(NaturalNews) According to a new survey by Consumer Reports, 84 percent of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are treated with drugs at some point.
Researchers from the magazine interviewed 934 parents whose children (under age 18) had been diagnosed with the disorder, asking them questions including which treatments they had used and how effective each of them had been. The survey was conducted online in July and August 2009.
Eighty-four percent children had taken drugs for the condition at some point. More than 50 percent had taken two or more different drugs in the past three years alone. The average age of children receiving drugs was 13; older children were more likely to take drugs than younger ones.
The two classes of ADHD drugs include stimulants, such as Ritalin, and non-stimulants, including atomoxetine (Strattera) and antidepressants. The stimulants include the amphetamines, such as Adderall, and the methylphenidates, such as Ritalin.
"We asked parents to rate how helpful each medication was in the following areas: academic performance, behavior at school, behavior at home, self-esteem, and social relationships," the authors wrote. "Both amphetamines and methylphenidates were equally likely to be helpful in all areas with the exception of behavior at school, where amphetamines were rated as slightly more helpful."
Among parents whose children had taken drugs, 67 percent said that the medication had helped "a lot." Thirty-five percent said that the drugs were most helpful at improving behavior at school and academic performance, 26 percent said the drugs had helped their child's social relationships, and 18 percent said they improved their child's self-esteem.
Even though the rate of psychiatric drug use was so high, only 22 percent of children were being seen by a psychiatrist; in contrast, 65 percent were receiving treatment from a pediatrician. Non-medical treatment providers included psychologists and learning-disability specialists.
Yet despite the high use of the drugs, parents did not appear to be comfortable relying on them. Only 52 percent of parents said that if they could go back and start over, they would give their children drugs, while 44 percent said they wished there were a non-pharmaceutical way to help their child.
Part of this dissatisfaction may have come from side effects, which were experienced by 84 percent of children who took drugs. The most commonly reported adverse effects were digestive upset, decreased appetite, irritability, trouble sleeping and weight loss.
The high rate of side effects suggests that doctors might not be adjusting dosage properly to account for different patients, said neurologist Orly Avitzur, a medical adviser to Consumer Reports.
"It's not like you can just give the child a pill and you're finished," she explains. "There's a lot more to it in terms of management."
According to Patrick Tolan of the University of Virginia, drugs are simply not capable of correcting all ADHD-related problems.
"With medication, the child isn't so distracted, and that makes it easier to learn," he said. "But it's not going to teach the child problem-solving skills or give him the ability to stop and think things through like other kids do."
Indeed, the excessive use of medication to regulate children's behavior is one of the primary criticisms leveled at the ADHD diagnosis.
"If the forcing of the ADHD diagnosis and drugs can be justified, then why not do it for every other condition? After all, it is for the good of the child, right?" writes Fred A. Baughman, Jr. and Craig Hovey in The ADHD Fraud.
"The problem, of course, is that ... anything that disturbs adults in authority can be classified as a disease and parents threatened with the loss of their children if they don't go along with 'treatment.' Do any of us want this to happen, to witness childhood itself held hostage by drug pushers?"