Help Us Help Others:

ADHD medications are the most commonly prescribed pharmaceutical for young children, and one of the most commonly prescribed classes of drugs for youth overall. These medications have been around in one form or another since the 1950s. While many parents and teachers swear by them, there are many reasons to be concerned about the widespread use of these drugs, especially when it comes to the developing brain. Not only are they a narcotic drug we’re giving to children, but research casts serious doubt about whether they provide any long-term benefit. This chapter will give parents the information they need to make a more informed decision.

What are ADHD drugs?

Counterintuitively, the medicines used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are actually stimulants–essentially little hits of speed. The amphetamines are believed to produce an effect that boosts attention and concentration. In studies dating back to the 1970s, researchers have shown that both children with ADHD and those without will generally become calmer and more attentive after taking stimulants. (Higgins, 2009) The most optimistic claims suggest it may reduce some symptoms to some degree in 70% to 80% of children. (Rief, 1998)

Types of ADHD drugs

Practitioners almost universally prescribe stimulants to treat ADHD. These include Adderall, methylphenidate (Ritalin), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), and pemoline (Cylert). Sometimes tricyclic antidepressants are prescribed for a child who isn’t responding or cant tolerate the typical stimulants. These include imipramine (Tofanil), desiprimine (Norpramine), and amytriptyline (Elavil). Tricyclics are an older class of antidepressants that were shown to be ineffective at treating depression, so a doctor who prescribes these drugs is basically taking a shot in the dark.

In many cases SSRI antidepressants or antipsychotics may be prescribed alongside or in place of stimulants. Children who are difficult to handle are often prescribed antipsychotics, which act on the brain in similar ways. These include Olanzapine (Zyprexa), clozapine (Clozaril), aripiprazole (Abilify), ziprasidone (Geodon), or quetiapine (Seroquel). A doctor prescribing an antidepressant such as paroxetine (Paxil) or fluoxetine (Prozac) is hoping that raising a child’s brain serotonin levels will help calm them.

The dangers of ADHD medication

There is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to drug interventions, and ADHD medications come with a number of risks and side effects, which we’ll discuss in this chapter. These include:

  • Sudden death
  • Stunted growth and development
  • Adverse behavioral changes, such as anger or aggression
  • Mood swings
  • Onset of psychosis
  • Increased risk of addiction
  • Physical ailments such as headaches, stomach aches, or sleep difficulties

Alternatives to ADHD medication

Many people accept it as a given that if a child is diagnosed with ADHD then they need to be put on medication. But there are actually many behavioral therapies and other techniques that work far better than medication, and these can produce lasting results without all the dangerous side effects. (These techniques are covered in detail in our ADHD e-book.) Some of them will require a school’s cooperation; others can be implemented on your own. Though they require a little more effort in the beginning, virtually all psychologists recommend non-medication interventions as a first approach. So long as the adults around a child are willing to work with them, the slow-but-steady approach is always superior to drugs.

More Information:

Help Us Help Others: