Will Ritalin Kids Become Ritalin Adults?


A just-published study in the American Journal of Psychiatry has found that the prescribed use of stimulant medications to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has increased at a steady rate from 1996 to 2008. While prescription use was the highest among 6-12-year-olds (rising from 4.2 percent in 1996 to 5.1 percent in 2008) prescription use grew the most among 13-18-year-olds, going from 2.3 percent in 1996 to 4.9 percent in 2008.

Benedetto Vitiello, M.D., of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), comments that “This continuous increase among teens likely reflects a recent realization that ADHD often persists as children age. They do not always grow out of their symptoms” — that ADHD is not only a disorder of childhood, but one that can persist into adulthood and be lifelong (as my husband Jim Fisher a professor of American studies and theology, will tell you).

While ADHD is often treated with stimulants such as methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin), amphetamines (e.g., Adderall) or other types of medications, its symptoms — difficulty focusing and controlling behavior, impulsivity and hyperactivity — can also be addressed through behavioral and others therapies. September is National ADHD Awareness Month; thanks to more awareness and understanding, students diagnosed with ADHD are seen as having difficulties learning and needing accommodations in school, rather than (as my husband was told in the 1970s) that they have “minimal brain damage.”

From 1987 to 1997, stimulant prescription use among children rose from 0.6 percent to 2.7 percent. The newstudy drew on data from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s National Survey of Children’s Health, which found that the percentage of children age 4-17 years diagnosed with ADHD rose from 7.8 percent in 2003 to 9.5 percent in 2007 to nearly 10 percent of children. Dr. Vitiello and Samuel Zuvekas Ph.D., of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, looked at data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a nationally representative annual survey of U.S. households, to determine rates of stimulant use in children under 19 from 1996 – 2008. Here’s what they found:

Overall, prescription use among 6-12-year-olds was highest, going from 4.2 percent in 1996 to 5.1 percent in 2008. But the fastest growth of prescribed use occurred among 13-18-year-olds, going from 2.3 percent in 1996 to 4.9 percent in 2008.

Stimulant use remained very low among preschoolers, at 0.1 percent from 2004 onward; the rate actually decreased between 2002 and 2008suggesting that many still hesitate to use medications to treat ADHD in such young children.

The study also found that boys are prescribed stimulants three times as much as girls and that white children use the medications at higher rates than black or Latino/a children (4.4 percent in 2008 among whites, compared to 2.9 percent in blacks and 2.1 percent in Latino/as). Use of stimulants among racial and ethnic minorities is, though, on the rise, a figure that suggests that there is “more recognition of ADHD and acceptance of psychopharmacological treatment among these groups.”

I’ve become very aware of the challenges of living with ADHD in seeing my husband’s struggles. Despite this, he’s managed to write a number of books and much more. Even more, his ADHD has given him an intuitive connection to our severely autistic 14-year-old son Charlie. Exercise — long bike rides in particular — has become a key sort of “therapy” for both of them. Jim has always been one to choose walking up flights of stairs over taking the elevator; he finds that going for long walks helps “clear up” his thinking.

Dr. Vitiello, while noting that stimulant medications do work well to control the symptoms of ADHD, emphasizes they are only “one method of treatment for the condition.” Especially if ADHD is viewed as a condition that can and does persist past childhood and even into adulthood, we need to think of other ways to address its challenges other than medication.


Related Care2 Coverage

ADD: Just An Excuse For Bad Behavior, Perry Suggests

The Stand-Up Desk A New Way To Learn

Nearly 1 in 10 Children Now Diagnosed With ADHD


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Kenneth L.
Kenneth L.3 years ago

"Psychiatry...it's pseudo-science. It's actually disproven by the science in the psychiatry journals.
...(regarding chemical imbalance) It's basically a product of marketing by drug companies and by the profession of Psychiatry, and if you interviewed a Biological Psychiatrist who thinks there are chemical imbalances and said 'okay, show me the evidence', he couldn't show it to you." Dr. Colin Ross, Psychiatrist
(regarding Psychiatry) "They're learning every trick in the book. They're evolving into efficicient marketing machines" Dr. David Stein, professor of Psychology
“There is not one shred of credible evidence that any respectable scientist would consider valid demonstrating that anything that psychiatrists call ‘mental illness’ are brain diseases or biochemical imbalances. It’s all fraud.” --Dr. Ron Leifer, Psychiatrist
"Everything I had learned and thought about mental illness, psychiatry,
and psychoanalysis—from my teenage years through medical school,
and my psychiatric and psychoanalytic training—confirmed my view
that mental illness is a fiction; that psychiatry, resting on force and
fraud is social control" Dr. Thomas Szasz, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry

Jacobo V.
jacobo Van4 years ago

Please jump Barbara S. comments back to the top to assure readers access to this input and I only wish she had a weekly piece to share snipits of her development and preferences in light of her upbringing. God Bless

Gloria Morotti
Gloria Morotti5 years ago

Of course they (the ritalin kids) will become ritalin adults. The body does not forget being drugged. It felt pleasant at first, and the side effects didn't show up till later.

There is no drug or vaccine that is good for the body. Period.

John B.
John B.5 years ago

I've always found that the people promoting mythical conditions that one "needs drugs" to handle or buying drugs were degenerate drug pushers.

When I was in school all the kids were what is called ADD or ADHD. However, those were just normal kids. I know throwing snow balls, swimming, playing baseball or just fooling around on the school grounds are much less interesting than drawing a number line because you can't figure out that 2 + 2 = 4. (is that right I don't have a number line close to hand)

Betsy M.
Betsy M.5 years ago

Teach these children skills, not drug habits. And clean up the toxic environment we are raising children in. ADD and other modern childhood illnesses are very real. Enriching drug companies is not the only answer. Drugs, when used, should be temporary, to help start the educational process that works with these kids.

Will Rogers
Will Rogers5 years ago

I think ADHD is a myth. Something that lazy adults made up to cover up their lack of teaching skills and/or their patience.
I don't think we should put any kids on drugs, OK there's always exceptions of course. ..But it has been abused. And now seems to be the norm. As for teachers and adults in general, well a whole lot of us could do with taking drugs! ...let me explain. It's not good to give kids drugs, their brains are still developing and it could do irreparable damage, but in the case of adults! Well our brains have mostly stopped developing, ..we can handle it, maybe it's us that needs Ritalin! ..and any other drug that helps those lethargic teachers and adults cope with energetic children.
Smart drugs anyone?

Lindsay Sievewright

I can´t understand why any parent would want their children on drugs like this. There have always been children who found it difficult to concentrate, misbehaved etc. That is part of being a child. Seems like nowadays, if you don´t fit in the "norm" and are a bit too much work for teachers or parents, there is something wrong with you. So you are drugged into submission. Very scary stuff. Let kids be kids, in all their varieties, and stop all this drug company control.

Doug Alley
Doug Alley5 years ago

When you put your kid on this drug or any other drug you are giving him a very bad message. What you are is not good enough, and the real you will never measure up to what I expect of you. If your kid has a problem there are too many other ways to deal with it than to jump on the ADHD or ADD band wagon. When it comes to emotional adjustment, never give your kids anything stronger than an aspirin. Too much of this ADHD BS is nothing more than adolescent adjustment or one kind or another, and drugs are totally unnecessary.

Marie W.
Marie W.5 years ago

Big Pharma will love it.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago

Thanks for posting.