Other common names: acid agents, GABA agents, gamma-aminobutyric agents, benzodiazepine, barbiturates
At a glance: GABAergic agents
Type of therapy
Medical
The claim
Helps reduce undesirable behaviour like anxiety, panic, hyperactivity and aggression
Suitable for
People who have difficulties with impulse control, including children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Research rating

Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.

Not yet reviewed by our research sources.
Warnings
Warning   Barbiturates aren’t usually prescribed, because they cause drowsiness and have the potential to become addictive. Benzodiazepine use can increase behaviour problems in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or cause cognitive ‘dulling’ – for example, memory impairment or lack of motor coordination.
Time

Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration

0-10
Little time is needed to take the medication, but treatment might be ongoing.
Cost

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week

$0-30
The cost depends on the class of medication but is under $35 per script filled.

What are GABAergic agents?

GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is a neurotransmitter. GABAergic agents are medications that affect the level of GABA in the brain. Barbiturates and benzodiazepine are examples of these medications.

Who are GABAergic agents for?

GABAergic agents can be used by people who suffer anxiety, including people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What are GABAergic agents used for?

GABAergic agents are usually used to treat anxiety, panic disorders and seizure disorders.

Where does GABAergic agent therapy come from?

In the 1950s, scientists discovered that GABA is an important chemical in the central nervous system. GABAergic agents were developed to treat conditions related to the central nervous system, including the overactive ‘fight or flight’ response involved in anxiety and panic disorders.

The connection between GABAergic agents and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been studied since the late 1980s.

What is the idea behind GABAergic agent therapy?

Some researchers think an increase in certain types of brain activity leads to symptoms like panic and anxiety. The idea is that GABAergic agents reduce brain activity by stimulating GABA production and that this helps people cope with feelings of anxiety and panic.

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often experience physical tension and anxiety, as well as decreased pain responses. It’s thought that using GABAergic agents in children with ASD can control these symptoms and reduce aggression and impulsive behaviour.

What does GABAergic agent therapy involve?

GABAergic agent therapy involves taking oral medication on a daily basis. The specific medication and dosage depends on each child’s symptoms.

A specialist medical practitioner like a psychiatrist should monitor a child taking GABAergic agents. The child needs regular appointments with this specialist.

Cost considerations

The cost of this therapy varies depending on the brand of drug used, whether the drug is covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), the drug dose or strength, and whether you hold a concession card like a Health Care Card.

Does GABAergic agent therapy work?

This therapy has not yet been rated.

Barbiturates aren’t usually prescribed, because they cause drowsiness and have the potential to become addictive. Using benzodiazepine can increase behaviour problems in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or cause cognitive ‘dulling’ – for example, memory impairment and lack of motor coordination.

Who practises GABAergic agent therapy?

GABAergic agents must be prescribed by a GP, paediatrician or child psychiatrist.

These professionals can also give you information about the potential benefits and risks of using GABAergic agents.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If your child is taking GABAergic agents, you need to ensure that your child takes the medication as required. You also need to monitor its effects and side effects, and arrange follow-up visits with your child’s health professional to review the medication plan.

Where can you find a practitioner?

Your child’s GP can refer you and your child to a paediatrician or child psychiatrist.

You can find a child psychiatrist by going to Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists – Find a psychiatrist.

You could also talk about this therapy with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.

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Last updated or reviewed
01-08-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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