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ADHD And Medicating Children: The Debate Continues

Before we discuss medication, let’s actually go into what ADHD is. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that causes an ongoing pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that interferes with function or development in the child’s day to day life. Inattention is when someone cannot stay on task, has no persistence, and cannot focus, and the problems are not due to defiance or lack of understanding. 

Hyperactivity means the person is moving around constantly. It seems like the person is running on a motor and cannot stop. Impulsivity is when a child takes very hasty actions that occur in the moment, and they do not think about the consequences. Impulsive people may interrupt others a lot or make impulsive important decisions without thinking of the long-term consequences.

Some people with ADHD have problems with one of these behaviors, others have problems with more than one. Most kids have the combined type of ADHD, which is where the person has 2 or more of the behaviors. In preschool, the commonly seen behavior is hyperactivity. 

Now, it’s perfectly normal to have some inattention, unfocused motor activity, and impulse problems, but with kids who have ADHD, the problems are more severe, happen way more often, and interfere with the quality of school or social functions. 

Children with inattention problems may overlook or miss details and make careless mistakes in their schoolwork, not seem to listen when spoken to, lose things easily, and be forgetful in their daily activities. And children with hyperactivity-impulsivity may fidget a lot, leave their seat during inappropriate times, and be unable to play quietly. They may also talk nonstop and interrupt others constantly.

A diagnosis of ADHD takes evaluation by a pediatrician, psychologist, psychiatrist, or developmental pediatrician. For a person to get this diagnosis, the symptoms have to be long lasting, or chronic, impair their functioning, and cause the person to fall behind normal development for their age. 

Symptoms can start as early as age 3, but it is harder to diagnose at that age. The symptoms can also be mistaken for emotional or disciplinary problems, or missed entirely in quiet children.

Now, you’re probably wondering... If my child has ADHD, wouldn’t medication be a good thing? Well, that honestly depends. It may be a good thing, but it may also have an undesired effect on the child. Here are 21 pros and cons to medicating a child who has ADHD.

Cons

21 Side Effects Can Vary

Every medication has different side effects, and this is definitely the case for ADHD meds. Watch a commercial for any medicine on TV... By the end of the commercial, there’s this long list of side effects that make you wonder if it’s worth the risk of taking the drug in the first place. 

ADHD medication is no different. There’s the chance it can cause stomach problems, make sleep problems worse, and even the chance for depression. Basically, it’s a crapshoot as to whether or not it’s going to work the way it’s intended to or not... So you have to decide if it is worth the risk. 

20 Potential Tolerance

You know how, if you take a medication for too long, it sometimes stops helping? The same thing can happen with ADHD medications. Over time, when taking any medicine, sometimes your body builds up a tolerance to it, and then the effect is not as strong as it once was if it works at all

Medication tolerance happens all the time, but for an ADHD child who is used to taking their meds, it can mean the difference between sleep and a mind state that they have gotten used to, back into a more chaotic state of mind.

19 Certain Problems Have No Drug

Some aspects of ADHD have no drug to help with. Executive function is a set of mental skills that help you get things done. It includes the ability to manage time, pay attention, and focus, and unfortunately, no drug on the market helps with aspects of this. 

So some of the problems that some parents are the most concerned with are the ones that are unaffected by drugs and can’t be helped. You have to ask the doctor when the medication is prescribed if the drug will help with what you think it will help.

18 Pills Can Be Stolen Or Resold

There is a HUGE market in high schools and universities, and even elsewhere, for Ritalin and other ADHD medications. They’re marketed in these underground markets, so to speak, as pep pills, because for people without ADHD, they have the exact opposite effect as it would for someone with ADHD. 

They’re especially sold around exam times, for people who need an extra boost studying. This is becoming a big problem on some campuses. 

17 Effects Are Short Term

The medications for ADHD are often out of the child’s system in hours, so the effects really don’t last long. The child would need to take more and more and more of the medication in order for the benefit to stay all day, which increases the chance of the child’s body becoming more tolerant to the drug. 

These effects may be beneficial, but if you have to take pills all day long for the effect to remain in the body, then is it really beneficial, or could it be doing more harm than good?

16 Whoa, The Room Is Spinning...

One of the side effects of most ADHD meds, dizziness is a serious risk to the child. You’re probably wondering how dizziness can be a serious risk. Well, imagine you’re a child playing on the playground, and you’re on the monkey bars or that monkey bar dome we all had in our playgrounds. 

You’re at the top of the dome, and all of a sudden the whole area swirls in a blur. Unable to keep your balance, you fall over, and that dizziness has suddenly led to more serious problems. Any drug that messes with the brain in ways can have this effect, so it’s something you have to look out for on a child.

15 I Don’t Feel So Good...

With these drugs also comes stomach problems sometimes. ADHD medications can cause nausea and vomiting in children with long-term use, and make it difficult for them to eat. Stimulants can also cause appetite loss, with or without nausea. 

Actually, appetite loss is a short-term effect of these drugs. So, not only are there stomach problems that come with long-term use, but there are problems that come with simple short-term use of these drugs as well.

14 I’m Wide Awake...

Obviously, as stimulants, ADHD medications can make it harder for a child to sleep if the medication does now have the desired effect. It can also cause actual insomnia, which can be very frustrating for children. For adults, sometimes taking these medications gets so frustrating that they resort to taking sleeping pills to counteract the effect of the stimulant, and it can lead to dependency on sleeping pills or worse, overdose. 

13 Get Away From Me!!!

ADHD medication and other stimulants can cause a lack of a need for sleep, and increased energy, especially if they have an undesired effect on a child. It can give the person a false sense of cleverness, competence, and power, which can lead to hostility. 

