ADD/ADHD drugs work. If your child is having problems at school, his teacher or psychologist might tell you about other kids who are magically concentrating, behaving, and getting A’s after being given drugs for attention-deficit, and pressurize you to consult a doctor. And if this can help your distracted, aggressive child get along better with others, do well in school and then do well in life, why not?
But ADD/ADHD medication is not the fast and easy way to create a well-behaved, disciplined, organized child (of course there is no fast and easy way). Here are some reasons you should avoid ADD/ADHD drugs for children.
1. You can do it yourself (with help from friends and family)
It is not easy, and there is a lot of propaganda against it, but it is true. And the way to do it is to show real, consistent love to your child. Do not believe the dangerous lie repeated so often in our society and the internet about troubled children, even in very respectable sites about ADD/ADHD: that the advice to show more love to them is nonsense, or that children influence parents just as much as parents influence children.
Here are some ways you can show love to a struggling child: believe that he will come through, spend time with him doing things he enjoys (make sure it is pleasant!), love the people who love your child and who your child loves, and discipline him without rejecting him emotionally.
You need not – and should not – ‘consult a professional’, as we are advised so often today, for every little emotional and behavior problem. If you do go, look for someone who makes you comfortable and does not immediately come up with a label for his ‘disease’ and suggestions for medication.
2. Your child’s talents are different
Maybe your child has talents which are simply ignored in conventional schools. Look for other options besides medication to make him conform in a place which does not encourage his strengths: special schools for children with difficulties, home schooling, or a tutoring program. Again, if it is a different school, check if you and your child feel good about the staff. Temple Grandin, the famous animal behavior scientist, was thrown out of her mainstream school for getting into fights with other students, and this resulted in her going to an excellent special school for troubled girls. The school had a farm attached, and the science teacher became her mentor.
Many children in trouble at school or struggling with academic work often do well in other things. The question is not just about making him get passing grades, but about how to find out what he is good at and how to develop his talents.
3. They have mental side effects
Atomoxetine (Strattera) can cause thoughts of suicide, and Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Adderall (dextroamphetamine) can lead to mood changes and abnormal behavior. This becomes much more likely when ADD/ADHD drugs are prescribed to suppress behavior that might be a child’s way of asking for help.
A child’s attention and behavior problems may be caused by depression, abuse, post-traumatic stress, or simply by poor relationships in the classroom and school. Giving Ritalin or Adderall to a child struggling with these issues will only make things worse for him because of the way these drugs function.
This is because ADD/ADHD drugs work by reducing some positive traits like curiosity and playfulness, and will increase negative traits like submissiveness. Are these really the qualities you want your child to have?
4. They are the gateway drugs
They are gateways not only to substance abuse, but also to dangerous overmedication with other psycho-neurotic drugs for children.
What ever your typical ADD/ADHD websites say (and there are lots of them saying the same thing) about substance abuse being less likely in children given drugs for ADD/ADHD, you have to be careful your child or his friends don’t abuse the medication itself. Older children or their classmates might know that an overdose will give them a high. Cases of trading in drugs like Ritalin are not unknown.
Another scary possibility when these powerful medicines are carelessly prescribed is that they will lead to perfectly legal but very dangerous overmedication with all sorts of psycho-neurotic drugs. This is more likely to happen when, say, a child whose attention problems are due to conflict in his family, is prescribed medication for attention-deficit. The drugs will suppress his healthy efforts to cope with the stress and cause mood swings for which he is prescribed more medicine. And so on the cycle goes, till the child ends up with physical and emotional problems much worse than what he started with.
5. They have physical side effects
Drugs for attention deficit and hyperactivity can have a few unpleasant side-effects. Some of the milder side effects are stomach aches, headaches, sleeplessness and loss of appetite. Your doctor can tell you how to manage these by adjusting dosage or the time you take the medicine.
More serious side effects include weight loss for adults, slower growth for children, liver damage and heart attacks especially in people susceptible to heart trouble. You should his doctor about allergies, heart or liver problems in your child or anyone in the immediate family, and other medication that he is taking.
Are you really sure the benefits of taking drugs for ADD/ADHD outweigh the risks to your child? If you do choose not to medicate your son or daughter, be prepared: you will need to work hard to teach them what they should be learning at school and also face the criticism of parents and school psychologists for whom Ritalin is often an easy, no-fault answer to learning and discipline problems. But your rewards will also be greater.