In recent years, the topic of overmedicating children with ADHD has sparked significant concern and debate. While stimulant-based ADHD medications are often the go-to treatment, growing awareness about their potential dangers is leading many to reconsider their widespread use.
In this article, we will look at the complexities of treating ADHD with stimulant medications, exploring the dangers of overmedication, how and why stimulants are prescribed, how to identify overmedication, and some natural alternatives.
This post aims to shed light on the critical aspects of stimulant medication use in ADHD treatment and to provide insights into why a more cautious approach may be necessary.
The Dangers of Overmedicating Children With ADHD
The concern about overmedication in children with ADHD is a significant one.
While medications, such as stimulants, are commonly prescribed for ADHD, there are several risks and side effects to consider, especially in the context of long-term use or high dosages.
Physical Side Effects: Common side effects of ADHD medications include decreased appetite, weight loss, sleep disturbances, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. In some cases, these side effects can be managed with dosage adjustments, but they can also persist, leading to more significant health concerns. In some families, the side effects of medication are even worse than the original symptoms.
Mental and Emotional Impact: Some children may experience changes in mood or behavior, such as increased anxiety, irritability, or even depressive symptoms. It’s crucial to monitor these changes closely, as they can affect a child’s overall well-being and development.
Dependency and Abuse Potential: Certain ADHD medications have a potential for abuse and dependency, particularly stimulants.
Impact on Growth: Long-term use of stimulant medications has been associated with a potential impact on growth in some children. This is an area that requires further research, but it’s a consideration for parents and healthcare providers.
Masking Other Conditions: Over-reliance on medication can sometimes mask other underlying conditions or issues that may be contributing to the child’s symptoms, such as learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, or environmental stressors.
Educational and Social Reliance: There’s a risk that medication becomes a primary strategy for managing ADHD, potentially overlooking or underutilizing other important approaches like the natural strategies we recommend here at the ADHD Thrive Institute.
Individual Variability in Response: Each child’s response to medication can vary greatly. What works for one child may not work for another, and the process of finding the right medication and dosage can be long and complex.
Because of these risks, we recommend families consider a holistic approach to managing ADHD.
This includes dietary changes, exercise, sleep hygiene, and other natural strategies that can provide alternatives to medication.
Overview of Stimulant-based ADHD Medications
Stimulant-based ADHD medications is often the go-to treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a condition characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Here’s an overview of these medications, including their mechanism of action, suitability, and potential side effects:
Mechanism of Action:
Stimulant medications primarily increase the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, namely dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters play key roles in attention and behavior regulation. The most common stimulants used in ADHD treatment are methylphenidate and amphetamines.
Methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin, Concerta) works by blocking the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine into neurons, thus increasing their availability in the synaptic space.
Amphetamines (e.g., Adderall, Vyvanse) increase the release of these neurotransmitters and also block their reuptake.
Stimulant medications are often the first line of defense that many doctors recommend. However, the suitability of these medications for an individual depends on several factors, including:
☑️ The severity of ADHD symptoms
☑️ The presence of co-existing conditions (e.g., anxiety, tic disorders)
☑️ The individual’s medical history and potential for substance abuse
Additionally, some families choose to avoid stimulants because of the dangers listed above or the potential side effects.
We here at the ADHD Thrive Institute have discovered that natural strategies can be just as effective (sometimes more effective), than medications, so for this reason, we recommend using natural strategies instead.
Potential Side Effects:
While stimulant medications are generally considered safe, they can have side effects, which vary among individuals.
Common side effects include:
Physical Effects: Decreased appetite, weight loss, sleep disturbances, headache, stomachache, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.
Psychological Effects: Some individuals may experience mood swings, increased anxiety, irritability, or even depressive symptoms.
Risk of Abuse and Dependency: Particularly with amphetamines, there is a potential for misuse and dependency, especially in adolescents and young adults.
Monitoring and Management:
Due to these potential side effects, careful monitoring by healthcare professionals is essential. Adjustments in dosage or switching to non-stimulant medications may be necessary if side effects are significant or if the individual has a history of substance abuse or certain comorbid psychiatric conditions.
How to Identify Signs of Overmedication in an ADHD Child
Recognizing the signs that a child may be overmedicated for ADHD or any other condition is crucial for parents and caregivers. Overmedication can lead to various changes in behavior, physical symptoms, and emotional states.
