Ritalin is not a drug to be trifled with. It is an amphetamine. It is a "gateway" drug that is more powerful than marijuana and can trigger an addiction in a child from which there may be no return. While many argue that Ritalin is safe, Ritalin has dangerous short-term and long-term side effects; that is the effects appear within weeks or months after initiating the drug. And yet each year Ritalin, or some related drug, is being prescribed for millions of children as a quick fix for not behaving well or for not doing their schoolwork with care.
Ritalin is prescribed for children who allegedly have ADD or ADHD (attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactive disorder)--diseases that cause poor attention and inappropriate, hyperactive behavior (Stein 15). Viewed as a disease, the core of treatment is medication: Ritalin. The behavioral programs for ADD and ADHD that have been developed to date are designed to merely augment treatment with Ritalin.
Does Ritalin work? Yes! But, no one knows for certain exactly how (Taylor 5). Some say that it increases the activity of what is called the inhibitory center of the brain. This is believed to be a tiny part of the brain that helps us to slow down or start behavior, but there is no proof for this supposition (Plotnik 97). This theory is only a guess, not a fact. In addition, Ritalin does improve alertness, but only when first used; all stimulants do. However, Ritalin does these things for all people, not just attentional-hyperactive children. Stein states, "I believe it produces these effects because it makes us high, calms us down, and makes us feel good." Because it is a stimulant drug, far more powerful than caffeine, it can perk anyone up and makes them more alert.
So what's the problem? Isn't it a safe drug? No it is not! It has many dangerous and risky properties such as the potential for addiction. Physicians often tell parents that the fear of addiction is unfounded (Taylor 13).
Ritalin and other amphetamines have been viewed as safe for over twenty years. However, new evidence is calling this point of view into question. The short-term side effects include: irregular heartbeat, rapid heartbeat, elevation of blood pressure, nausea, and sleeplessness (Gallagher). Usually doctors handle the emergence of short-term side effects by a trial-and-error process of switching to another drug. Of even more concern are long-term side effects that may take years to show up and are often irreversible.
Little research on long-term effects exists, but the little that does is cause for concern. First and foremost are concerns about triggering an addiction. Ritalin or any amphetamine is a more dangerous gateway or starter drug than marijuana. More and more children aged ten to fourteen are abusing Ritalin as a street drug (International Narcotics Control Board). Ritalin and closely related amphetamines are acknowledged in almost every text on drugs as the most addicting category of all drugs.
Each study or report that was read indicates that between one-tenth to one-quarter of all school aged children are diagnosed as having some form of attentional disorder--attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactive disorder. The ratio of diagnosis between boys to girls is 5:1 (Long 31).
It was believed that a paradoxical effect only occurred in ADHD children and therefore was proof that these children were different--that they had a disease. Yes, Ritalin does slow down behavior, but it neither supports the disease idea nor confirms the diagnosis (Taylor 63). Amphetamines produce the same effects for everyone: adults, "normal" people, people with conduct disorders, and people with oppositional-defiant or anxiety disorders. They have a calming subduing effect. These drugs were popular in the '50s and '60s with college students; amphetamines helped them study for exams and pull all-nighters. They were even given to soldiers in combat in several wars to calm them down and help them stay alert.
Here's an interesting idea: Why not give these children cocaine? Hey! We might get even better results (Gallagher)! If we're going to load them down with drugs to control them, let's go all the way. Sound ridiculous? Well, Sigmund Freud used cocaine around the turn of the century to help him work late at night; it helped him stay alert and concentrate for long hours...sound familiar? He liked the drug so much that he wrote a scientific paper on it praising its use. Later, when the negative effects of the drug took over his life, he publicly reversed his opinion.
If the chemicals prescribed to the children were perfectly safe, there wouldn't be much of an argument. But the current level of research on these chemicals is primitive. Yes, many articles state that Ritalin is a relatively mild amphetamine. However, please recall that in the Federal Government Control Act of 1988, Ritalin is classified in Schedule II, the same category as cocaine, opium, and morphine (International Narcotics Control Board). This indicates that it has a high potential risk for abuse and addiction.
According to Long, the so-called minor tranquilizers, such as Valium, Librium, and Vistaril are used occasionally to control hyperactivity. Sometimes a doctor prescribes a minnow tranquilizer to help get the child to sleep. Unfortunately, these medications are sometimes given in a mistaken attempt to slow down an ADHD child.
Tranquilizers reduce the general activity level of a hyperactive child, but can further impair their thought processes. A minor tranquilizer given to an ADHD child who is not in a state of anxiety merely worsens the symptoms and weakens the child's ability to control and organize thoughts and actions (Breggin). Therefore, the child becomes generally "sluggish." The outcome: a poorly controlled, attention disordered, impulsive child in slow motion.
The following will include many contradictions about medications and their usage. As stated earlier, since many medications tend to increase nervousness and concern, those who are already overly "concerned" to the point of having an anxiety cluster of fear, nervousness, and intense anxiety can become even more anxious. Even now, to a certain degree, many of the amphetamines prescribed as stimulants tend to increase heart rate and blood pressure (Gallagher). Thus, any child who has a cardiovascular disease should not take these drugs!
Children and adults who have high blood pressure or glaucoma should avoid these medications, not only because of the increase in blood pressure that sometimes accompanies them but also because these stimulants can weaken the action of the blood pressure medication.
These medications also tend to make psychotic symptoms worse. If hallucinations--seeing or hearing things that are not present--occur, especially if the dosage is not high, the medication is probably triggering psychotic processes in a non-ADD/ADHD child (Plotnik 102). Hallucinations occurring in an ADD/ADHD child are an extreme overdosage indicator.
To the dismay of many, the labels on these drugs do not even forewarn of what is to come. For example, the label on Ritalin does not mention that prescribed doses can predispose to addiction, and instead mentions increasing doses as a problem. It also fails to mention that withdrawal problems, except in reference to "chronic abusive use" in the boxed warning can occur (Breggin). The fact that children routinely suffer from withdrawal problems is an important indicator of potential addiction and abuse. Also, the label fails to mention rebound problems. The fact that children suffer rebound (a form of withdrawal that involves an exaggeration of their previous symptoms) shows that the drug has addiction and the great potential for the abuse of amphetamines and the drugs pertaining to it.
In conclusion, many of the drugs that are used as stimulants can trigger a lifestyle that many wish they didn't have. It can lead to a life of drug abuse, physical abuse, or personal abuse. They will abuse their body when they think they are doing well towards it. Ritalin, and any other amphetamine, should be a last resort drug. Do not take it lightly as you may later regret the consequences.
Breggin, Peter R. Confirming the Hazards of Stimulant Drug Treatment. (2001):
1 May 2005. .
Gallagher, Teresa. "What Is ADD?" Born To Explore! The Other Side of ADD.
(2005): 14 April 2005. .
International Narcotics Control Board. "Substances in Schedule II." List of
Substances Under International Control. (2003): 16 April 2005
Long, Philip W., M.D. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Oxford: Ponte
Vedra Publishers, 2003.
Plotnik, Rod. Introduction to Psychology, Paper Edition (with InfoTrac) 7th Edition.
San Diego: Wadsworth, 2004.
Stein, David B. Ritalin Is Not The Answer: A Drug-Free, Practical Program for
Children Diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Taylor, John. Helping Your Hyperactive/ADD Child: Revised Second Edition.
Rocklin: Prima Publishing, 1997.