Why Ritalin Is Wrong

800px-RitalinL. Alan Sroufe, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development explains the failings of Ritalin in the New York Times:

Three million children in this country take drugs for problems in focusing. Toward the end of last year, many of their parents were deeply alarmed because there was a shortage of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall that they considered absolutely essential to their children’s functioning.

But are these drugs really helping children? Should we really keep expanding the number of prescriptions filled?

In 30 years there has been a twentyfold increase in the consumption of drugs for attention-deficit disorder.

As a psychologist who has been studying the development of troubled children for more than 40 years, I believe we should be asking why we rely so heavily on these drugs.

Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither improve school achievement nor reduce behavior problems. The drugs can also have serious side effects, including stunting growth.

Sadly, few physicians and parents seem to be aware of what we have been learning about the lack of effectiveness of these drugs.

What gets publicized are short-term results and studies on brain differences among children. Indeed, there are a number of incontrovertible facts that seem at first glance to support medication. It is because of this partial foundation in reality that the problem with the current approach to treating children has been so difficult to see…

[continues in the New York Times]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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27 Comments on "Why Ritalin Is Wrong"

  1. rabrandom | Jan 29, 2012 at 3:24 pm |

    I took methylphenidate as a child and then as an adult. During the period in which I didn’t take it, my concentration dropped severely and this led to depression because of a strong lack of achievement. I consider myself to be of above average intelligence and know that most people wouldn’t be aware of this fact when I haven’t had my medication. I need to point out that I have never taken part in ANY medical study or survey and I have had a positive experience with this drug. How many others like me have not had thier opinions heard?
    As a side note, any article about this drug which wishes to be taken seriously should not call this drug ‘Ritalin’. The name of the drug is Methylphenidate and Ritalin is the brand which presses tablets in 10mg doses as opposed to 5mg which is pressed as a generic drug. It’s like writing a piece on all cereal but only naming Kelloggs.

    • Great feedback, thank you. Methylphenidate Is Wrong isn’t quite such an attention grabbing headline, but undoubtedly more accurate.

  2. Matthewpond | Jan 29, 2012 at 4:37 pm |

    there’s one thing to my parents credit. they didn’t go for ritalin. they sent to hippy school in greenwich, nyc and montessori (not that i can spell it) school in east london when we came home again.

  3. “As a psychologist who has been studying the development of troubled
    children for more than 40 years, I believe we should be asking why we
    rely so heavily on these drugs.”

    Simple: we don’t have the time for it anymore. Also, today’s generation of parents are some of the first to come out of an environment where the media told them it’s all about them. Raising kids is still an ideal, but the idea of living life for yourself is buried ever deeper.

    “But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither
    improve school achievement nor reduce behavior problems. The drugs can
    also have serious side effects, including stunting growth.”

    Like with any stimulant: they get used to it. You need increasingly more to achieve the same effect. Which is why the idea of handing it to students only during exam periods is a good idea. The several months in between is enough to flush it out of your system.

  4. marklar_primus | Jan 29, 2012 at 5:26 pm |

    Ritalin is wrong because ADHD is not a disorder but simply a personality type. The ADHD person actually has a superior ability to focus upon tasks in comparison to the average Joe. What ADHD people have problems with is concentrating on boring or rote tasks which hold no interest for them. The problem therefore is with teachers suffering from engagement deficit disorder (EDD) and an education system which emphasizes learning by rote and authoritarian propaganda over critical thinking and creativity.

    Yes, I did just make up EDD as a psychological order but I also used the same scientific methodology as the psychologists who identified ADHD (which is to say I pulled it out of my ass)The difference is that I will not prescribe potentially lethal and mind destroying drugs to anybody based on my diagnosis.

