Alarming news: one in five boys in the USA will be diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by the time he goes to high school (not quite as many girls). Ten thousand toddlers, age 2-3, are now being given ADHD drugs even though the safety of this has not been studied so prescribing is “off-label”.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is the name used to describe a set of behaviors described as a lack of ability to pay attention, impulsivity, hyperactivity and restlessness—in any age group. Mainstream MDs consider it to derive from a chronic dysfunction in the brain, even though there are no measureable biomarkers indicating its origin in the brain. [i] Thus, it may be a behavioral issue rather than a medical issue.
Still, those who care for children with these behaviors are more apt to turn to ADHD medications as a relief measure. Why? They are fast-acting, and information gleaned from the internet generally says it’s ok.
The Effects of ADHD Medications
Research has yet to establish how the ADHD drugs affect toddlers whose “absorbent” brains are in critical stages of rapid growth. What we do know is that most ADHD drugs act on the brain–changing the way it works and perturbing its normal functioning. [ii]
The most famous brand names for these drugs are Ritalin
and Adderall. Newer drugs for ADHD include Vyvanse and Concerta. These stimulant drugs are classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency as Schedule II drugs. This means they have a “high potential for abuse” and “with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” In addition to stimulants like Ritalin, Adderall, Vyvanse, and Concerta, Schedule II drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, Demerol, and OxyContin.
According to research, ADHD medications lead about 11% of kids who continue using the drugs to develop symptoms of bipolar disorder within 4 years. [iii] [iv] The drugs can be helpful to calm the child in the short term, [v] but those kids who take these meds over 3 months have no appreciable improved academic performance, [vi] or change in problematic behavior, [vii] or improvements for any domain of child functioning. [viii] [ix] In fact, one study revealed that after 24-36 months there was a marked increase in ADHD symptoms as well as evidence that the drugs stunted physical growth. [x]
Effective Alternatives to ADHD Medications
What parents can do for toddlers and young kids who are extremely hyperactive and impulsive and seem to be bouncing off the walls all the time manage adhd without medication:
- Limit children’s screen time with TV, mobile devices, and computers. Try to limit the impact of radiation of electro-magnetic devices, inlcuding your home’s smart meters and near-by cell towers.
- Teach children the skills of self-discipline as is age-appropriate. Affirm positive behaviors and express loving appreciation frequently.
- Expand your knowledge of mental disturbances, like ADHD, and treatment beyond the commercials so prevalent on TV and websites sponsored by pharmaceutical companies that mask commercial intent.
- Understand the role of nutrition and micronutrients and pay close attention to diet. Yes, micronutrients have been proven to make a positive difference!
“Let food be our medicine and medicine be our food” said Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who lived almost 500 years before Christ was born. He also said, “medicine should do not harm.” We would be wise to return to this advice and feed our children what is truly nourishing.
We are the ones who have to turn down the blare of TV advertising promoting psych meds as the answer to emotional upsets. We are the ones to wake up, take a stand, and stop the madness of over-medicating our kids.
Author: Emma Bragdon, PhD is a proud grandmother of two active, enthusiastic kids, under ten. She is also the founder/ director of Integrative Mental Health for You, IMHU.org. IMHU’s aim is to educate consumers so we can all know the full spectrum of options for optimizing mental health (and take a very cautious approach to psych meds). IMHU will be launching a new course in July, 2014, on helping kids get over symptoms of ADHD without relying on ADHD medications.
Thanks to Robert Whitaker who continues to deftly collate and report research showing that the drugs used to counteract symptoms of ADHD can be harmful.
NOTES[i] NIH Consensus Development Conference statement, “Diagnosis and treatment of attentional deficit hyperactivity disorder,” Nov 16-18, 1998. [ii] Hyman, S “Initiation and adaptation: a paradigm for understanding psychotropic drug action,” American Journal of Psychiatry 153 , pp 151-161, 1996. [iii] Papolos, D. “Bipolar disorder, co-occurring conditions, and the need for extreme caution before initiating drug treatment,” Bipolar Child Newsletter 1, Nov. 1999. [iv] Biederman, J. “Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and juvenile mania,” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 35, pp997-1008, 1996. [v] Spencer, T “Pharmacotherapy of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder across the life cycle, “ Journal of the American Adademy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 35, pp 409-32, 1996. [vi] Schachar, R. “Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 47, pp 337-48, 2002. [vii] Breggin, P “Psychostimulants in the treatment of children diagnosed with ADHD,” International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine 12, pp, 3-35, 1993. [viii] Richters, J. “NIMH Collaborative Multisite Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD,” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 34, pp. 987-1000, 1995. [ix] Currie, J; Stabile, M & Jones, L. “Do Stimulant Medications Improve Educational and Behavioral Outcomes for Children with ADHD?” NBER Working Paper No. 19105, June 2013. [x] Jensen, P “3-year follow up of the NIMH MTA study,” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 46, pp. 989-1002, 2007.