According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.”(1) It’s characterized by three key traits: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
This condition, as well as ADD (attention deficit disorder), are diagnosed by observing behaviors. There is no medical test, such as blood tests or a brain scan, capable of diagnosing the condition.
Because of the vague nature of the qualifying characteristics that lead to an ADHD diagnosis, many kids are being unnecessarily medicated. In fact, many children who experience ADHD symptoms are simply experiencing behavioral issues that stem circumstances in their life at home and at school. Other medical conditions may also be responsible for their behavior.
What to Know Before Medicating your Child
Although increasing amount of children are medicated for ADHD, not all doctors believe the condition exists.
According to Dr. Tasneem Bahtia, a board-certified physician, acupuncturist, and nutritionist:“ADD and ADHD are the result of neurotransmitter and neuroendocrine imbalances. The four main imbalances include high norepineprine and cortisol, dopamine dysfunction, serotonin deficiency, and insulin irregularity. Each of these imbalances is rooted in nutritional deficiencies that with correction, improve symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention. Food allergies and intolerances also contribute to malabsorption of nutrients.”(2)
Others, like Chicago neurologist and ADHD specialist Dr. Richard Saul, believe the condition is a cluster of symptoms that stem from more than 20 other conditions, including depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (3).
While ADHD is typically diagnosed in children aged 6-12 who’ve experienced symptoms for 6 months or more, adults are being increasingly diagnosed too (4).
But this trend may also be due to the overdiagnosis and misdiagnosis of misbehaving children. When children are given ADHD drugs, especially if they do not truly have the condition, it can cause serious psychological disorders. In fact, an article published in the American Journal of Psychiatry expressed concerns regarding increased severity of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in individuals who were prescribed ADHD stimulant drugs in childhood (5).
Stimulants drugs are not approved for children of 2-6 years old. Despite this, between 0.51% to 1.23% of children between theses ages are being treated with stimulants in the USA, according to Medicaid statistics (6).
The National Institute of Mental Health states that “under medical supervision, stimulant medications are considered safe”, so physicians and parents continue to Medicaid preschool-aged children to make them more obedient and calm. However, studies show that there’s are significant cardiovascular risks of using a stimulant drug to treat AHDH (7). The FDA even recommends that “Patients treated with ADHD medications should be periodically monitored for changes in heart rate or blood pressure.” (8)
In a recent interview on MSNBC, drug abuse and addiction expert Carl Hart of Columbia University even stated that “There isn’t much difference between the demonized street drug methamphetamine (also known as meth or crystal meth) and the prescription drug Adderall.”(9)
Typical ADHD Medication
Children diagnosed with ADHD are typically given the following prescription medication (10):
Stimulants such as amphetamine (Adderall or Dexedrine) and methylphenidate (Concerta, Metadate CD, or Ritalin), which reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity to improve focus.
Atomoxetine (Strattera), a nonstimulant medication.
Clonidine (Kapvay) and guanfacine (Intuniv), nonstimulant medicines that treat aggression, inattention, and impulsivity.
Ritalin, perhaps the best known ADHD drug of all, has serious side effects. It’s estimated that 2.5 million children in the United States are taking medication for the condition (11).
Worse of all researchers led by Madelyn Gould of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University in New York City found that out of a group of 564 children and teens who died suddenly were 7.4 times more likely than not to have been taking stimulant medications. This may be due to the drug’s effect on the cardiovascular system.
Ritalin treatment has many common side effects, including (12,13):
Loss of appetite
Emotional ups and downs
Insomnia and dizziness
Muscle tics or twitches
Ritalin is also addictive, and withdrawal can lead to depression, disturbed sleep, malnutrition, cardiovascular complications, and stroke (14).
Amphetamine, like methylphenidate, can be habit-forming.
Serious side effects of amphetamine include (15):
Feeling like you might pass out
New behavior problems
Feeling pain or cold
Skin color changes in your fingers or toes
Changes in your vision
Unexplained muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness
More common side effects include:
Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite
Mood changes, feeling restless or nervous, sleep problems (insomnia)
Dry mouth, unusual or unpleasant taste in the mouth
Runny nose, nosebleeds
Increased heart rate
Impotence and sexual problems
In light of all these side effects, are these drugs truly suitable for children?