ADHD Drugs: Big News From the Scientific Community
Friday, September 13, 2013 • 12:57pm
October is designated as National ADHD Awareness Month this year and neuroscientists have released some pretty startling news: A new long-term study of nearly 4,000 students* found that ADHD drugs, like Ritalin ™ and Adderall ™, don’t help achievement scores or grade point averages. In fact, according to the research, boys who took medications for ADHD actually performed worse in school than boys with similar symptoms who took no stimulant medications. Likewise, girls who took ADHD drugs reported more emotional problems.
The same is true for intelligence; there seems to be no significant cognitive benefit from stimulant medications on IQ tests.
Deciphering the Acronyms: ADD vs. ADHD
ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder, is a term that is no longer in widespread use. ADHD is now the generally accepted umbrella term for the three types of ADHD, including what used to be generally referred to as ADD. The three forms of ADHD are:
- Inattentive Type – people with this disorder have trouble focusing, but they are not overly active and usually don’t display disruptive behavior (formerly call ADD)
- Hyperactive/Impulsive Type – people are fidgety and can’t control their impulses, but they are better able to pay attention
- Combined Type – applies to people with poor attention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity
Beyond the Label: Understanding the Root Cause
There is no one known cause of ADHD. There is a genetic factor––it tends to run in families, and children with ADHD usually have at least one close relative who also has it. An “ADHD gene” has also been identified that brings a greatly increased risk of having ADHD. But there are other factors––symptoms have been linked to environmental issues like food dyes and toxins, and children whose mothers smoked while pregnant with them are twice as likely to develop ADHD.
But if you strip ADHD down to its smallest common denominator among any gender, age or symptoms, you’ll find the root cause: weak attention skills. That could mean that the person’s sustained, selective or divided attention skills are weak, but in most people with ADHD, all three are weak. In fact, cognitive skills’ testing confirms that most people with ADHD also have deficits in memory (working and long-term) and processing speed.
It’s also important to note that ADHD can manifest differently in girls than in boys. When it comes to ADHD, boys are more prone to problems with impulse control, while girls’ symptoms often manifest as inattention.
But regardless of gender, parents and teachers are often the first to recognize these common symptoms of ADHD in students, including:
• Taking much longer than peers to complete daily homework
• Low self-esteem, anxiety or depression
• Poor grades
• Significant time management challenges
• Chronic disorganization
• Avoiding school
If these symptoms look familiar, don’t lose hope. There’s a non-medicated alternative to help your child.
The Case Against ADHD Drugs
Until this latest study, few had argued that ADHD drugs led to worse academic performance. But there had been plenty of arguments against stimulant (and nonstimulant) medications for other reasons.
There are patient complaints about being “out of it” and side effects ranging from insomnia, seizures, weight loss and sudden high blood pressure to aggression, behavior changes and twitching.
There’s also a risk for dependency. Adderall ™ and Vyvanse ™ are in the same pharmaceutical classification as morphine and Oxycontin™; they’re amphetamines, and amphetamines can be addictive.
There are claims of abuse; teens using the stimulant medications to get high or selling them on the black market. And otherwise healthy kids taking the drugs for “pediatric neuroenhancement,” that is, “study drugs” to give them a mental boost.
And perhaps worst of all, making students feel as if they are broken, sick, dumb or weak for needing to take drugs to make them “normal.” So what IS a safe alternative to ADHD medications?
Putting Neuroplasticity to Work
If weak attention skills (and memory and processing speed, among others) are the root cause of ADHD, why would we expect stimulant medications to permanently cure a student’s struggles? It’s like giving a child a cough suppressant and expecting it to cure his/her pneumonia. ADHD drugs are a temporary solution to treating the symptoms of ADHD.
The only solution to permanently eliminate the cause, symptoms, diagnosis and label of ADHD is to strengthen attention skills with personal brain training. (The leading one-on-one brain training company in the U.S. reports that 40 percent of clients on ADHD drugs report being able to stop or reduce medication before the end of the program.**)Also known as cognitive skills training, one-on-one brain training harnesses the brain’s plasticity to build new, faster or more efficient connections between neurons. It’s the same “brain rehabilitation” used for stroke victims, seniors with age-related cognitive decline and dementia, and those with traumatic brain injuries.
Unlike computer “brain games,” personal brain training is customized for each person based on the results of a cognitive skills assessment. And unlike tutoring, which focuses on specific subjects, like history or math, cognitive skills training strengthens the fundamental brain skills needed to excel in ANY subject. The results are transferable to virtually every task a child or teen will encounter: Musicians can memorize more music, athletes have faster processing speeds to react, teens report better driving skills and children with dyslexia can finally read fluently. And the most reported side effect of students who go through brain training? Confidence.
And just as we now know the brain is capable of change at ANY age, we also now know that IQ is not a stagnant number. In fact, since IQ is simply a measurement of one’s cognitive skill set (which determines our ability to think, remember, reason and process information), it should come as no surprise that brain training significantly raises IQ. Independent studies have shown that one particular intensive cognitive skills program increases IQ by an average of 15 points. ***
So learn from the example of 4,000 students and skip the “miracle” drugs that aren’t worth their weight in hype and side effects. Instead, do your own research on personal brain training to see if the natural, permanent solution to ADHD is worthy of all the attention it’s finally getting.
* SOURCE: July 8, 2013 Wall Street Journal –– “ADHD Drugs Don’t Boost Kids’ Grades”
** SOURCE: www.LearningRx.com
*** SOURCE: April 15, 2013 Naperville Patch ––“IQ: The Eternal Debate of Nature vs. Nuture”
To find out which weak cognitive skills may be contributing to your child’s academic struggles, take this free five-minute learning skills discovery survey:
The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TheAlternativePress.com or anyone who works for TheAlternativePress.com. TheAlternativePress.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.