An update on pharmacological treatments for stuttering

drugs illustration

Dr. Gerald Maguire recently spoke with Peter Reitzes for a Stuttertalk podcast. He is the director of the Kirkup Center for the Medical Treatment of Stuttering. This is the only research centre in the world dedicated exclusively to the field of study of the treatment of stuttering through medicine. He is also the author of Without Hesitation: Speaking to the Silence and the Science of Stuttering.

Stuttering redefined

Dr. Maguire explains in the interview that the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, reclassifies stuttering into different categories. Developmental stuttering is referred to as "Childhood Onset Fluency Disorder" and is considered separate from the psychological aspects that can be present alongside stuttering, such as anxiety, attention deficit disorder and avoidance behavior. Dr. Maguire's topic is drug treatment for adults who stutter that addresses psychological aspects.

Dopamine blockers

Currently there are not any drugs FDA approved to specifically treat stuttering, although some people receive prescriptions for pharmaceuticals to alleviate stuttering symptoms. These drugs are generally "Dopamine blockers" that reduced the presence of Dopamine in the brain, which is a brain chemical that initiates and regulates movement, among other things. High levels of Dopamine are found in patients with tic disorders, Tourette's syndrome and pschizophrenia, as well as stuttering.

Years ago Dr. Maguire led research into a drug, Pagoclone, intended to treat stuttering. This drug affected the brain chemical Gaba, which inhibits movement, unlike Dopamine. Although the drug had positive effects in the area of reducing social anxiety, it did not succeed in trials as a drug to administer for stuttering.

Not a quick fix

Dr. Maguire cautions patients who come to him looking for a "quick fix", as that is not what pharmaceutical treatment does. Nor is it meant for people who have given up on speech therapy. Maguire's advice is that the best use of prescribed drugs for stuttering is alongside treatment from a speech language pathologist, just as someone taking prescribed drugs for severe depression would still have treatment sessions with his or her psychiatrist. Those who did not see results from speech therapy in the past may find they are in a better position to respond to it upon using the prescribed medication.

The future of medication for stuttering

Although some people are irked by the idea of taking drugs for stuttering, Dr. Maguire states there is nothing wrong with it, just as people with other conditions are helped by responsible use of prescribed medications. Although a drug to specifically target stuttering with minimal side effects has not yet been found, Dr. Maguire believes it is just a decade or so away.

A person who stutters interested in drug treatment for stuttering would consult with his doctor and a board certified psychiatrist who is familiar with issues surrounding fluency. A speech language pathologist can offer consultation with the psychiatrist if needed. A patient should be fully aware of side effects associated with any medication and be in consultation with a psychiatrist regularly when using the prescribed medication.


Stuttertalk interview with Dr. Gerald Maguire

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