Relapse of Aggressive and Disruptive Behavior in Mentally Retarded Adults Following Antipsychotic Drug Withdrawal Predicts Psychotropic Drug Use a Decade Later

Background: Mental retardation is frequently associated with aggression toward self and others. Antipsychotic medications are frequently used as a major treatment of such aggression. However, national and state policies and guidelines are weighted toward stopping or decreasing the doses of these medications whenever possible, although exceptions are permitted. The purpose of this study was to determine if relapse during or after antipsychotic drug withdrawal in mentally retarded adults predicts continuing antipsychotic drug use an average of a decade later.

Method: We report here on a 6- to 13-year (average 10-year) follow-up of 151 institutionalized mentally retarded adults. During the period 1990-1997, the subjects had been prescribed antipsychotic medications to treat maladaptive behaviors, primarily consisting of aggression, disruptive/destructive behaviors, or a combination of these. We compared subjects' psychotropic medication profiles in 2003 as they related to outcome during the earlier period. Our goal was to determine if rapid relapse (a clinically significant increase in maladaptive target symptoms, beginning 3 months or less after antipsychotic drug termination or dosage reduction, that was reversed by antipsychotic drug reinstitution or dosage increases) during or after routine withdrawal of an antipsychotic predicted psychotropic drug use in 2003.

Results: For those individuals successfully withdrawn from antipsychotic medications, 66.3% (55/83) were still psychotropic drug free in 2003. For those who rapidly relapsed during the period 1990-1997 following antipsychotic drug withdrawal or dosage decreases, only 9.0% (5/55) were psychotropic medication free in 2003.

Conclusion: These observations support policies and guidelines indicating that attempts to stop treatment with antipsychotic medications in mentally retarded individuals are worthwhile. However, the results also indicate that eventual discontinuation of antipsychotic medications in institutionalized mentally retarded adults who have previously relapsed upon such withdrawal is unlikely to be successful. Rigid adherence to drug withdrawal policies and guidelines in such individuals should be reconsidered.

J Clin Psychiatry 2006;67(8):1272-1277