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Prescription Drugs and Violence

It’s not just illegal drugs that are associated with violent and aggressive behavior. A well documented correlation exists with many popular drugs (mainly antidepressants/antipsychotic) and acts of hostility, aggression and violence towards others (and ones-self). These pharmaceutical drugs which carry ‘black box’ warnings are increasing in the rate prescribed to adults and children in the US. Should we be surprised to be witnessing an increase in violence in our community and schools?

Increase in diagnosis and drug use

The bible for mental health professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, etc),  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’(DSM-5), makes it easy to fit every person and child into neatly defined categories of ‘mental illness’ and once a person is labeled with a specific mental illness(es) they can be prescribed powerful anti-psychotic drugs (even to children as young as 3 years of age) that may or may not be associated with violent or suicidal behavior.

The new revision for the DSM-5 will be published in May of this coming year (2013) and we are guaranteed to witness an increase (specifically in children) that are diagnosed with disorders that are treated with drugs that are associated with aggression. This increase will be to due to more lienant criteria to meet certain diagnoses (such as ADD and anxiety) and many new ‘disorders’ focused on children such as Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder. (If you have yet to read about DMDD may I suggest you do so- here is a good article that provides research that illustrates many flaws of this 'diagnosis' of kids with temper tantrums.)

Am I suggesting that mental health professionals are purposefully trying to push dangerous drugs on as many people as possible – absolutely not. These professionals are trying to help everyone that needs it, however, I think we need to be exceptionally cautious in three area of mental illness management: diagnosis, treatment, and long term use of pharmaceuticals. 

What you can do

If you are considering using or giving your child a drug, check out MedWatch in addition to talking to your doctor. This website is the FDA’s reporting system for adverse events and recalls associated with pharmaceutical drugs. There have been over 11,000 reported events to MedWatch for psychiatric drug side effects related to violence (between 2004-2011).

Speaking specifically to violence and aggressive behavior, check out On the website there is a section titled Violence Zone which allows you to enter the name of a drug and see the side effects relating to violence. The data is sorted in organized tables, heat maps, and tag clouds – even interactive graphs that show you what is happening with others taking that same drug around the globe.

RxIsk is a great resource. It is owned by the Data Based Medicine Americas (based in Toronto) and has an international reputation for finding early drug-side effects and risks.

If you are experiencing a side effect due to a pharmaceutical drug – please report it! Drug side effects are a leading cause of death and injury, yet less then 5 percent of serious side effects are reported.

Also, consider signing this petition which is targeting the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform. The petition is asking lawmakers to require an investigation into the role of psychiatric drugs and violence in relation to school shootings and similar acts of violence.

Top 10 associated with violence

Research published last year from ISMP (The Institute for Safe Medication Practices) raised concerns about violent side effects of some very popular antipsychotic drugs (most of which are antidepressants).

This list was reported in Time magazine which can be found here and read to its entirety. I also suggest reading the actual published research found here.

10. Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq) An antidepressant which affects both serotonin and noradrenaline, this drug is 7.9 times more likely to be associated with violence than other drugs.
9. Venlafaxine (Effexor) A drug in the class of antidepressants, it used to treat anxiety disorders. Effexor is 8.3 times more likely than other drugs to be related to violent behavior.
8. Fluvoxamine (Luvox) An antidepressant that affects serotonin (SSRI), Luvox is 8.4 times more likely than other medications to be linked with violence

7. Triazolam (Halcion) A benzodiazepine which can be addictive, used to treat insomnia. Halcion is 8.7 times more likely to be linked with violence than other drugs, according to the study.

6. Atomoxetine (Strattera) Used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Strattera affects the neurotransmitter noradrenaline and is 9 times more likely to be linked with violence compared to the average medication.

5. Mefoquine (Lariam) A treatment for malaria, Lariam has long been linked with reports of bizarre behavior. It is 9.5 times more likely to be linked with violence than other drugs.

4. Amphetamines: (Various) Amphetamines are used to treat ADHD and affect the brain’s dopamine and noradrenaline systems. They are 9.6 times more likely to be linked to violence, compared to other drugs.

3. Paroxetine (Paxil) An SSRI antidepressant, Paxil is also linked with more severe withdrawal symptoms and a greater risk of birth defects compared to other medications in that class. It is 10.3 times more likely to be linked with violence compared to other drugs.

2. Fluoxetine (Prozac) The first well-known SSRI antidepressant, Prozac is 10.9 times more likely to be linked with violence in comparison with other medications.

1. Varenicline (Chantix) The anti-smoking medication Chantix affects the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, which helps reduce craving for smoking. Unfortunately, it’s 18 times more likely to be linked with violence compared to other drugs.


The research reported by the ISMP is valid and raises genuine concern about adverse violent events associated with a particular small group of drugs (of which many are given to children).

It is also significant to state that this report utilizes data from MedWatch which the FDA acknowledges only holds a fraction (1-5%) of side effects because of acute under-reporting.

Please read more about any prescription drug(s) you are considering on using, both on yourself or your child. Consider mentioning these websites if someone you love is using a prescription drug in their recovery process. Also, please contact a healthcare professional if someone you know starts acting aggressively, being disturbingly angry or shows violence to others or themselves.

Read more here:

Frances, Allen. DSM 5 will further inflate the ADD bubble. Psychology Today. Aug 2011

Szalavitz, Maia. Top ten legal drugs linked to violence. Time. Jan 2011

Moore, Thomas. Glenmullen, Joseph. Furberg, Curt. Prescription drugs associated with reports of violence towards others. PLOSOne. 2011

Another School Shooting, Another Psychiatric Drug? Federal Investigation Long Overdue. Citizens commission on human rights international. July 2012

Prescription-Drug-Induced Violence Medicine"s Best Kept Secret? News Guide US – News, articles, press releases. Nov 2012

FDA - MedWatch


  1. that is scary, but it makes a lot of sense!! I have seen it personally in several different people.

    1. Hey Jessica! Thanks for commenting.

      I think the most determental effects are going to be seen in children - those who are exposed to long term drug use that has been linked with aggressive/violent behavior...I think we are already beginning to witness it...

  2. Why would the health authorities never banned these type of drugs in the market? Its negative psychological effects are enough reason to penalize its manufacturer not to mention other harms that it might cause to its customers like complications for those with pre-existing heart conditions and birth defects. In fact, hundreds of lawsuits especially the birth defect lawsuits are now being filed because of the adverse effects that these drugs might bring.

  3. Anonymous5/20/2013

    Not surprised to see Chantix as #1. I found out firsthand the evils of that drug! And discontinuing the drug doesn't discontinue its adverse effects, at least not for quite some time. I was definitely better off as a smoker than after I tried that drug!

    1. I've read some very interesting reports on Chantix...


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