I’ve often heard the opinion that ADHD is an “American disease” and that parents and doctors in this country tend to excessively medicate children. I tend to agree that psychiatric drugs are overprescribed; however, this isn’t a purely American trend. A recent study in Deutsches Aerzteblatt International, a German scientific journal, found that the diagnosis and medical treatment of ADHD is on the rise in Germany as well. In fact, the results of that study found that the prevalence of ADHD had risen 45% between the year 2000 and 2007. Also, 1% of children were found to have been prescribed stimulant medication for ADHD. The authors note that this finding is consistent with rates of ADHD medication in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Norway.
In a Times.com article, John Cloud notes that around 3% of children in the U.S. take a stimulant like Ritalin for ADHD, while 2.4% are taking such medications in Australia, and 2.5% in Israel. Furthermore, he points out that a recent study has confirmed that ADHD medication works best when provided in conjunction with therapy; however, most children are prescribed medication alone to treat ADHD.
While the rise of ADHD diagnosis and treatment appears to be an international trend, it is unclear whether this rise reflects children becoming more fidgety and less able to focus than in previous years or parents and teachers becoming less tolerant of these behaviors. He points out that some behaviors that may be viewed as ADHD-related such as fidgeting and wriggling may not always mean the child is not learning. In fact, these behaviors may be the result of children trying to keep themselves stimulated. Allowing these stimulating movements may be an effective method of ensuring that children are paying attention rather than prescribing them pharmacological stimulants.
Stimulant medication can be an effective tool to aid some children with ADHD who need pharmacological help; however, I believe this treatment should be administered in combination with some form of therapy or ADHD coaching. This way, children can be provided with strategies for managing their own hyperactivity, impulsivity, and/or inattention. Medication certainly can be a tool, but it is definitely not the only tool.