People have been bombarded in the last few years with news of the dangers of many well-known psychiatric medications. One of the latest health scares of the past few years has been the abuse and misuse of Adderall, commonly prescribed for Attention Deficit Disorder, among college students.
Adderall, an amphetamine, is one of several stimulant medications (Ritalin and Concerta are others) commonly prescribed to children as well as adults. These drugs stimulate the central nervous system (nerves and brain) by increasing the amount of certain chemicals in the body, simultaneously increasing heart rate and blood pressure and decreasing appetite.
What are the Dangers?
Like any medication, stimulants carry lots of potential side effects. Some of the most common are disturbed sleep, lowered appetite, increased irritability or jittery nerves. If a person takes Adderall and has a health condition such as a heart disease, seizure disorder, liver disease, or hypertension, the combination can be deadly. These are just to name a few.
If prescribed and monitored by a good physician, these risks can often be minimized—but the bigger problem is that stimulants can be both physically and psychologically addicting. The other scary reality is that far too many teens and young adults are taking these drugs without a prescription—using them in dosages that are extremely dangerous.
Recent research out of Johns Hopkins University found that the non-medical use of Adderall went up 67% among 18-25 year olds in recent years. During the period studied, Adderall-related emergency room visits went up 156%. The researchers concluded that too many college kids think that stimulants are harmless and will help them do better in school.
Nothing could be further from the truth. You can check out the list of the 516 drugs that are potentially dangerous drug interactions with Adderall. This is information that most adults don’t even know, let alone the young people who are experimenting with these and other drugs. (For more information, study and share the Fact Sheet on the Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants written for parents, school administrators and students by the U. of Maryland School of Public Health.)
What Should You Do If You or Your Child Has ADHD?
Last March, the Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara sponsored a workshop with Dr. Shannon, entitled The Future of Psychotherapy: New Frontiers in Complementary & Alternative Treatments for Kids, Teens, & Families. Scott Shannon, M.D., is a nationally known child psychiatrist who is doing groundbreaking work in the field of holistic health and psychiatry. Mentored by Andrew Weil, Shannon authored the first medical textbook on complementary medicine and alternative treatments for anxiety, depression, and ADHD in kids.
A Challenge to Traditional Psychiatry
Scott’s presentation began by laying out many fundamental assumptions underlying traditional psychiatry, and then he proceeded to challenge them, one by one. At every step of the way, he backed up his positions with dozens of research studies. First, he debunked the theory that mood disorders are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain— that no neuroscientist of any stature holds to that view any more.
Next, he showed how our current diagnostic system (yes, the esteemed DSM-5) is wildly unreliable and not useful in formulating treatment plans. The most provocative (even shocking to many) part of his presentation was the abundant evidence questioning how, for the majority of patients, the long-term use of psychiatric medications is neither as safe nor as effective as approaches using alternative treatment strategies.
Due to selective publication by drug companies, discovered through the Freedom of Information Act, Dr. Shannon presented the results from studies NOT published, leaving the public—and many or most mental health professionals—with only the data showing positive effects.
Alternative Treatments Can Be Safe AND Effective
Yet another myth that Dr. Shannon challenged was that treatments other than psychotropic meds haven’t been validated by research. He discussed some promising effective alternatives, (yes, double-blind, evidence-based), using numerous herbs, nutrients, vitamins and nutritional approaches. He included procedures using family therapy, parent training, sleep, exercise, EMDR, various body psychotherapies, mindfulness approaches, and neurofeedback.
Shannon did not throw the baby out with the bath water—he acknowledged that he still prescribes medication and sees its helpfulness, particularly in more severe cases. But, at the same time, he offered numerous case examples of complicated cases of patients who were only helped when their problems were addressed holistically—body, mind and spirit. Doesn’t this make a world of sense?