ADHD - A Drug Free Approach

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by Michele Carelse

ADHD - A Drug Free Approach
by Michele Carelse
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a
psychiatric diagnosis, defined by the DSM-IV (Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition) as
a Mental Disorder. The most common treatment for ADHD is
drug therapy. Children as young as three or four are
routinely given major psychiatric drugs, like Ritalin,
Tofranil, Dexedrine, Clonadine, Prozac and other
medications. Many of these drugs are prescribed to children
by family doctors or paediatricians on the strength of
subjective and anecdotal reports by parents and teachers.
The 'Connors Scale', a simple check list, is often used to
determine whether a child 'has' ADHD before a prescription
for a major psychiatric drug is written out. Many children
on these drugs receive no other form of treatment and
remain on the drugs for many years.

It is a known fact that there are many more children
diagnosed with ADHD today than there were twenty years ago.
According to Dr Mary Ann Block (reference below), ADHD can
in fact be seen as a major industry, with the main
beneficiaries being doctors, pharmaceutical companies,
psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. It has also been
suggested that the increase in incidence of ADHD is closely
linked with the sales of Ritalin in the USA.

People who are unhappy with the psychiatric diagnosis of
ADHD point out that the 'symptoms' of the 'disorder' are
rather subjective perceptions of teachers, parents,
doctors, etc. Can 'not listening', 'making careless
mistakes', 'failing to follow through on instructions',
etc. be called 'Symptoms' of a Psychiatric Disorder? Surely
the 'diagnosis' of ADHD would depend on both the
personality of the teacher and the 'symptoms' of a
particular child? If so, then ADHD can not strictly
speaking be termed a 'disorder' or a 'disease'. This does
not mean, however, that the symptoms of what is called ADHD
are 'all in the mind'!

An alternative viewpoint is that ADHD is not, in fact
a 'disorder', but rather a cluster of symptoms which could
be attributed to a variety of problems, including food
intolerance, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), allergies, low
muscle tone, perceptual difficulties, nutritional problems,
candida, hyperthyroidism, Tourettes Disorder, brain
dysfunction, family and emotional problems, abuse, poor
discipline, undiagnosed hearing impairment, depression and
other conditions. All of these can produce ADHD-like
symptoms in children. Routinely prescribing psychiatric
drugs without proper and thorough assessment to find the
underlying cause of the child's problem is nothing short of
alarming! Interestingly, while the incidence of ADHD in
children is estimated at about 3% of all children, surveys
have indicated that almost 6% of children are on some sort
of psychiatric drug for ADHD, the most commonly prescribed
being Ritalin. It is worth noting that Ritalin is a
controlled substance, like morphine. It is similar in
structure to amphetamines and uses the same receptor site
in the brain as does cocaine - and it is routinely
prescribed for children with behavioral problems and
difficulties concentrating in class!

While drug therapy certainly has short term 'results' in
about 75 - 80% of cases, it does nothing to treat the
underlying causes. As we have seen above, there is often no
attempt to find the underlying causes, let alone treat
them. Using Ritalin and other high schedule drugs to treat
children with behavioral and concentration problems is, in
my opinion, like treating every headache with morphine.

Possible short term side effects of Ritalin include loss of
appetite, tics, anxiety, decreased growth, insomnia, visual
disturbances, depression, irritability, stomach ache,
increased heart rate, and psychotic symptoms. Ritalin has
not been around for long enough to document the effects of
long term use on the children's hearts, kidneys, livers or
immune systems. Essentially children taking Ritalin at the
moment are guinea pigs! In addition, it is well-known that
some children are abusing prescription drugs in schools and
Ritalin is sometimes sold to peers rather than used
medicinally. Children snort Ritalin like they snort
cocaine, or they use it to obtain a high. There is evidence
that it is addictive although this is not yet conclusive.

Are there alternatives? Psychiatric drugs are only one way
of treating the symptoms of ADHD.

The most important thing is to start with a thorough
assessment. In my practice all assessments begin with a
parent interview where a comprehensive history is taken,
including information on development, diet, allergies,
discipline, family functioning, sleep patterns, behaviour
and school performance. After this, the child undergoes an
assessment over a number of days to determine emotional,
scholastic and intellectual functioning. A comprehensive
report is compiled and recommendations are made.

Many children improve with changes in diet and the
introduction of consistent and effective disciplinary
methods. Some need therapy for emotional problems. Others
are taught, by means of games and exercises, to recognise
when they fidget and become distracted and are helped to
focus, plan, organise and complete their tasks. Some
children are sent to their doctors for further tests, or
they are referred to occupational therapists. Sometimes it
is the parents that are taken into treatment to assist with
family problems that are causing trauma for the child.
Whatever treatment plan is devised, the majority of
children treated in my practice improve without psychiatric
drugs, so long as parents (and teachers) are prepared to
follow through and persevere with treatment at home and at
school as well. Yes, it is much easier to simply prescribe
a drug, but is it the best thing for your child?

Many children respond very well to homeopathic remedies,
especially if these are combined with therapy and a change
in diet. Instead of suppressing the symptoms, homeopathic
formulas can strengthen the child's own defense mechanisms
to fight against the symptoms of ADHD. Homeopathic
medicines are safe, non-addictive and effective
alternatives to drug therapy, especially in the case of

So if you suspect (or have been told) that your child has
ADHD, it is my suggestion that your first port of call
should be a psychologist who has a reputation of working
with children without the use of psychiatric drugs.

For those who would like to do some further research, here
is a list of recommended reading.

Book Reviews:

No More Ritalin : Treating Adhd Without Drugs by Dr Mary
Ann Block. A Mother's Journey. A Physician's Approach.

The A.D.D. Book : New Understandings, New Approaches to
Parenting Your Child by William Sears & Lynda Thompson.

Learning to Slow Down and Pay Attention: A Book for Kids
About ADD by Kathleen G Nadeau, Ellen B. Dixon, John Rose.

"How to Manage Your ADHD Child" by Michele Carelse,
Clinical Psychologist. To view go to . The e-booklet
contains useful and clear guidelines on diet, discipline
and exercises to improve concentration and memory.


If your child has difficulty sitting still and cannot
concentrate in class, see what happens if you cut out
sweets, caffeine, soda pops and cola drinks from his diet.
Also try to eliminate foods with artificial flavors,
preservatives and colouring like Tartrazine and MSG.

Take care and be well!


Michele Carelse is a Registered Clinical Psychologist with
more than 12 years experience. She runs a private practice
as well as an Online Counseling and Resource Centre at

Michele has also developed Feelgood Health - a range of
natural remedies for adults and children, especially
formulated for emotional and psychological health. For more
information, go to


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