Understanding the Ritalin debate

Although some worry that medications like Ritalin are being over-prescribed, research shows that they help kids with ADHD.

The most common treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in both children and adults is stimulant medication, such as Ritalin.

Taking this medication typically results in fast—but temporary—improvements in both performance and social interaction.

Most people with ADHD need extra help, however.

In addition to medication, they can benefit from parent education, family therapy and supportive interventions.

Stimulants

In up to 90 percent of cases, stimulant medication helps children improve their approach to schoolwork, get more focused and organized, think before acting, get along better with others and break fewer rules. They often seem happier, too.

Despite these benefits, some concerns remain.

Some worry that medication sends the wrong message, discouraging children and their parents from focusing on building problem-solving skills.

Others note that as eligibility criteria expand, the number of prescriptions are skyrocketing—suggesting that some children are being misdiagnosed.

In the end, the cost/benefit analysis favors the use of stimulant treatment for children with ADHD. There is little evidence of harm. And the treatment is effective.