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Psychiatric Medication
Part 1: How Medications Are Used

Medication can be an effective part of the treatment for several psychiatric disorders of childhood and adolescence. A doctor's recommendation to use medication often raises many concerns and questions in both the parents and the youngster. The physician who recommends medication should be experienced in treating psychiatric illnesses in children and adolescents. He or she should fully explain the reasons for medication use, what benefits the medication should provide, as well as unwanted side-effects or dangers and other treatment alternatives.

Psychiatric medication should not be used alone. As undertaking a medication trial may mean adjusting doses of medicine over time and/or the use of additional medications to meet an individual youngster's needs, the use of medication should be part of a comprehensive treatment plan, usually including psychotherapy, as well as parent guidance sessions.

Before recommending any medication, the child and adolescent psychiatrist interviews the youngster and makes a thorough diagnostic evaluation. In some cases, the evaluation may include a physical exam, psychological testing, laboratory tests, other medical tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) or electroencephalogram (EEG) , and consultation with other medical specialists.

Child and adolescent psychiatrists stress that medications which have beneficial effects also have unwanted side effects, ranging from just annoying to very serious. As each youngster is different and may have individual reactions to medication, close contact with the treating physician is recommended. Do not stop or change a medication without speaking to the doctor. Psychiatric medication should be used as part of a comprehensive plan of treatment, with ongoing medical assessment and, in most cases, individual and/or family psychotherapy. When prescribed appropriately by a psychiatrist (preferably a child and adolescent psychiatrist), and taken as prescribed, medication may reduce or eliminate troubling symptoms and improve the daily functioning of children and adolescents with psychiatric disorders.

Medication may be prescribed for psychiatric symptoms and disorders, including, but not limited to:

  1. Bedwetting: If it persists regularly after age 5 and causes serious problems in low self-esteem and social interaction.
  2. Anxiety: School refusal, phobias, separation or social fears, generalized anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorders, if it keeps the youngster from normal daily activities.
  3. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Marked by a short attention span, trouble concentrating and restlessness. The child is easily upset and frustrated, often has problems getting along with family and friends, and usually has trouble in school.
  4. Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Recurring obsessions (troublesome and intrusive thoughts) and/or compulsions (repetitive behaviors or rituals such as handwashing, counting, checking to see if doors are locked) which are often seen as senseless but which interfere with a youngster's daily functioning.
  5. Depressive disorder: Lasting feelings of sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, unworthiness and guilt, inability to feel pleasure, a decline in school work and changes in sleeping and eating habits.
  6. Eating disorder: Either self-starvation (anorexia nervosa) or binge eating and vomiting (bulimia), or a combination of the two.
  7. Bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder: Periods of depression alternating with manic periods, which may include irritability, "high" or happy mood, excessive energy, behavior problems, staying up late at night, and grand plans.
  8. Psychosis: Symptoms include irrational beliefs, paranoia, hallucinations (seeing things or hearing sounds that don't exist) social withdrawal, clinging, strange behavior, extreme stubbornness, persistent rituals, and deterioration of personal habits. May be seen in developmental disorders, severe depression, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, and some forms of substance abuse.
  9. Autism: (or other pervasive developmental disorder, such as Asperger's Syndrome) Characterized by severe deficits in social interactions, language, and/or thinking or ability to learn, and usually diagnosed in early childhood.
  10. Severe aggression: May include assaultiveness, excessive property damage, or prolonged self-abuse, such as head-banging or cutting.
  11. Sleep problems: Symptoms can include insomnia, night terrors, sleep walking, fear of separation, anxiety.

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Medication, Part 2 would like to thank American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for this information in striving to make daycare and childcare a more productive and efficient service. You can contact them at: 3615 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20016-3007 voice: 202-966-7300 fax: 202-966-2891.

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