ADHD Meds Provide No Long-Term Benefits

no benefit to Ritalin, ADD drugs no long-term benefit, should I medicate my child's behavior,

Want to cause a ruckus? Criticize attention-deficit meds.

Over three million U.S. kids take these drugs. Parents may not be thrilled to dose their children but they are following expert advice.  They typically see results. And they don’t need to be judged.

But it helps to pay attention to what works for parents who don’t put or keep their kids on meds. My son was diagnosed with ADD when he was in first grade.  There was a great deal of pressure from his teacher to put him on medication. As many parents do, I struggled to find ways to alleviate the problem without drugs. We found significant improvement when we changed his diet but that wasn’t enough to make the school setting truly work for him. The way he learned best and the way he flourished simply didn’t fit in the strictures of the school environment. He wasn’t wired to sit still and pay attention for hours. Once we began homeschooling we discovered that without classroom and homework pressure, what appeared to be ADD symptoms largely disappeared.

The newest studies of attention-deficit disorder medications now indicate that the calming effect of these drugs don’t necessarily indicate that those who take them have any sort of “brain deficit.”  As L. Alan Sroufe, professor emeritus of psychology at the Universityof Minnesota’s Instituteof Child Development explains, such medications have a similar effect on all children as well as adults. “They enhance the ability to concentrate, especially on tasks that are not inherently interesting or when one is fatigued or bored, but they don’t improve broader learning abilities.”

Research shows the effect wanes in a few years without conferring any lasting benefit. Dr. Sroufe writes,

To date, no study has found any long-term benefit of attention-deficit medication on academic performance, peer relationships or behavior problems, the very things we would most want to improve.

While Dr. Sroute looks for a mental health answer, psychologist Bruce Levine looks to society. In a recent article he notes that rational responses to larger social conditions (depression due to economic crisis, for example) are being suppressed by medication rather than addressing underlying circumstances. In particular, he asserts that non-compliance with authority is labeled a mental health problem rather than a useful response. He writes,

Do we really want to diagnose and medicate everyone with “deficits in rule-governed behavior”?

Albert Einstein, as a youth, would have likely received an ADHD diagnosis, and maybe an ODD one as well.  Albert didn’t pay attention to his teachers, failed his college entrance examinations twice, and had difficulty holding jobs. However Einstein biographer Ronald Clark (Einstein: The Life and Times) asserts that Albert’s problems did not stem from attention deficits but rather from his hatred of authoritarian, Prussian discipline in his schools. Einstein said, “The teachers in the elementary school appeared to me like sergeants and in the Gymnasium the teachers were like lieutenants.” At age 13, Einstein read Kant’s difficult  Critique of Pure Reason— because he was interested in it Clark also tells us Einstein refused to prepare himself for his college admissions as a rebellion against his father’s “unbearable” path of a “practical profession.” After he did enter college, one professor told Einstein, “You have one fault; one can’t tell you anything.” The very characteristics of Einstein that upset authorities so much were exactly the ones that allowed him to excel.

This is a big issue. I am lucky I eluded being put on meds to treat the problems I had as a child. I wouldn’t give up those years of painful churning for anything. That’s exactly what formed me into a person with my particularly intense focus and purpose.

I think we need to widen our focus. The issue asks us to look at how today’s children are restricted in movement, have less time for free play, and are exposed to unnecessarily early academics.  It asks us to look at the quality of the air, water, food, and products in the lives of today’s children. It asks us to support all families as they are, recognizing that one-size-fits-all guidelines don’t embrace diverse ways of being. To me, particular hope lies in research showing that free time spent playing in natural settings significantly improved the behavior and focus of ADHD children. The more natural and wilderness-like the area, the greater the improvement.

Our wonderfully distractible, messy, impulsive children may be trying to tell us something.

For more answers beyond the prescription bottle, check out:

Ritalin Nation: Rapid-Fire Culture and the Transformation of Human Consciousness

The Gift of ADHD: How to Transform Your Child’s Problems into Strengths

Dreamers, Discoverers & Dynamos: How to Help the Child Who Is Bright, Bored and Having Problems in School (Formerly Titled ‘The Edison Trait’)

ADHD Without Drugs – A Guide to the Natural Care of Children with ADHD ~ By One of America’s Leading Integrative Pediatrician

Is This Your Child?

