Ask the Experts

But What Are the Side Effects of NOT Trying Medication?

“I know that ADHD drugs are safe and effective, but I worried that perhaps, for some unknown reason, they might harm my children’s health.” How Dr. Ned Hallowell made the decision to use ADHD meds with his own kids.

After a child is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD or ADHD), one of the most difficult decisions for a parent to make is whether to start him or her on medication. I’ve been there myself. Two of my three children have ADHD, and, although my wife and I eventually decided to try medication — which, by the way, has helped both of them immensely without any side effects — arriving at that decision took careful reflection.

When it was suggested that my kids try medication, I had my concerns. I know that ADHD meds are safe and effective for kids, but I worried that perhaps, for some unknown reason, they might harm my children’s health. Although stimulant medications have been with us for more than 60 years, I wondered if some new side effect might emerge.

I countered those concerns by worrying about the potential “side effects” of not taking the medication: namely, my children struggling to stay focused and getting frustrated when they couldn’t. After envisioning that scenario, the decision became far less difficult.

Take Your Time

Each parent — and child — comes to the question of medication with different assumptions. My strong advice is to take your time, honor your feelings, and find a doctor who will remain patient, a professional who will provide information — not hurried commands — as you wrestle with your decision.

From a medical standpoint, the decision is obvious. Medication is by far the most proven, safe, and effective treatment for ADHD. Careful, controlled studies have established that a trial of medication makes sense once the diagnosis is made. Remember that a trial of medication is just that — a trial. Unlike surgery, it can be undone. If the medication doesn’t work or if it produces side effects, the physician can reduce the dosage or discontinue it. No harm done. But unless your child tries the medication, you will never know if it can benefit him or her as it has other children and adults.

[Free Download: A Parent’s Guide to ADHD Medications]

Do Some Fact-Finding

From a personal, parental standpoint, though, the decision is anything but easy. It takes time and requires talking with your doctor and other experts. You might want to research the medication online and find out what the latest studies conclude about it. Get all the facts, and make a scientific, rather than a superstitious, decision. But I urge you never to start your child on medication until you’re comfortable doing so. Don’t feel that you’re trying your doctor’s patience or that your questions are foolish. Nothing done out of love for your child is foolish.

However, I also urge you not to reject medication out of hand. Many parents have heard so many bad things about ADHD drugs that they’re willing to travel to Tibet to find an alternative treatment before giving medication a try. It’s very important to do your homework and separate the facts from the myths before dismissing the treatment.

Honor Your Feelings

When I give lectures, people often ask me if I “believe in” medication for children and adults with ADHD. My reply is that medication isn’t a religious principle; it’s a medical treatment. My feelings about ADHD medications are similar to those about medications in general: They’re great when they’re used properly, and they’re dangerous when they’re not.

Sometimes it takes months or even years before parents decide to put their child on medication. Every parent has his or her own timetable. Stick with yours.

[How We Decided to Medicate Our Child]

Children in Charge

“I never recommend forcing a child to take medication,” says Hallowell. “It’s a recipe for bad outcomes.” He suggests having your child do the following:

Share what he’s heard about the medication, pro and con.

Learn the facts about the medication.

Talk about any fears he may still have about the drug or the potential embarrassment of going to the nurse’s office at school to take a pill (long-lasting drugs that work all day should eliminate the latter concern).

Participate in making the final decision.

[Should We Medicate Our Child?]

4 Comments & Reviews

  1. My name is Ashley Flanagan. I was diagnosed in the fourth grade with ADHD/ADD.
    I clearly remember the gut feeling I felt, as I was excused by the principle to do puzzles, and odd games with a woman I was brought, which was an enclosed room. At the time I reflect my memory stating she was in her 60’s. I look back at age 30 remembering her face and now thinking Ash she was probably in her 50’s. I see how my perception of age has changed as I got older myself.
    I reflect on the evulation, not knowing it was going on in depth, being questionable. Like why I am the lucky one to play and do thinking games and be forgiven for extra time allowed and Mrs. So&So Smith has patience with me. Then I swear I got questionable and thought this isn’t normal. What did I do wrong. Am I stupid, or slow? I got scared half way through the testing and started to closely observe her and shelter down with the impact of anxiety.
    About a two hour session was evulated. I remembering notes being jotted down. I wish I could remember the questions asked, although I remember the hand eye with instruments brought into the question were far easier than a question of answer with nothing to place in my hand was extremely difficult. Much time and encouragement was delivered but aggravation on myself was embarrassing to me. I remember liking how nice she was and how I did not want to dissapoint her. I do remember so much time was self taken, she said it’s okay, let’s go forward. Which I wasn’t use to the patience because I was never comforted by teachers like that. In honesty I envied the classmates that could always read out loud making the words sound clear and how my teacher at that time favored those. It seemed they only enjoyed and “liked” the smart learning kids.

    With flying colors I was diagonised with ADHD/ADD.
    My mother never believed in medicine to treat this. Her idea of self discipline controled her entire thought process.

    Well that was not a good decision. Nor a medical decision she had the right to take away from me on such difficulty I had on a learning ability.

    At age 22 I saw a physician, I started to take adderal, then vyvance then went back to adderal.
    I’m 30 now. It has changed my life.
    I have never read a book front to back, not even cliff notes front to back still cliffing cliff notes.
    Up until I started on my ADHD medication.
    I have taken my real estate exams and now read and study on topics I am enthused and or want to be educated on.

    I feel as if I was jaded from the full potiental I could have had then, by a parent who knew nothing about the learning difficulties her child was struggling with. You can discipline a child’s behavior but not the mental chemical imbalance of a learning disability.
    Please take your pride and or drinking the coolaide of ADHD medications and get the best medical treatment for your child.
    They deserve the power of learning just as much as you’ve been blessed with no medical concern such as yourself or maybe you might have it yourself.
    Empower learning and stand by your child’s growth as I wish my mother did.
    22 years later I shouldn’t be where I had to stand my ground where I can I finally finished a book back to front. Nor the control of being able to comprehend what I was reading. Nor the memory to finally absorb it all in and remember it.
    I hope my story can encourage parents to better in the society of children’s learning. Take this very seriously and evulate the child’s progress and success at it will come.

    1. Dear Ashley,
      It was heart wrenching to read your story and it helped me to understand much better my kid’s situation. I’m getting closer to accept the doctor’s recommendation and I do want to help my daughter to reach the success she deserves. Many thanks and good luck for you! A mum from Hungary…

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