Medicating ADHD: Pros, Cons and Alternatives

My mom once told me that had ADHD been widely known about when she was a kid (she’s 61) she would have most likely been diagnosed. This, in part, explains why she and Julian get along so well. She understands him more than almost anyone else in the family. My mom is the oldest daughter of four kids (she has an older brother, a younger sister. Her youngest brother died when I was nine.) and was constantly in trouble as a kid. She hated school and had problems concentrating.

I asked her if she had been diagnosed, would she have been medicated?

“Probably not. It was the 60s, so I’m pretty sure my parents wouldn’t have thought about it.”

The medication debate continues 50 years later.

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The Julian Perspective

For the record, Julian is medicated. He was diagnosed with ADHD (severe, combined) when he was 5. He was very aggressive and destructive- his siblings wouldn’t play with him and he almost broke my nose while headbutting me during what I now know was a meltdown. He also barely slept, and for a 5-year-old, that can cause a lot of issues.

It was a tough decision for me- my husband barely gave input, so I made the decision on my own. I did a lot of research. I didn’t want to make Julian a “zombie” but I did want him to stop tearing my house apart and be able to play with his siblings again. It broke my heart that Cameron and Lily were afraid of him. I was also worried about his education- he was barely able to sit in school long enough to learn anything.

Vyvanse didn’t go so well- it did what it was supposed to, but it also stunted his growth. He was off it in six months. Julian barely ate, and as a result, he didn’t grow at all. This medication also irritated his stomach. Even now, at 12, he’s still small for his age.

At his last checkup, he weighed 101 lbs and was 4’9″. Don’t let the small size fool you- I feel terribly for the first kid that tries to mess with him at school. Julian watches wrestling and is strong for his size.

We also tried Tenex for sleep, and this worked for a couple of years until it caused an uptick in aggression, which it is known to do in kids on the spectrum, so we switched to Clonidine. He has done wonderfully on this and is currently taking it. He takes it nightly and everyone is glad to see him sleep. A cranky Julian is not fun. When he’s cranky, he’s more likely to have more behaviors, and I know it’s not his fault.

After Vyvanse, we tried Concerta but never got to a dose that really helped him. I didn’t like the side effects that he might have faced if he went up to the next dosage (increased aggression, decreased appetite, etc) so we chose to try Ritalin LA. This is what he is on now. He seems to be doing well on this, so he will remain on it.

I’m really picky on changing his medication and dosage. I won’t change the dosage unless I see major changes, or he’s hit a growth spurt. We just increased the Ritalin over the summer because he hit a major growth spurt. I don’t want to mess with what works.

He takes his medication daily- he knows this is not an option. I’m hoping he doesn’t start fighting me on this as he gets older as I hear some kids do. He’s been on medication for so long that I don’t think this will be an issue, but it’s in the back of my mind.

Julian has missed days on his meds- sometimes we forget by accident or he’s been sick, but if we somehow forget, he knows he is still expected to try his best to have a good day. ADHD and autism are not an excuse for bad behavior. Things happen, meltdowns do occur, but it doesn’t give him the golden ticket to do things on purpose. (This is what happens when Mom works in a mental health facility for four years with kids with developmental disabilities.)

When he is on his own, in college, or when he moves out, I can only hope he is either off meds by then or is responsible enough to remember on his own to take his meds. This will be a goal to work on in high school.

Putting Julian on medications was a difficult decision, but it was one of the best things I have ever done for him. As my mom put it, we got Julian back. I have nothing against parents who don’t medicate- every family is different. Every family has to make that choice.

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Pros and Cons of Medications

ADHD meds come with their own set of side effects, like some that I mentioned. They can also include heart issues, upset stomach, shakiness, sleeplessness, headaches, tics, and more. I highly recommend researching and talking with your child’s prescribing doctor (pediatrician, psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse practitioner, etc.) before starting any medication.

Pros:

  • help with the most challenging symptoms like: inability to concentrate, impulse control, low frustration tolerance
  • can be taken once a day in small doses
  • fast-acting in severe cases

Cons:

  • Side effects can be severe (as in Julian’s growth issues)
  • Can be abused (in some situations, like in college students)
  • Are not recommended in children with heart conditions (stimulants) but there are non-stimulants available

This is just a small list of pros and cons, please consider your child and family’s situation before deciding on medication for your child. There are many different medications on the market for ADHD- including pills, patches and liquid medications.

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Treating ADHD Without Medications

ADHD can be partially treated with medications, if that is your choice, but to get a full treatment experience for your child, there are other options to explore. I’m not a fan of the many different diets that I have been told about, because Julian’s a picky eater and I have two other children to feed. It would spell disaster.

I am, however, a fan of therapy. He sees a psychiatric nurse practitioner monthly and spent a year in group therapy for social skills. It was a great investment. Please check with your child’s insurance carrier to see what is covered and if needed, pediatrician, before starting anything new.

Behavior Therapy- This is a structured strategy that teaches new behaviors to replace old ones. This can be effective for kids under 5 and older kids. Cognitive Behavior Therapy can also be helpful- this helps change irrational or negative thoughts that get in the way of getting things done or even staying on task.

Supplements- Please discuss this with your child’s pediatrician before trying this. There are many vitamins and other supplements that have been found to help kids with ADHD. Every child is different, some may work, some may not. Iron, Zinc, Omega-3, Vitamins C and B6 are a few to consider.

Brain-Training Programs- These are relatively new, and they help improve working memory. Some even help increase attention and reduce impulsvity by simply playing games. The games are designed to make parts of the brain that may not be working at their best work a bit harder.

Mindfulness- This helps decrease stress, develop positivity, and strengthens self-regulation. These can be very helpful in kids with ADHD. There are many videos on YouTube to get started with, and can help decrease anxiety.

These are not the only ways that ADHD can be treated without medication, there are many others. This journey is an interesting one, and parents have to stick together.

Were you judged for medicated for medicating or not medicating your child? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

Information courtesy of Additude Magazine

Smart Kids with LD

5 thoughts on “Medicating ADHD: Pros, Cons and Alternatives

  1. loveyourdamnself1st says:

    This was very helpful! My son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 6; he is now 8 and I’m starting a to see his symptoms progress. I’m not a big fan of medications as I am too in the mental health field- but I have been researching various options with his doctor.

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