Healing ADD: The Breakthrough Program That Allows You to See and Heal the 6 Types of ADD

16 thoughts on “ADHD Meds Provide No Long-Term Benefits

  1. While my son hasn’t been diagnosed with ADHD or ADD, I fear that it will be raised as a question eventually. He is a wildly active child, with a big heart and a live for learning the things that interest him (mostly sports and animals at the present), but a stubbornness and resistance to being taught things which bore him. It’s all about finding ways to reach each child as an individual learner, and that is extremely difficult for a teacher with 20 uniquely wired students. Thank you for the information, as I will be bookmarking it!


  2. Parenting expert Kim John Payne has a lot to say about ADD and medications. He would support the ideas of dietary changes, but really focuses on the environment at home and around the kid. He suggests eliminating almost all “screen time”….TV, computer, cell phones, video games, as well as decluttering the home of too many toys and “stuff” in general. He hypothosizes that the human brain really isn’t evolved enough for all the constant stimulation, activity and the stress and input our kids (or any of us for that matter) are bombarded with all day, every day. His book “Simplicity Parenting” touches on this. Patience, love, awareness and slowing down all go a long way in healing kids. Unfortuately, teachers aren’t supported in doing this so a pill is a quicker fix. It will be interesting to see how this subject is viewed in another 20 years…will we all be horrified at how much kids were medicated for ADD? I’m guessing so.


  3. I’m all for causing a ruckus, not to be critical, but to stand up for the child. I get in ‘ruckus mode’ when parents make uninformed decisions and fall into the trap of believing someone, other than themselves, knows their child better. When my youngest was 4, he ‘lived dangerously’, climbing on everything, having no fear of anything, endlessly curious and mischievious, and needing very little sleep. And having World War II caliber meltdowns. My mother/nurse hunch was Asperger’s and diet problems. We waited 6 months to see a world-renowned specialist. Two minutes with my son, and not even taking the time to converse with him or read his history, this doc prescribed Haldol!!!! I took my son by the hand and marched out the door, leaving my husband gaping. My son is nearly 17, has been formally diagnosed with Asperger’s,(but not until age 9), had his diet modified, has never been medicated, and is happily homeschooled. He still lives dangerously and creatively, with no meltdowns and no medications. What works for one child may or may not work for another. But be informed! Whoa! Long post! I can get in ‘ruckus-mode’ about some vaccinations too.


  4. Wonderful post. I’m a doctor, trained by Dr. Hallowell himself to provide natural alternatives for helping kids, parents, and adults with the dysfunctional parts of the traits of ADHD. There are so many more considerations, not to mention the majority of “research” being done on the wild boys.. many females are now being shown to have the traits of ADD with the “H”.. We help people in RIchmond Va. Our blog is if anyone needs help in this location.. Thanks for the clear viewpoint about not having our kids pumped full of ADD Meds.. It’s refreshing to read other people’s ideas that are like ours.


  5. It really seems that these meds are being used as a method of large-scale social control. It makes me deeply angry.

    I also feel that healthy food, time spent in wild/natural settings, time to play and move around, and avoiding over-stimulating environments can be enormously helpful for anyone, not just kids, to be more grounded, happy, and able to learn effectively.

    I was on various meds, including ADHD meds, for my supposed “broken brain chemistry” for 16 years. I was even told I would never be able to function without them. Well, I’ve been functioning much better in the years since I stopped taking them, which coincides with my rejection of being labeled as “broken” or the one with problems. Instead, I recognize that most of the systems and institutions in our culture are broken, if not downright insane, and the symptoms I experienced were a reasonable reaction to that.

    When I found Bruce Levine’s writings, I was so grateful and felt so understood.


    • Makes me angry too. Reports continue to come out showing that foster children, even infants, are commonly put on all sorts of psychotropic drugs. Talk about chemical straitjackets!

      I’m so sorry about those 16 years you were told you had a broken brain. You may get a lot out of the work of another man by the name of Levine: Dr. Peter A. Levine who is an expert on trauma and the body. His books include In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness and Trauma-Proofing Your Kids: A Parents’ Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience. You and I and many others may not believe that our life experiences included trauma but any time we’ve felt fear or pain while also feeling helpless, it can be experienced and stored in the body as trauma. Reading his books and slowly working on them has been amazing for me.


