Are ADHD Medications for Kids Helpful or Harmful?

Are-ADHD-Medications-for-Kids-Helpful-or-HarmfulAs attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication use spreads, so does the controversy surrounding it. The explosion of prescriptions for ADHD medications for kids may be due to several factors, such as enhanced marketing by pharmaceutical companies, the inclusion of milder cases in ADHD diagnoses, and the illegal purchasing of ADHD medications by consumers, like college students, who want stimulants to boost their focusing power in school.[1]

But are ADHD drugs actually needed as much as they are used and prescribed? And are they even helping? Research shows that stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall might not even do their job of helping children with ADHD in the first place. 

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Risks of ADHD medications for kids

Studies estimate that 11% of children ages 4 to 17 in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD, and half of these children take stimulant medications for their condition. While ADHD drugs like Ritalin and Adderall are considered safe under correct medical supervision, there are concerns about the short- and long-term side effects of these drugs. They can cause headaches, insomnia, decreased appetite, and depression. They might also pose a significant cardiovascular risk, which was added as a warning label to the drug after a vote by the FDA in 2006.[1]

ADHD medications may make children perform worse in school, not better

The argument for the use of many drugs is that the side effects are outweighed by the benefits. ADHD drugs are supposed to help children focus and stay calm, with the goal of helping them to do better in school. But what if they don’t? A recent study in the Journal of Health Economics suggests that not only are ADHD drugs ineffective at boosting academic performance, but they also might be making it worse.[2]

The study found that children who used ADHD medication showed deterioration in academic outcomes including grade repetition and math scores. In girls, specifically, stimulant use was associated with increased unhappiness, a higher probability of having depression, as well as decreased math scores and a lower chance of having any post-secondary education. The authors conclude, “Our results suggest that observers of the large increases in the use of medication for ADHD in Canada, the U.S., and other countries are right to be concerned.”[2]

Alternative options for ADHD

In some cases, stimulant medications can help children, but clearly, this is not true for every child (or even most children). If your child has ADHD, there are numerous natural alternatives to try first. Follow the links below for more information on ADHD and ideas for treatment:

Share your experience

Do you have a child with ADHD? Do they use medication, and if so, does it help? Share your thoughts on the use of ADHD medications in kids in the comments section below.


[1] Expert Rev Neurother. 2014 May;14(5):569-81.

[2] J Health Econ. 2014 Sep;37:58-69.

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