Medicating children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a double-edged sword, not only because of the steep health risks posed by the medications themselves, but also because many kids labeled with “ADHD” actually do not have ADHD at all.
Diagnosing ADHD really comes down to a matter of opinion, as there is no physical test, like a brain scan, that can pinpoint the condition.
There’s only subjective evaluation, based on signs nearly every child will display at some point (fidgeting, easily distracted, difficulty waiting his or her turn, and so on).
But a recent report from the New York Times highlights an equally concerning, if not more so, practice that is endangering some low-income families: pediatricians using the ADHD diagnosis as “an excuse” to prescribe powerful drugs like Adderall to kids simply because they are struggling in school.
Mind-Altering Drugs to Boost Elementary School Grades?
One pediatrician told the New York Times that because society has decided not to modify a child’s school environment to promote better learning, there is no choice left but to “modify the kid,” which is done by prescribing drugs.
Adderall, which contains amphetamine (aka “speed”) and dextroamphetamine, is a stimulant drug that is often prescribed to improve attention and focus and reduce impulsiveness and hyperactivity in patients with ADHD.
Because of its stimulant properties, it’s become a black-market drug of choice for college kids looking to pull all-nighters to boost their grades. An estimated one in 10 college students abuse Adderall as a way to gain a competitive edge in their studies, often comparing it to athletes who use steroids.1 But the pills have a dark side, often quickly leading to addiction and causing other side effects like mood swings, insomnia, depression and panic attacks.
College students who use Adderall as a “study drug” is a large enough problem on its own, but for pediatricians to prescribe these drugs to children for the same purpose is shocking, and dangerous. Even more alarming is that one particular physician interviewed by the New York Times said he views the drugs as a tool for “evening the scales a little bit,” to give poor children a leg up in their schooling…
Prescriptions for Adderall on the Rise
The use of psychotropic drugs in children has been on a steep upward trend for decades. Writing in the Huffington Post, Lawrence Diller, MD said:2
“Given the current CDC data, one can safely estimate (based on previously detailed distribution curves) that one of six 11-year-old white boys with medical insurance currently take a stimulant drug at least during the school week… we are the only society currently managing our under performing/misbehaving children with drugs to this degree.”
Many of the children prescribed ADHD drugs do not have ADHD at all. One study determined that about 20 percent of children have likely been misdiagnosed.3 That’s nearly 1 million children in the United States alone.
The study found that many of the youngest children in any given grade level are perceived as exhibiting “symptoms” of ADHD, such as fidgeting and inability to concentrate, simply because they’re younger and being compared to their older, more mature classmates. In fact, the youngest students were 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest in the same grade. And when you take into account the maturity level, and in large part normal behavior of a 6- versus a 7-year old, you can easily see why.
Even if they did have ADHD, there are many superior alternatives for treatment than mind-altering drugs (which I’ll get to shortly).
But it is especially appalling when a physician openly admits that the ADHD diagnosis is simply a ruse to give kids drugs for the purpose of boosting their academic performance. In some cases, three and four children from the same family are all put on the medications, usually along with a prescribed sleep aid, as the pills often cause insomnia – as well as a long list of other serious side effects.
The Downward Spiral of Psychotropic Drug Use
Drugs like Adderall are powerful, mind-altering medications linked to growth suppression, increased blood pressure and psychotic episodes. In children, the impacts of their long-term use are completely unknown, although given the drug’s addictive nature, it’s quite possible these kids could become life-long addicts.
The New York Times featured the case of one family whose four children (ranging in age from 9 to 12) were prescribed either Adderall or Risperdal (an antipsychotic drug) along with sleep aids. After taking Adderall for years, one of the boys began seeing people and hearing voices that weren’t there – a known side effect of the drug. He became suicidal and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where he was then taken off Adderall and put onto Risperdal – another mind-altering drug with serious side effects.
Despite the child’s psychotic reaction, the parents continued to use the drugs in their other children, even though they acknowledged some of them did not have ADHD and were using Adderall “merely to help their grades.” Perhaps they are not aware, as many aren’t, that Adderall can cause potentially life-threatening side effects – the risks of which simply can’t be justified when used only to boost grades. Among them:4
·Worse behavior or thought problems
·Psychotic symptoms (hearing voices, believing things that are not true) or manic symptoms
·Sudden death in patients who have heart problems or heart defects
·Stroke or heart attackIncreased blood pressure and heart rate
·Seizures and eyesight changes
·Slowing of growth in children
Does Adderall Steal Your Ability to Enjoy Life?
Many who start taking Adderall in high school or college as a way to boost their success find it does help them to excel in school and, later, in the job market. But the easy path to success comes at a price…
Former addicts explain the feeling that the drug took over their lives, allowing them to work and concentrate with a robot-like efficiency, but causing them to ignore the physical, emotional and social aspects of life, as well as their former creative passions.5 If they’re lucky, those affected are able to break free from Adderall’s spell – a process one former addict described as a “horrible, horrible process”6 – but what becomes of the child who started Adderall at the age of 8 or 9, during some of his or her key formative years?
Do these children grow up never knowing who they really are? What passions they may have had if not under the drug’s influence? And will they be able to quit when they are older, or will they be turned into life-long addicts? The answers to these questions are unknown.
Dr. William Graf, a pediatrician and child neurologist, told the New York Times he’s concerned the rising use of stimulant drugs may impact “the authenticity of development:”
“These children are still in the developmental phase, and we still don’t know how these drugs biologically affect the developing brain. There’s an obligation for parents, doctors and teachers to respect the authenticity issue, and I’m not sure that’s always happening.”
If You Have a “Hyper” Child You Want to Help Excel at School…
Before resorting to drugs, please understand that behavioral problems in children – including whatmight appear to be serious mental disorders – are very frequently related to improper diet, emotional upset and exposure to toxins.
Increasingly, scientific evidence shows that nourishing your gut flora with the beneficial bacteria found in traditionally fermented foods (or a probiotic supplement) is extremely important for proper brain function, and that includes psychological well-being and mood control. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride has successfully demonstrated the power and effectiveness of this theory. In her Cambridge, England clinic, she treats children and adults with a range of conditions, including autism, ADD/ADHD, neurological disorders, psychiatric disorders, immune disorders, and digestive problems using the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Nutritional Program, which she developed.
Her GAPS theory – which is fully explained in her excellent book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome – is an elegant description of how such conditions can develop as a direct result of gastrointestinal toxicity. Another helpful tool is my three-part interview with renowned children’s health expert, the late Dr. Lendon Smith, on Non-Drug Treatment of ADD/ADHD.
Written by Dr. Mercola
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