ADHD and Stimulant Drugs

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November 28, 2012 by sarahmortonisp

ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a neurological disorder involving “inattention, impulsivity, and excessive motor activity resulting in academic and social problems” (p. 304). According to Laura E. Berk, author of Development Through the Lifespan, ADHD exists in 3-6% of school-age children. ADHD, a mostly heritable disorder, is diagnosed four times as often in boys than in girls, Berk says, and it is “deficient executive processing that underlies ADHD symptoms” (p. 304). 
The most common treatment for ADHD is stimulant medication. Stimulant drugs reduce symptoms in 70% of children, Berk asserts, “as long as dosage is carefully regulated”. These drugs function to increase activity in the brain’s frontal lobes, “thereby improving the child’s capacity to sustain attention and to inhibit off-task behavior”. On the other hand, however, Berk acknowledges that “medication is not enough”. “Drugs cannot teach children to compensate for inattention and impulsivity” she says, claiming that the best approach would be medication with interventions “that model and reinforce appropriate academic and social behavior”. 
The subject of psychiatry in relation to ADHD is one that is under great debate. While it is commonly believed that the numbers of children diagnosed with this disorder is increasing, Berk rejects this idea, saying instead that “two large surveys yielded similar overall prevalence rates 20 years ago and today”. She does admit, however, that “at times, children are overdiagnosed and unnecessarily medicated because their parents and teachers are impatient with inattentive, active behavior within normal range”. The effects of overdiagnosing ADHD can be devastating. In 2006, the FDA warned that “stimulants might impair heart functioning, even causing sudden death in a few individuals”. Berk believes that “debate over the safety of medication for ADHD is likely to intensify”.
Whether ADHD is over-diagnosed and children are given stimulant drugs too freely is still under debate. The results have been hypothesized to be dependence on the chemical methylphenidate, insomnia, possible immediate health risks, and more (http://ritalinsideeffects.net/). A Newsweek article titled “RITALIN: Are We Overmedicating Our Children?” was published in 1996. Drugs like Adderrall and Ritalin can be found circulating in public schools as a means to “get high”. Yet doctors and medical journalists still argue that “ADHD is not an imaginary disorder”, and that  “the issue is not whether children can benefit from these drugs [such as Ritalin]. The real issue….is how to use them effectively” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2000/04/23/does-my-child-need-ritalin.html). 

So, while it is unclear exactly what the give-and-take of risk vs. reward stimulant drugs may have on ADHD patients is, as a possible future educator and parent I can become educated on the subject. ADHD is a real disorder, yet it may be over-diagnosed. Ritalin, Focalin, Vyvanse, Adderall, etc. are used to treat this disorder, yet they may cause serious health risks and dependency. There is no easy fix for ADHD. If at all possible, the best solution is to try to educate students in a manner that fits their unique learning style. Symptoms similar to ADHD may be a result of a student not getting the type of education suited to their particular learning style. This is not to say that some students do not need medication, but merely to say that medication is not a band-aid fix for ADHD. If a student shows signs of hyperactivity, an educator needs to know how to deal with the situation effectively: conference with parents, proper physical examination, and exploration of all options rather than suppressing the child with stimulant drugs or ignoring the issue and letting the child face the consequences of a learning disorder alone.  

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One thought on “ADHD and Stimulant Drugs

  1. Hana Morton says:

    It is interesting that you bring up the issues of over-diagnosis and overmedication. They truly are emerging as a controversial issues and sources of much debate. Both ADHD and stimulant drugs have major implications for teachers and classrooms, so it will be important to stay current on these issues!

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