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.
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.
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.