Just last year 10 million prescriptions were written for one such drug, Ritalin. CBS News Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports.
Andreas Montanez hasn't always been cooperative in school. His first days at a Fort Worth Texas kindergarten were a lesson in patience for his teacher Deborah Brown.
"He was out of control," Brown says.
His mother, Renee was well aware of the problem. Her son's preschool had threatened to expel him.
At one point he even head-butted a teacher, giving her a bloody nose.
Doctors labeled his behavior Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, and prescribed the drugs Dexedrine and Clonidine to calm him down.
Andreas was only three and a half but his mother felt pressured by the school to medicate him just to keep him in class.
"If it meant that he was going to take medicine and that was going to cure the situation, I was going to try it," says his mother.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that more and more preschool children like Andreas are being prescribed powerful drugs to control their behavior. One reason for that is a staggering increase in diagnoses of ADHD.
It's become a problem of epic proportions in southeastern Virginia where 17 percent of elementary school children have been diagnosed with ADHD. That's more than double the national average.
As a result, doling out drugs is as routine as recess. Kids at Malibu Elementary in Virginia Beach file into the nurses' office every lunchtime for their medication. The students get mostly Ritalin and its cousin adderol.
Malibu's principal Kathy Hwang says she never pushes drugs on parents, but she admits they work.
"With some children, it does make a big difference. Their behavior is much more manageable when they've had their medication," says Hwang.
That is if they actually have ADHD, says child psychologist Gretchen LeFever, whose research exposed the problem in southeastern Virginia.
"We are probably jumping to the conclusion of a child with behavioral and learning problems of having ADHD too quickly. Many of these children who have ADHD probably have other disorders," says LeFever.
LeFever is particularly alarmed by the increase in preschool diagnoses.
"We wouldn't expect them to be able to sit still and yet they are being medicated for not sitting still in a preschool setting. That doesn't make sense," says Lefever.
Back in Texas, It didn't make sense to Renee Montanez either, who says drugs were making Andreas weepy and he was falling asleep in class. When doctors finally tried to prescribe Paxil, an antidepressant, she said, "Enough."
Now she is weaning him off all medication all together.
She's formed a united front withis teacher and is shaping his behavior with a no nonsense discipline regimen that seems to be paying off.
His mother says that off the medication, he has had the best homework, the best handwriting skills and the best attitude she has seen in a long time.
It is proof positive, in this one case, that alternatives to medication can work.