Are ADD Drugs Always A Bad Idea?

January 29, 2012 by Geoff Nixon

Are ADD Drugs Always A Bad Idea?

ADHD drug free alternatives that don’t lose effectiveness over time

ADHD drug free alternativesThere is a  must read article for any parent with a child on ADD medicine in today’s NY Times by L. Alan Sroufe, a behavioral psychologist about hhe impact of Ritalin and the value of considering ADHD drug free alternatives.

He makes the case that parents should rethink using drugs to solve a short term focus issue at school. The article makes the case that there is no medical evidence that these drugs meet any chemical imbalance in the brain — as many neuro-scientists and clinicians have argued as a reason to prescribe these drugs — but rather, these drugs will help anyone taking them perform at a higher level.  They are a band aid for struggling students.

The article further argues that the drugs have no curative powers, and that in fact, over time they lose effectiveness and the  brain develops immunity. Furthermore it reports a long term study that shows there to be no long term benefits from the drugs in terms of academic or behavioral gains.

Are ADD meds ever a good idea?

While this article finally argues that ADD is a product of environmental shaping, it also questions if ADD medicine is ever a good idea.  This seems to be an extreme position.  It is easy for a psychologist to lecture parents about resisting the option of helping their children perform at a higher level at school immediately.  And given that the improved concentration for sure helps grades near term, it seems hard to argue that there is at least not some merit in using ADD medicine, at least for a short period.

ADHD Drug Free Alternatives

Where Dr. Sroufe does have merit though is in pointing out that there are no long term benefits, only downside from all the side effects.  This refutes the argument that ADD medicine serves some medical purpose.  It does not.  It’s a band-aid to help children focus on material they do not find interesting or to help fight exhaustion.

What is left unsaid in the article is that the most promising way to address ADD is to find the causes of the “lack of interest” in class or the “exhaustion” from the school day, and then treat them. Very often, these issues are caused by auditory processing disorder, which makes listening exhausting (due to inefficiency) and/or uninteresting because the listener is not able to keep up — it’s likened to listening to sound through water.

Rather than medicate this listening exhaustion or lack of interest in school, there are treatments for ADD and ADHD that improve processing efficiency to remove the source of exhaustion, and to speed up processing, so that more material is picked up in class, making it more interesting.  This almost always improves focus.

And so, while we do not believe ADD medication is always a bad idea, we do feel that any drug regimen should be combined with non-medical interventions, like Fast ForWord, that aim to resolve the underlying learning deficits that are causing the lack of focus in the first place.  As it happens, Fast ForWord has exercises that work on the elements of inattentiveness — distractibility, impulsiveness, stamina – as part of a comprehensive approach to improving learning.

Whether it is Fast ForWord or some other cognitive training,  parents should be aware that to medicate without a longer term plan to address underlying issues is increasingly being understood to be fraught with risk and longer term consequences for the child.   This article represents an important step forward in this regard.