The Use of Medication

Challenging behaviour may happen for many reasons and it is really important to find out why it is happening. Medication should only be prescribed following a proper assessment and where a clear reason for using medication has been identified. There is a long history of excessive and inappropriate use of major tranquillising medication for “treating” challenging behaviour. Medication should not be used in this way.




The following 5 steps should be taken before medication is prescribed:

  1. Make sure an assessment is made identifying the reasons for a person’s challenging behaviour. This will take time and may require different professionals to help.
  2. Check the person is not physically ill and question whether they have a mental health problem e.g. depression, mania, dementia. Someone who knows the person well (e.g. a parent or carer) may be best placed to know if something is out of the ordinary.
  3. If the person has a mental health problem, such as depression, which may have led to their challenging behaviour, then medication which is known to help treat that condition may help. Care needs to be taken. Starting doses of such medication are usually less than with the general population and must be increased carefully.
  4. Side effects and the person’s mood and mental state should be monitored to determine whether the medication is effective. Frequency and severity of challenging behaviour should also be monitored. People with learning disabilities may be more at risk of side effects.
  5. Medication should only be given with the person’s consent (or if the person is a child, the parents’ consent). If an adult lacks the capacity to make a decision about taking the medication, medication can be given as long as it is in his/her ‘best interests’. 
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