Long term, ADD drugs

This article sketches the view that ADHD drugs don’t work  in the longterm.

THREE million children in this country take drugs for problems in focusing. Toward the end of last year, many of their parents were deeply alarmed because there was a shortage of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall that they considered absolutely essential to their children’s functioning.

But are these drugs really helping children? Should we really keep expanding the number of prescriptions filled?

In 30 years there has been a twentyfold increase in the consumption of drugs for attention-deficit disorder.

As a psychologist who has been studying the development of troubled children for more than 40 years, I believe we should be asking why we rely so heavily on these drugs.

Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither improve school achievement nor reduce behavior problems. The drugs can also have serious side effects, including stunting growth.

Sadly, few physicians and parents seem to be aware of what we have been learning about the lack of effectiveness of these drugs.



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  • Ouch…really? I have been on this journey with one of my sons. It is extremely difficult to navigate. Information like this is ABSOLUTELY not helpful, because all it does, in my estimation in the Christian context is produce guilt. “You should be able to do this without the medication, YOU FAILURE!” The reality, as my wife and I have been down this road, is that the medication is a part of a holistic approach that has included learning how to create an environment for our son that is optimal and learning how to create a system and a structure for him that will allow him to flourish. In my experience, it has been a lot like Spiritual Formation! We have had to surrender our old selves to a new way of being. We have had to unlearn old, bad habits, and relearn new, healthy ones. But, the medication is a gigantic piece of the puzzle that helps him be able to navigate the new environment. My research on this type of info that these Drugs have devastating long term effects is just untrue. Bad parenting and a broken society have devastating long term effects on children.

  • Lindsay

    Do you have any thoughts on taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs long-term?

  • Jason – I can definitely relate to your pain as well as to the route you and your wife have taken with your son to help him on the whole, beyond medication.

    My daughter has ADHD. She is not medicated at this time. We see a child psych who has been tremendously helpful. Also, she’s not in a regular 5-day-week school. Rather, she attends a University Model School where she attends class 2x/week and learns at home the other days. Her teachers set the curriculum and schedule that I follow with her at home. She’s joined a swim team and gets plenty of physical outlet for her energy!

    We aren’t anti-meds, but we do want to keep her off them as long as we can.

    I think kids with ADHD are treated very unfairly, esp in the church, and resonate with the “guilt” you mention. I often find myself on the defensive having to justify why we had her tested and in therapy in the first place. As if we could have disciplined the behavior out of her.

  • JoeyS

    I was diagnosed with ADD (not ADHD) by about every teacher I had in elementary school. My parents chose not to medicate. I made it through college, but had a lot of difficulty studying for long periods of time. As an adult a counselor recommended I try medication. I hesitated for a year before choosing to try that route. I’ve been using ritalin for over 2 years now and it has helped my productivity (and my emotional clarity) drastically.

  • scotmcknight

    Lindsay, those are questions for a medical person to answer.

  • I have 5 children, 3 by adoption – kids who had obstacles both pre & postnatally. My 13 year old son has been on ADHD medication since he was 4. Yes, that is very early, but if you haven’t lived with and tried to help a child who has SERIOUS attention and hyperactivity issues, you just don’t know what it’s like. When the doctor said that our oldest (now 20) had ADD, we resisted medication and he’s learned to cope. But it’s a whole different ball game for his little brother – a sweet, polite kid who struggles mightily to focus, even WITH medication. Without, it’s a nightmare. I wish someone would provide a better solution, because the effectiveness of the medicine always diminishes over time and we have to up the dose again. But until someone has a better idea….we have little choice.
    I’ve got yet another parent-teacher conference next week, with teachers who love my son but can’t figure out how to help him focus. Neither can I.

  • mg

    I was diagnosed with ADD in the 5th grade, but I wasn’t the stereotypical ADD kid. We figured out I had ADD when I came home from school everyday with severe headaches as a result of trying to concentrate over the music my teacher played in the background. I was a good student and the distractions made it difficult. For the past 17 years, I have taken medication for ADD (though my parents never allowed me to use ADD as an excuse for bad behavior). Can I survive without the meds? Yes, but it is like looking through a foggy window. The medication allows me to focus and I feel much sharper. I know that there are tons of misuse and abuse of these medications. And, medication might not be for everyone who has ADD. Medication also requires adjustment, especially through puberty. But for me, I’m very thankful for the meds.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    I appreciate the concern regarding children. A younger brother had ADHD. My parents combined Ritalin, an occasional Coke (for the caffeine) and sound-proofing his room to reduce distractions (he is a musician). It worked well.

    However I was just diagnosed and began Adderall, 5 mg. 2x per day. It spiked my blood pressure.

    Randy Gabrielse