The Controversy Behind Medicating Hyperactive Kids: Ritalin, Adderall, and Kids with ADHD

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Drugs for ADHD

Medicating hyperactive kids is becoming more and more common these days, but it is also extremely controversial. The two most common medications for hyperactivity (ADHD) are Ritalin and Adderall, but some children with ADHD take Concerta or Dexedrine instead. In fact, about six million people in the US are currently taking Ritalin, and 75% of these are children. Some parents of children with ADHD view hyperactivity medications as wonder drugs; others shun them and warn others against taking them. The controversy stems from different views of ADHD, as well as from the possible dangers that accompany hyperactivity drugs.

Hyperactive or Highly Active?

The main complaint against medicating hyperactive kids is that ADHD is not truly a disorder that needs treatment. After all, there is no blood test for ADHD, no way to know that a child definitely has it, only a range of symptoms that the child must show in order to be prescribed medication. Some parents of children with ADHD believe that the “disorder” is truly just a different type of personality, one that feels the need to be highly active and constantly stimulated. These parents watch children for whom hyperactivity medications were “successful,” and see someone whose inborn enthusiasm towards life has been stunted.

According to these parents, it is the fact that teachers want an orderly and easy classroom to run that leads so many students to be diagnosed with ADHD. They believe that teachers just want the more highly active children to sit still in a desk and pay attention, which may not be the most conducive way for these students to learn. In their minds, there is a fine line between “highly active” and “hyperactive," and the distinction between them is mostly imposed by society. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with a child who has ADHD, so there is no need to medicate.

Opponents of this view say that while there is no blood test for ADHD, there is no blood test for almost any emotional disorder. They maintain that many kids with ADHD need medication in order to interact appropriately with the world around them, and not just in school.


Even for people who believe that ADHD does exist and is a problem, the fact that so many kids are prescribed medication today can make them skeptical. It seems like psychiatrists give Ritalin out “like candy,” without making sure that the child really does have ADHD and is not just a bit more active than the average child. They may even say things like “If half the world is told that they’re abnormal, maybe our definition of normality needs some adjustment.” The repercussions of misdiagnosing hyperactivity are not minor; animal studies indicate that children who are prescribed Ritalin due to an ADHD misdiagnosis may be more likely to develop adult depression later on. Medicating hyperactive kids continues to be debated today, both by psychiatrists and by parents of children with an ADHD diagnosis.

Effects of Stimulants

Medicating hyperactive kids does come with a price. After all, Ritalin and other ADHD medications are extremely similar to cocaine. Both of them increase the amount of dopamine (a neurotransmitter) in the brain. However, a child on hyperactivity medication may lose sensitivity towards more “natural” rewards, such as food and drink, or social relationships. This can lead to depression, and it can later lead children who were weaned from hyperactivity medication to “self medicate” with cocaine.


This post is part of the series: All About ADHD Medications

If someone you know has been diagnosed with ADHD, you may be overwhelmed with information. This series of article discusses various ADHD medications, most specifically Ritalin.

  1. Physical and Emotional Side Effects of Ritalin in Adults
  2. The Differences Between Ritalin and Adderall
  3. Medicating Hyperactive Kids: The Controversy Behind Ritalin and ADHD