    • Calypso_1 | Jan 29, 2012 at 7:02 pm |

      It’s one thing to determine that a course of treatment is ineffective but saying the disorder doesn’t exist doesn’t make it so.  There are certainly individuals that are misdiagnosed and those whose problem is boredom and not the inability to focus, but there are also those who experience significant disability.  Brain studies now show some of the underlying features of the disorder, which is not associated with any ‘personality type’.
      Caudate nucleus volume asymmetry predicts ADHD symptomatology in children.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12593459
       National Academy of Sciences

      Cortical Thinning of the Attention and Executive Function Networks in Adults with ADHD  http://cercor.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/17/6/1364?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=adhd&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT
      Oxford Journal – Cerebral Corterx

      Cerebral glucose metabolism in adults with ADHD http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/abstract/323/20/1361
      New England Journal of Medicine

      New ADHD gene study points to defects in brain signaling pathways  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111204144650.htm
      Center for Applied Genomics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

  5. DeepCough | Jan 29, 2012 at 5:58 pm |

    I just don’t understand the U.S. anymore. On the one hand, it wastes all this time proselytizing people, especially children, into the belief that “drugs are bad,” and yet we have no qualms whatsoever with giving children “medication” for fake diseases which will only predispose them to illegal pharmaceutical drugs like cocaine down the road.

    • Jin The Ninja | Jan 29, 2012 at 6:14 pm |

      anything to enrich the pharma corps, subdue the pop’n-transforming us all into numb toy robots, who happily service the needs of fascism inc.

    • gwen jackson | Jan 31, 2012 at 4:17 am |

      ritalin and adderall are more similar to crank/meth than cocaine…for any kids reading…

      • actualy adderall is crank. though it’s time released so somehow it’s o.k.. It’s just crank same stuff packaged diffrently but only slightly diffrently.

    • Monkey See Monkey Do | Jan 31, 2012 at 5:00 am |

      It sounds like you understand the U.S. pretty well. Except that the propaganda is that “some drugs are bad”. The drugs the governement and the authorities want you to do or dont mind you doing exist at pharmacies and bottle shops.

      Intelligence agencies have experimented on people and societies with most of the illegal drugs for many years. They decided to flood the market with Heroin, Cocaine and Meth. All the while they have suppressed the trafficking and production of psychedelics like LSD, DMT, Mushrooms and Mescaline. You connect the dots.

  6. I don’t necessarily disagree, but the author of the article has a minor conflict of interest and a lack of expertise. 
    He is a psychologist–not a psychiatrist. He is not a medical doctor and cannot prescribe Ritalin or anything else. In fact the more successful these medications are, the less patients will need to see a psychologist. 
    If I were a psychologist, I would certainly be threatened by a pill that creates instant results everyday for a month for $10, when my services usually have no effect and cost $40 an hour.

    • The fundamental argument here is whether or not permanent chemical dependence treating symptoms, can actually be considered successful.

    • ASADASDASD | Jan 30, 2012 at 8:37 pm |

      The services of psychologists have no effect…? Wow. Congratulations. I think that may the most foolhardy thing I’ve heard in the last month.

      • Go ask a psychologist to help you with your attention problems, then check back with me.

        • Calypso_1 | Jan 31, 2012 at 10:24 am |

          The American Academy of Pediatrics Treatment Guidelines for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder states that a care plan for children with ADHD should include psychological interventions along with any prescribed medication….but good luck finding a doc that bothers with anything but a pill.
          CBT, relaxation and social skills training are all well-supported.  Music and movement therapies work in some cases.

        • Mindfulness training in DBT is effective, but you can also go to a Buddhist monk.

  7. mole_face | Jan 30, 2012 at 12:16 am |

    The “chemical imbalance theory” of “ADD” isn’t just a misguided theory – it’s a deliberately psychologically manipulative marketing strategy that exists solely to justify giving synthetic coke and amphetamine derivatives to children. If you take away the idea that the drugs’ effect on neurotransmitters is meant to offset a brain disease, it’s clear that our society is engaging in hardcore child abuse on a mass scale for the purpose of social control.

    When psychiatrists say that kids suffering from “ADD” have an “imbalance” in the neurotransmitters boosted by ritalin or adderall, what they’re actually saying is that speed and synthetic coke are useful to keep difficult kids under control. But imagine how that would go over in a society where parents who even give their kids a joint are considered to be fucking monsters.

    The giveaway that the “chemical imbalance theory” is just drug company marketing and not a legit scientific theory is the fact that you can apply it to ANY drug and it rings equally as true. ALL mood altering drugs produce their effect by changing neurotransmitter levels in the brain. All you have to do is claim that a hypothetical chemical deficiency is being addressed, then suddenly a psychotropic drug sounds like some sort of brain vitamin.

