delinquency, Justice-involved youth, Externalizing behavior, Psychotropic medication