Summer break: Kids use ADHD meds more during school year

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Children are 30 percent more likely to use ADHD medication during the school year than in the summer, according to a new study published in the American Sociological Review.

Researchers suspect that “parents — either intentionally or unwittingly — may be giving their children stimulant medication during the school year to give them an educational advantage,” HealthDay reported.

More than two-thirds of U.S. kids who have had a diagnosis for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder take stimulant medications, such as Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta, to improve concentration and impulse control.

Increasingly, though, The New York Times reports, “an ADHD diagnosis has become a popular shortcut to better grades ... with many students unaware of or disregarding the medication’s health risks.”

Child psychiatrist and ADHD expert Dr. Ned Hallowell, told the Times that he is troubled by the trend. “I think now’s the time to call attention to the dangers that can be associated with making the diagnosis in a slipshod fashion,” Hallowell said. “That we have kids out there getting these drugs to use them as mental steroids — that’s dangerous.”

Medicate to educate

Marissa King, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management and lead author of the study, said in a press release that the increasing emphasis on high-stakes testing and higher levels of accountability might be driving school-year stimulant use.

As King and her fellow researchers note in their journal article:

“Elementary mathematics instruction increased approximately 40 percent when the No Child Left Behind Act was implemented, and schools now allocate less time to activities like art, physical education, and recess. Even kindergarten has become more academic. Test preparation activities increase when schools face more accountability pressure, and observations of classroom environments demonstrate decreased socio-emotional connection during the months when test preparation pressure is greatest.”

In their book, “The ADHD Explosion,” Stephen Hinshaw and Richard Scheffler, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, confirm a correlation between a shift in educational policies and the rate of ADHD diagnoses, Salon reports. Within years of various states passing accountability laws, “ADHD diagnoses started going up in those states … especially for kids near the poverty line.”

Parents under pressure

Many parents report pressure from teachers and school administrators to consider medication, the researchers note, even though almost half of all parents with kids who take ADHD medication wish there was a non-medicated way to help their child, Consumer Reports said.

"Many parents are faced with a tough decision: Do they medicate their kids to help them manage in an increasingly demanding school environment?" said lead researcher King. "Rather than trying to make kids conform to the school system by taking stimulants, we need to take a closer look at what is happening in schools."

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