The Blue Pill or the Red Pill: Treating ADHD

Methylphenidate (Ritalin) 10mg Pill (Ciba/Nova...

Because it has come up, I’ve been looking at the evidence for and against the validity of ADHD as a diagnosis, and, establishing that it is a real mental health aberration, is the pharmaceutical fix the best way to go with a misbehaving, underachieving, overly-stimulated, disruptive child?

I start with a piece that reflects my own bias against medicating inappropriate behavior, after having raised two children that by today’s control measures, would have, at one point or another in their growing up, have been labeled with “Oppositional Disorder” or some other present-day condition warranting pharmaco-intervention.

What are your thoughts or what has been your experience with dealing with school counselor’s or principals’ or physician’s diagnosis of ADHD of your children or grandchildren? I’d appreciate some different perspectives on this before I attempt to write about it. You can scan some of the links I’ve collected and let us know your response.

Is ADHD a “real” condition? Does it warrant treatment? What alternatives are there to Ritalin and other meds? What are the risks of medicating difficult or maladaptive behavior in young children? Is ADHD a “fad” diagnosis and an “easy out” for parents and teachers?


From DSM: Diagnosing for Money and Power

DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) pathologizes normal behaviors and temperaments:

  • Labeling normal behaviors as mental disorders financially and professionally serve psychotherapists of all theoretic orientations. Following are some examples of how the DSM turns normal behaviors and temperaments into mental illness.
  • Shyness or normal introversion can be diagnosed as “Social Phobia.”
  • The individual process of healthy grief might be diagnosed as “Complicated Grief Reaction,” if it lasts a tad longer that the amount of time specified in the DSM.
  • Healthy, strong willed or active children are often diagnosed as having “Oppositional Disorder.”
  • Children who are restless, non-compliant or not academically oriented are diagnosed with “ADHD.”

As stated, diagnosis and treatment reflects the changing tides of political, economic and social trends. There is considerable controversy regarding the DSM criteria for ADHD which some refer to as a well-defined condition that lends itself to short-term biological intervention, while others express concerns that the diagnostic evolution of criteria resulted from committee consensus rather than as the result of basic scientific process. Some have called ADHD the fad diagnosis of these times, and many consider the great expansion in the population diagnosed to be a function of a cultural and economic phenomenon that goes beyond the objective reality of the diagnosis. Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity, or ADHD, diagnosis is often given without any regard to familial dysfunction and other environmental factors. Stimulant medications for the treatment of ADHD constitutes, by far, the most prescribed medication for pre-schoolers and children under eighteen years of age who are currently being treated with psychotropic medications.


BBC NEWS | Health | No such thing as naughty anymore?

Tiger Mom and ADHD? 

Doping Kids with Ritalin for ADHD

Brain Scans Reveal ADHD Differences

Study: Diet May Help ADHD Kids More Than Drugs : NPR

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I’ve seen kids that are absolutely uncontrollable without medication, so I don’t doubt that ADHD as a real condition exists, and that the medication can help. However, I think it is way, way over diagnosed because schools and parents often are looking for a shortcut for dealing with kids that are not solidly in the first standard deviation for behavior and attention span.

  2. Boy, you aren’t afraid of difficult topics to write about. I taught 7th grade for 10 years, and I wouldn’t begin to have anything of value to add to the discussion. If I had ADHD kids during those years, they must have already been medicated. Lots of rebellion, of course, but no behavior that seemed to fall in the ADHD category.

  3. ADHD is very much over-diagnosed, but it definitely exists. My brother, growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s definitely had ADHD, but there was no such diagnosis at that time.

    Medication probably would have helped him — and my mother, who worked with him every night to get him up to speed with reading.

    He’s a very intelligent guy and has a master’s degree, but we are sure that ADHD hindered his early learning process. (He outgrew ADHD by his teen years, if not somewhat

    If a child truly has ADHD, I’d consider medication (mostly for the “H” part), but I’d go to several different specialists, and then use my own judgment to make make a decision. I’m very anti-meds, but sometimes they can be a solution.

  4. COD said it well. One of my grands was diagnosed with it, but subsequent testing showed lesions on her frontal cortex (I think) and they now say she has a learning disability as well. She only takes the meds when she is in school, and believe me, we can surely tell when she is off her meds.