Research Update On ADHD Drug Treatments

In earlier posts, I have reviewed the research on ADHD drug treatments. The findings have led me to the conclusion that medicalizing the behavior pattern that medical doctors refer to as symptoms of ADHD causes far more harm than good. New readers can check out my earlier posts on this subject HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

boy-with-stomach-painBriefly, the main side effects of the commonly prescribed drugs for so called “ADHD” are:

  • Sleep problems
  • Decreased appetite
  • Delayed growth
  • Headaches and stomachaches
  • Rebound (irritability when the medication wears off)
  • Tics
  • Moodiness and irritability

Fears have been raised about potential long-term effects of stimulant drugs on the heart and on the child’s developing brain. But the available data on these outcomes is limited, so the true effects are still unknown but legitimately worrisome.

On June 15, 2009, the FDA put out the following warning: “The FDA reported on a study reviewing 564 healthy children taking stimulants who died suddenly. They notified the public that there might be an association between the use of stimulant medications and sudden death in healthy children.”

school workIn my earlier blog posts, I also reviewed research studies that indicate that almost immediately after taking these types of drugs, many children will complete more academic work and get more of the items correct. Parents also tend to report behavioral improvements. But these effects begin to wane. According to the best available evidence, by a little over a year, any perceived improvement, when objectively measured, had completely disappeared. The available studies indicate no lasting benefits for those who use them in terms of academic achievement, social outcomes, and high school graduation rates. In the end, thousands of dollars have been spent and the drug treated children, having suffered the various side-effects and been subjected to serious risks are no better off than children who had similar behavior challenges but did not take any of the ADHD drugs.

So, after I carefully weighed all of this information, I concluded that children would be far better off if we rejected the ADHD medical model. Since my last post on this subject was published, three new relevant research studies have been carried out. Let’s take a look at them.

First Study

On March 3, 2016, News4Jax, out of Jacksonville, Florida reported that “ADHD medications associated with diminished bone health in kids.” Here’s what they had to say:

“ORLANDO, Fla. – Children and adolescents who take medication for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) show decreased bone density, according to a large cross-sectional study presented today at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons .

“This is an important step in understanding a medication class, that is used with increasing frequency, and its effect on children who are at a critical time for building their bones,” said senior study author Jessica Rivera, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon with the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research.”

This study recently appeared in the online edition of the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics.

Second Study:

On March 12, 2016, the New York Times published an article titled, “Is It Really A.D.H.D. or Just Immaturity?” There we learn of a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics indicating that the youngest students in a classroom are more likely to be given a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than the oldest.

chinese students“Researchers in Taiwan looked at data from 378,881 children ages 4 to 17 and found that students born in August, the cut-off month for school entry in that country, were more likely to be given diagnoses of A.D.H.D. than students born in September. The children born in September would have missed the previous year’s cut-off date for school entry, and thus had nearly a full extra year to mature before entering school.”

The authors of the study concluded, “Our findings emphasize the importance of considering the age of a child within a grade when diagnosing A.D.H.D. and prescribing medication for treating A.D.H.D.”

These findings support similar results of an earlier study in the United States, which found that roughly 8.4 percent of children born in the month before their state’s cutoff date for kindergarten eligibility are given A.D.H.D. diagnoses, compared to 5.1 percent of children born in the month immediately afterward.

Third Study:

school work bOn March 13, 2016, The Sydney Morning Herald published the latest article describing a study that provides further evidence that drug treatment provides no lasting benefits for students classified as having ADHD. The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia and carried out by the Murdoch Childrens’ Research Institute. It has been following 178 children with ADHD for three years to identify what factors make a difference to the development of children with the disorder. One of the chief investigators of the project is pediatrician Daryl Efron. He reported that,

“The 13 per cent of children in the study who were taking medication such as Ritalin to treat their ADHD were doing no better or worse than their unmedicated peers at age 10. Medication doesn’t alter the long-term outcomes of kids [with ADHD].”


The kind of attention that you have to use in school is difficult for many people. This certainly was true for me, and I was not one of the youngest students in my grade. The teachers had us sitting way too long, and some subjects, such as spelling and grammar, were not as interesting to me as it was for some of the other students. And so I became awfully restless.

basketball-playersIn my opinion, I did not have a medical illness. Out on the streets of Brooklyn, I was as healthy as a horse as I got into handball, basketball, and stickball games for hours and hours during my free time. Nevertheless, I am certain that if my parents had taken me to a doctor in this modern world of ours, I very likely would have been given an ADHD label and placed on one of the ADHD drugs.

Even if the drugs actually did lead to some positive lasting outcomes, their potential harm in terms of physical problems and thousands of dollars of wasted money should be weighed against these positives. But the research has repeatedly demonstrated that there are no lasting benefits. And so, I’m continuing to urge parents to remain cautious as they become bombarded by the drug treatment options they surely will be facing in our pharmaceutical dominant society.


Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on.  This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence.  To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

The Mental Illness Construct: Does it Reduce Shame and Guilt?
Bob Dylan On ADHD

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

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