If the child has signs of belligerence due to these drugs, do not engage in their argument, and make sure to remain calm and neutral. Irritability with ADHD medications is actually kind of common sometimes, so if this is happening, bring it up to the doctor, because it may be time to change their medication.

12 Be Still My Beating Heart!

Like any stimulant drug, there are always cardiac risks associated with these drugs. If there are ANY underlying heart conditions, for example, a heart murmur, chest pain, other cardiac problems, then the doctor will need to carefully monitor the drugs and the dosage of them. While there is research showing that the risks of sudden death with these drugs are basically nonexistent, that does not mean that adverse heart effects do not cause very real problems for the child. 

11 Mom... I feel Depressed...

Sometimes, and this does not happen all the time, the medication given to treat ADHD has the effect of making children depressed. It takes time to find the right combination of ADHD meds, and anything that messes with brain chemistry can, in fact, make you depressed. That said, the effects are sometimes short-lived, and wear off when the medicine wears off. You know how some people say they see their kids become zombies? Same thing.

Pros

10 The Drugs Given Are Not Addictive

There are now drugs that are non-stimulants that are given to children with ADHD that are not addictive, making them a great choice to treat the symptoms with less risk. Atomoxetine, also known as Strattera, is ok for children, teenagers, and adults, and boost the amount of norepinephrine in the brain, which boosts attention span and lessens hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. 

Clonidine ER, aka Kapvay, and Guanfacine ER, aka Intuniv, are approved for ages 6-17, and studies show they lower the child’s distractibility and improve their attention, working memory, and their impulse control.

9 Effective Even If Taken Occasionally

These medications are in and out of the system fast and are effective even if taken occasionally or if you take a break from them. So if the more worrisome side effects are getting to you, then you can stop them for a while, take a break for a few days, and come back to them, and the medication should still work just as well as if you hadn’t stopped taking it. 

8 May Reduce Long-Term Problems

ADHD drugs can reduce some of the longer-term issues associated with untreated ADHD, such as substance abuse and depression. Untreated ADHD can lead to self-esteem problems, which can lead to secondary depression.

They get so many hits to their self-esteem, often called lazy, stupid, or an idiot, that they have accepted this as truth and they feel like they will not succeed socially or professionally. Treating the ADHD as a child can lessen the blows to their self-esteem by improving their attention and focus, and can make it so that they have far less problems later in life. 

7 They Can Pay Better Attention

One of the biggest issues with ADHD that causes problems, especially in school, is the inability to pay attention to tasks and homework. There are a slew of ADHD medications that are used to treat this, and they make it so that the child can sit and do what they need to do, and focus on the task at hand. 

Being able to focus can lead to better grades and the ability to succeed in school, where it was once considerably more difficult to do so. This can lead to increased self-esteem and more success later on in life as well. 

6 Bye Bye Jitters

Also known as the inability to sit still, many children with ADHD have serious problems with being restless and jittery. The word jitters has a couple of definitions, but in this case, we’re talking about nervousness and fidgeting.

ADHD medication can do wonderful things to help treat this aspect of it, and make a child have far less problems with it than they did before. Jitters can make trying to study or do anything difficult, and can exacerbate the problems faced with paying attention. Treating this problem can also help with treating the attention problems. 

5 Zzzzzzzzzzz’s....

A good night’s sleep is vital to brain function and mood regulation, so if your child gets a bad night’s sleep, odds are they won’t have a great day. Not getting enough sleep can worsen ADHD symptoms and lead to a loss of emotional control, and can also affect working memory. 

ADHD can calm the activity in the brain, and thus, can in fact lead to better sleep for the child. On the other hand, be aware, a side effect of these drugs is also insomnia, so it can have an opposite effect on the brain and the sleep patterns of the child. 

4 Making Friends Is Easier

While medication cannot fix social skills, it can help with problems focusing and paying attention, which can help when it comes to social situations. Fixing the root of the problem, the attention and focus problems, can help with self-esteem, which in turn can help with making friends and being in better social situations. 

Seeing a psychologist can help with the other social problems often seen in ADHD children, such as shyness and not wanting to talk to other children. Just remember all children are different, so what helped one child may not help another.

3 Less Reckless Behavior

Children with ADHD have problems with impulsive behavior, which can lead to serious problems at home and at school. And this is not just misbehavior, children with ADHD actually cannot control themselves. 

Medication has actually been known to help curb this behavior, and can help these kids to not make these impulsive, rash decisions, which can help the child in school, but also keep the child from having impulse problems at home as well. Exercise can also help with this problem, so it’s best to see what works best for the individual child.

2 Think Before You Speak

Have you ever seen how some children with ADHD have a problem with spilling everything and telling every thought that is on their mind to people? This is actually a pretty common occurrence when it comes to kids who have ADHD. These kids are known for losing focus and changing subjects, and literally telling you everything that is on their minds. Medication and techniques that focus on improving communication can do wonders to help kids who have problems with this.

1 I Can Move Mountains!

For some people who have ADHD, having motivation is something that is hard to come by. They have a problem with procrastination, and with even finishing off their work at all. Now, if you have a child with ADHD, you know that being hard on them does nothing but discourage them, and the child loses their self-esteem. Medication can help them to focus, which can increase their motivation to finish tasks and get things done in a timely fashion.

Honestly, it’s up to you, the parent, to decide if medicating your child would be best for you, but keep in mind that there are other, non-medicated ways to treat ADHD in children. These include various therapies and techniques that use no medication at all, including occupational therapies. If you feel medication would not work for you or your child, you need to put your foot down. 

If you feel like medication is making symptoms worse, then you need to speak to the doctor and decide if this is what you want to keep doing, if you want to change the dosage or stop completely. It’s up to you, as the parent, to make that call. 

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