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Three Great Takes on the ADHD Flap

February 9, 2012

There has been a lot of passionate back-and-forth in the last two weeks about the virtues of ADHD medication, kicked off by L. Alan Sroufe’s broadside on the op ed page of the New York Times opposing medication and asserting that ADHD is caused by parental neglect or, oddly, its opposite, “patterns of parental intrusiveness.”

Judith Warner put Sroufe’s argument in perspective in Time magazine, noting that his essay was “like a ride backwards in a time capsule.” That is, back to when autism and schizophrenia were said to be caused by cold or toxic mothers, and stigma prevented most parents from getting help for struggling children. A specialist in attachment who did his major work in the 1970s, Sroufe “wages what appears to be a late-career turf war with biological psychiatry,” Warner writes, and accuses parents of giving the kids pills to get themselves off the hook.

Dr. Ned Hallowell also weighed in with an excellent analysis, wincing at Sroufe’s charge that medication is being offered by drug-happy clinicians as a cure-all that prevents us from getting to the root causes of behavior problems. “Sure, some doctors over-medicate, while other doctors never medicate because they ‘don’t believe in ADHD’ and ‘don’t believe in Ritalin,’ ” he writes. “But as long as we use it properly, it remains one of our most valuable—and tested—medications.”

Finally Donna Wick at the Freedom Institute, which offers substance abuse treatment and prevention workshops for schools, speaks to the unacknowledged point here: that adolescence is a very perilous time for kids with ADHD, who are at substantially higher risk than other kids not only for problems in school but for substance abuse and other dangerous behavior. Studies show those risks are reduced when kids are being treated with ADHD medications.

“Parents have to make their own choices about stimulant medication for their child,” Wick concludes. But in my professional capacity at Freedom Institute, I would be remiss if I didn’t draw parents’ attention to the correlation between ADHD and substance abuse, as well as the studies that indicate that stimulant medication is a protective factor.”