Here are some key signs to watch for:
Reduced Spontaneity: The child may seem unusually subdued or less spontaneous than usual.
Decreased Curiosity: A noticeable lack of interest or curiosity in their surroundings or activities they usually enjoy.
Social Withdrawal: The child may withdraw from social interactions, showing less interest in playing with friends or participating in family activities.
Excessive Fatigue: Unusual tiredness or lethargy, not related to physical activity or lack of sleep.
Changes in Appetite: Significant decrease in appetite, leading to weight loss or failure to gain weight appropriately.
Physical Tics: Development of new or worsening physical tics, such as repetitive movements or sounds.
Insomnia or Excessive Sleepiness: Trouble falling or staying asleep, or conversely, sleeping more than usual.
Flat Affect: The child may display a lack of emotional expression, appearing emotionally ‘flat’ or unresponsive.
Increased Irritability or Moodiness: Uncharacteristic irritability, mood swings, or emotional outbursts.
Anxiety or Depression: Signs of increased anxiety, sadness, or symptoms of depression.
Difficulty Concentrating: Paradoxically, overmedication can sometimes worsen concentration or focus issues.
Decline in Academic Performance: A noticeable drop in school performance or difficulty completing tasks that were previously manageable.
Sudden Changes: Any sudden or drastic change in the child’s behavior or mood that cannot be attributed to other causes.
If you observe any of these signs, it is crucial to consult with your child’s healthcare provider. They can assess whether these symptoms are due to overmedication and make necessary adjustments.
Do Not Alter Medication Without Consultation: It’s important not to change the child’s medication dose or schedule without professional guidance.
Alternatives to Stimulant-Based Medications for Treating ADHD
Alternative treatments for ADHD, which do not involve stimulant medication, are not always shared with parents but can be just as effective, and in my experience, sometimes even more effective, than medication at reducing ADHD symptoms long term.
These alternatives can be particularly useful for individuals who do not respond well to medication, experience significant side effects, or prefer non-pharmacological approaches.
Here’s an overview of some key alternative treatments:
Diet and Nutrition: Dietary changes, specifically removing inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, soy, excessive sugar, and artificial flavors and colors, can be very effective at reducing ADHD symptoms. You also want to add in whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, grass-fed and wild-caught protein sources, and healthy fats like olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil.
Regular Exercise: Physical activity can help improve concentration, decrease anxiety and depression symptoms, and stimulate the brain in healthy ways.
Adequate Sleep: Ensuring sufficient and quality sleep is crucial as sleep disturbances can exacerbate ADHD symptoms.
Mindfulness Exercises: Practices that increase self-awareness and the ability to focus on the present moment can be beneficial.
Yoga and Tai Chi: These practices can improve concentration and overall mental well-being.
Special Education Services: Tailored educational plans (like IEPs or 504 plans in the United States) can help address specific learning needs and provide accommodations.
Organizational Skills Training: Teaching time management and organizational skills can be particularly beneficial for children and adults with ADHD.
For parents of children with ADHD, training on how to manage behaviors, create structure at home, and use positive reinforcement can be very effective.
Supplements and Herbs: Though there is no one be-all-end-all solution for ADHD, supplements and herbs can be beneficial for children with ADHD, especially after additional lifestyle changes (like removing inflammatory foods and reducing the toxic load on the body) have been made.
Additional natural strategies to consider include Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), neurofeedback, chiropractic care, essential oils, etc.
One thing to keep in mind is that the effectiveness of these natural strategies can vary greatly from person to person. What works for one individual may not work for another.
That’s why we recommend an individualized approach that is tailored specifically to your child.
How to Get Started With ADHD Thrive Institute and Thrive without Medication Today!
If you’re looking for ways to manage your child’s ADHD without relying on medication, the ADHD Thrive Institute can help.
We specialize in natural and practical strategies to handle ADHD effectively. Our focus is on providing you with the knowledge and tools needed for your child’s unique challenges.
To get started, watch our 15-minute fast class today. It’s a quick and easy way to begin learning about our approach and how it can make a difference for your child.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” NIMH.
Faraone, S. V., & Buitelaar, J. (2010). Comparing the efficacy of stimulants for ADHD in children and adolescents using meta-analysis. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 19(4), 353-364.
Pelham, W. E., Fabiano, G. A. (2008). Evidence-based psychosocial treatments for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 37(1), 184-214.