The diagnosing of millions of children with ADHD in order to medicate them with stimulants and other psychoactive chemicals is an American tragedy, growing into a worldwide catastrophe. Never before in history has a society attempted to deal with its children by drugging a significant portion of them into conformity while failing to meet their needs in the home, school and society. The ethical scientist or physician, the concerned parent or teacher, must feel stricken with grief and dumbfounded that we have allowed the interests of powerful advocacy groups to completely override the interests of our children.
To make matters worse, on Oct. 16, 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics overrode the FDA and recommended that children as young as age four be diagnosed with ADHD and given the stimulant methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin, Metadate, Focalin, Daytrana and Concerta).
The scientific literature actually shows that 50 percent or more of children this young when given Ritalin, Focalin, Dexedrine, Adderall and other stimulants will become obviously depressed, lethargic, weepy -- but more manageable. Moreover, it's been proven time and again that the stimulants stunt their growth. In addition, studies show that stimulants will permanently change their brain chemistry, cause shrinkage of brain tissue, predispose children to cocaine addiction in young adulthood, stigmatize them with a false diagnosis and push them toward becoming permanent consumers of psychiatric drugs.
This endorsement of drugging younger children by the American Academy of Pediatrics is an outrage. While focusing on ADHD and stimulants, the endorsement will open the door to every other psychiatric drug. Those weepy children who are having adverse reactions to stimulants will have an antidepressant added to their daily drug dose. When some of them become overstimulated, sedatives will be added to the regimen. When some of them develop drug-induced hallucinations and delusions, or mania, mood stabilizers and antipsychotics will be added.
These new guidelines will encourage prescribers to throw caution to the wind with toddlers, opening a Pandora's box of drug intervention for children. Many young children will have their brains bathed with powerful and often toxic chemicals in the early years of their central nervous system development.
The scientific issues are simple enough. First, ADHD is not a valid medical syndrome. Its three main criteria -- hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention -- could never be a valid syndrome. They represent a superficial assessment of external behaviors that tend to disrupt classrooms or require attention at home. The causes of these behaviors are infinite -- from boring classrooms and overstressed teachers to chaotic homes and overstressed parents, from children who lack discipline to children with admirable exuberance.
Most children who display these behaviors will respond to an educational or home setting where a proper mixture of discipline and nurturing is provided. Others more rarely need special attention to their physical needs because they are malnourished, suffer from head injuries (growing in number from sports concussions), or struggling with a physical illness such as diabetes. Still others are the victims of abuse at home or in school (including the growing problem of bullying). But the vast majority of these children are absolutely normal. All they need is improved adult attention at home and in school.
Second, stimulant drugs simply crush spontaneous behavior. Innumerable scientific studies demonstrate without question that stimulants reduce the self-generated, autonomous behavior of animals and children alike. They also enforce obsessive behavior. The result is a more self-contained and less troublesome child, but the cost is a suppression of the child.
But the potential cost is even greater, since these drugs suppress brain function, cause lasting biochemical imbalances, at times produce atrophy of the brain and predispose the child to cocaine addiction later in life -- all clearly demonstrable in scientific studies (Reviewed in Peter Breggin, Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, Second Edition, New York: Springer Publishing Company. Chapter 11, "Stimulant-Induced Brain Damage, Brain Dysfunction and Psychiatric Adverse Reactions," 2008).
In short, instead of meeting the normal needs of our children we are suppressing them with drugs. The average parent or teacher, of course, has no idea that what passes for medical treatment is actually a form of medical child abuse. The parent or teacher sees a more manageable child and assumes that this is best for everyone. In reality, the parent and the teacher have been deprived of learning how to assume parental and educational responsibility for the child. And the child is being deprived of the most important learning process of childhood -- learning to grow in personal responsibility and self-direction. Instead the child is taught to believe, "I have ADHD" and "I need a pill to help me control myself."
Along with many other concerned scientists, physicians and educators, I have published many books and scientific articles to this subject. The scientific observations in this brief commentary are documented with hundreds of scientific citations in my scientific textbook:
Breggin, Peter. (2008). Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, Second Edition. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
Chapter 10: From Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to Bipolar Disorders: Diagnosing America's Children, pp. 253-282.
Chapter 11: Stimulant-Induced Brain Damage, Brain Dysfunction and Psychiatric Adverse Reactions, pp. 283-316
Dr. Peter Breggin is a psychiatrist in private practice in Ithaca, New York, and the author of dozens of scientific articles and more than twenty books. He is the director of the Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education and Living, which holds its annual conference April 13-15, 2012 in Syracuse, New York.