  6. Love that you posted this! I am sure I would have been diagnosed with ADHDhad my mother not fought against it. She had me in dance classes 6 days a week so I could stay occupied and not require every ounce of her attention. I never watched tv, and she was much more in tune with my diet. Had she not learned how to redirect me I wouldn’t have gotten my college degree before I graduated high school while also being cheer captain. Mamas make such a huge difference.


  7. I have a 16 yr old daughter who was recently diagnosed with ADD. While we are a family that is against unnecessary medication (natural childbirth, anti-vaccination, healthy diet, slow paced lifestyle), she has chosen to give the ADD medication a try. This is after she has experimented with gluten-free, sugar free etc She sees a therapist, enjoys nature, makes herself exercise, has tried homeschooling.

    This middle child is intuitive and sensitive. She is exquisitely aware of the feelings of others, and it seems to me that this makes traditional type learning difficult. She is now at a school that helps her relax, where there is no peer pressure, kids are encouraged to be themselves there is an atmosphere of respect.

    It has only been a couple weeks trying the meds. Her goal has been to gain a new perspective. What MIGHT it be like to really focus? How does it feel? Can I find that and recreate it without meds? Who am I with and without that focus? Are there ways in which I will ‘miss’ my real self? What is my real self?

    All of these are valuable questions and wonderings. She wants to know how her brain works and why/how it is sensitive to various environments.

    In the meantime, even with meds she is going tomorrow to ask one teacher if they could turn of the fluorescent lights because the buzzing and brightness cause brain sluggishness. She is being a detective for impediments to her ability to learn and focus.

    Like Laura W said, it is difficult now, but I know the value of what she is doing.

    I like the term, neurodiversity. Our society is not the best at supporting all types of ‘brains’. Or people. My minister says, “God loves differences. He created us all so different!” Why would we want to destroy difference, something God created? My wish is to remember always to ”just be” with difference and pray for help when I find myself objecting to one.

    I see value in not having a strong judgement about meds. I am glad my daughter has meds to give her perspective and choices. I am against the idea of making us all think similarly. I support the idea of helping a child navigate and come to terms with her ‘difference’.


    • Your daughter is lucky to have a mom so tuned-in, helping her grow up so self-aware. The kind of exploration she’s been doing with diet, therapy, homeschooling versus different schools, is a wonderful way of exploring who she is and what helps her most fully be herself. I love the way you put it Donna, “just be” with difference.


  8. My son struggled in any type of 4 wall school learning environment. At the age of 2 I had to work and we placed him in a home daycare. The woman was very kind and a had been a teacher for many years. She had her home set up like a pre-school and the whole day was structured. I had no reason to think it wouldn’t be a good fit but … from the very first moment we dropped him off it was like oil to water! The sensitive, well behaved boy that I knew, became a strong willed and defiant child while in her care. He resisted everything she had planned for the day and of course he refused to follow any and every rule. I couldn’t have known then, that we would have a future of negative school experiences waiting for us.

    By the time he was ready to enter first grade we knew we were dealing with ADHD and Asperger’s but we were not prepared for the rigid, controlling, teaching methods and pressure to put our son on meds. We were also nieve in thinking that the “labels” would perhaps HELP the teachers better understand my sons needs and since they are experts in teaching, they would know how to teach him in a way that he would respond best to. The opposite was true. (I told you we were nieve!) It was as if having that information made them come down even harder on him. He was sent to the office daily and it broke my heart because I knew it began afftecting his self esteem and equally important – his love of learning.

    I feel lucky that we were able to figure it out by the middle of first grade. We pulled him out to homeschool him and we are so glad we did. Well really, he leads the way, so I tell people he homeschools himself! LOL. Our style is pretty eccletic and a bit unschooly. it’s fun to see where his passions take us. He loves all things science so we’ve read books about Einstien. He loves all things chocolate so we’ve read books about Milton Hershey. He loves all things baseball so we’ve read books about Babe Ruth… my point is that while reading these books, I picked up on certain traits about these men as they were growing up as boys. I thought I was reading about my son! I didn’t know until recently that each of them are known to have had ADHD. Each of them hated school and had a hard time conforming to rules! It was a great reassurance and confirmation that everything will be okay. I can’t ruin my child for allowing him to be who was designed to be!


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