    If you apply the same reasoning as the “chemical imbalance theory”,

    -marijuana helps anxiety by correcting an imbalance in the brain’s cannabinoid receptors

    -alcohol decreases anxiety by balancing your brain’s GABA system

    -nicotine improves mood by correcting an imbalance of dopamine and norepinephrine

    -caffeine cures an adenosine imbalance

    • gwen jackson | Jan 31, 2012 at 4:24 am |

      and, most tellingly, they never do brainscans on these “hyper” kids before they start dosing them with the hard stimulants.
      5 year olds on a 30mg dose of adderall, i’m an adult and I won’t even take that much for fun; so sad to think of poor little kindergarteners twitching and tripping balls all day and night–oh, no, they dose them with downers at night….lol…

      20 years ago if you told a doctor someone was taking those doses of stimulants habitually, he’d call them a speedfreak or ‘amphetamine addict’ and send them to rehab, now it’s commonplace for schoolchildren…so creepy…and they force it on children in foster care to zombify them, kids who have no one looking out for them anyway. sad. 🙁

      • Calypso_1 | Jan 31, 2012 at 10:12 am |

        But diagnostic brainscans aren’t in the current DRG reimbursement model.  Amphetamine-attenuated Hyperkids are vital for national workforce productivity calculations.  If they are not properly treated we would be forced to watch their disorder degrade into CD and ODD – Then their downgraded human capital becomes the driving force of the prison-industrial system.   

  8. mole_face | Jan 30, 2012 at 12:32 am |

    Also, brain scans of kids with “ADD” prove absolutely nothing.

    Why would anyone be surprised that the chemical composition of the brain is different between a calm kid and an inattentive, hyper kid? Different emotions and mindsets all involve wildly different chemical expressions in the brain.

    By pathologizing the chemical expression involved in a particular undesirable mindset, psychiatry can transform any socially unacceptable behavior into a pseudo-disease with a supposed physical origin.

  9. personal bias | Jan 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm |

    Over a decade ago, I was diagnosed with ‘ADHD’. I was prescribed Ritalin when I was around 6-8 and took it until I was age 14. It severely stunted my phsycal and mental growth for many years after I had stopped taking it. I am now 23 years old and I am a fully fuctioning member of society, serving in the Armed Forces, and I feel that Ritalin and its related medications are false solutions to a ‘problem’ that was created in the 80’s-90’s. It scares me how underdeveloped I could have been if I had stayed medicated until I turned into a legal adult or even now. I am thoroughly against medicated children for the supposed personality disorders of ADD and ADHD.

  10. ADHD is not a disorder and it is not even a personality type. It is basically a stressed child and not because of something wrong that a parent has done for which they should be blamed and/or feel shame. On the contrary a parent, despite their very best efforts can be a bad parent through no cause of their own! How can this be? A mother (or father for that matter)who is stressed owing to factors outside of parenting is not able to be emotionally connected to their child in a manner that sustains an adequate bond with the child. A child who feels their parent is too distant or in other words too emotionally/mentally absent and it is due to stress. The child becomes stressed because of insecurity. A child needs to feel connected/ bonded with their parents to feel secure. This connection with the parent is not physical but mental and unfortunately under current medical thinking this matter is not addressed. A parent, most particularly stay home mothers who spend more time parenting than fathers do, do not realize this problem, it is not obvious to them and they are not advised about it by their doctor. The child is left in limbo because a child cannot rectify the problem. They may become attention seeking but they will also experience high energy production owing to their own stress in their bodies. It will affect both activity and attention.
    What causes the stress that the parent experiences. You will be shocked. It is too much to explain her but I invite you to visit the blog I have started at http://kyrani99.wordpress.com/ and a website I have started at http://kyrani99.doodlekit.com/ in an effort to explain the reasons.

  11. Ritalin is wrong because ADHD is about other problems that a child faces and often, though a parent maybe involved they do not recognize the problem and thus cannot fix it at the source. In some cases emotional domestic violence is involved so a mother /or father is unable to parent properly and thus there is an effect on the child. The problem needs to be resolved at the source. I have discussed this matter on my blog on this post http://kyrani99.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/the-toxic-people-and-their-networks-who-are-they/ in association with parental abuse and toxic spouses (either male or female)

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