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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 2, No. 3
June 1997

Should Medication Be Used to Treat AD(H)D?

The number of children diagnosed as having attention deficit or attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder [AD(H)D] continues to hold steady at three to five percent of the school age population in the United States (Parker, 1992). At the same time, coverage in the media has sparked a controversy surrounding use of the drug Ritalin. In this context, parents, teachers, and social workers find themselves asking: Do children with AD(H)D benefit from prescription medications? What part should drugs play in the overall treatment of this medical condition?

When it comes to treating AD(H)D, there are three broad classes of treatment: behavior therapy, special parenting techniques, and medication. Although most experts agree that interventions should be directed at various levels of a child's functioning, by far and away, medication is the most frequently used intervention. And not without reason—medication has been shown to be effective in alleviating the problems associated with AD(H)D in up to 75 percent of children (McGough, 1995).

Doctors James McGough and Dennis Cantwell are quick to point out that medication is not an appropriate treatment for all children, however, but should only be considered in severe cases of AD(H)D. Most doctors, they say, will not even prescribe medication for children under four.

Those children who are on medication should receive ongoing supervision and monitoring by a physician. As they grow and their body weight increases, stimulant medication dosages may need to be increased to adjust for this change. Approximately one percent of children treated with Ritalin or other stimulants develop tics.

While some people are concerned about the risk of addiction to stimulants, studies do not bear this out. Rather it has been determined that 30 percent of AD(H)D children who are not treated become substance abusers (McGough, 1995).

The key to effective medication intervention with AD(H)D is getting the right type of medication, in the right dose, at the right time. This can only be done in collaboration with a physician or other trained medical staff.

Experts agree that medication alone is not the most effective intervention. It should be complemented with behavioral and psychosocial interventions for long-lasting effectiveness.


Livermore, J. & Byassee, J. (1996, July). The ADHD newsletter. Durham, NC: Counseling Services, Inc.

McGough, J. & Cantwell, D. (1995, Winter). Current trends in the medication management of ADD. Attention.

Parker, H. (1992). ADD fact sheet. Plantation, FL: Children with Attention Deficit Disorders.

1997 Jordan Institute for Families