Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the term coined to identify a set of behaviors in children (and some adults) in which they can’t focus on one activity or control physical, mental, and emotional overload.
The term evolved from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) to more accurately include hyperactivity associated with the diagnosis.
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control estimate that 11% of school-aged children (primarily boys) have been diagnosed with ADHD in the United States. The number of children labeled with ADHD has risen drastically in the last 10 years, the rate increasing 42% from 2003 to 2011 (1).
Worldwide, the percentage of children under the age of 18 with ADHD was estimated at 7.2% in 2015 (2).
ADHD In North America
The behaviors associated with ADHD in children affect their abilities to perform in school, build healthy interpersonal relationships, and learn new tasks and information. In the United States, over 6% of children diagnosed with ADHD are prescribed medication to counteract its effects (3).
The most common drugs prescribed to control ADHD behavior are Adderall and Ritalin. Adderall is an amphetamine—a stimulant chemical similar to the street drug “Ecstasy”. Its chemical structure is similar to adrenalin and the pleasure hormone dopamine. It works by stimulating the parts of the brain that produce euphoria and focus. Ritalin blocks certain neurotransmitters and increases production of dopamine and serotonin (another pleasure hormone) in the brain. Both of these drugs affect the central nervous system.
Children as young as 3 years old are prescribed these brain-altering substances.
The Problem With Drug-Based Therapy
As with any other drug, with the high comes the crash.
Children who regularly take Adderall or Ritalin experience artificially induced happiness. When the source of the hormone stimulation is removed, they undergo a very real physical and psychological withdrawal. Additionally, these drugs are very similar to the popular anti-depressants Zoloft and Prozac.
The longer the drug is administered, the more difficult and severe the withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal effects include:
- Anger and irritability
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Brain fog
- Difficulty concentrating and lack of motivation
- Food cravings
- Heart palpitations
- Mood swings
- Difficulty sleeping
- Suicidal ideation
- Difficulty with vision
History has shown that these psychoactive drugs do not always have the desired effect: many heinous violent acts have been perpetrated by people who are either actively taking or recently coming off this type of drug. As just one example, the shooters at Columbine High School in Colorado—responsible for killing 13 and wounding 23 before committing suicide—were both so medicated.
The National Alliance Against Mandated Mental Health Screening and Psychiatric Drugging of Children states: “…few Americans have noticed how many shooters were among the 6 million kids now on psychotropic drugs… Although the list of school-age children who have gone on violent rampages is growing at a disturbing rate—and the shootings at Columbine became a national wake-up call—few in the mental-health community have been willing to talk about the possibility that the heavily prescribed drugs and violence may be linked. Those who try to investigate quickly learn that virtually all data concerning violence and psychotropic drugs are protected by the confidentiality provided minors. ” (4)
ADHD has been classified as a mental illness in children.
Treating ADHD In Children Without Drugs
Not all societies treat ADHD symptoms with pharmaceuticals.
In France, the number of children diagnosed with ADHD is .5%—much less than the global average. Treatment does not involve medication.
So why is there such a discrepancy in France?
For one, ADHD behaviors have been associated with lifestyle, including diet.
A study published earlier this year found: “Children with ADHD were more likely to consume artificially sweetened juice, less likely to read for more than one hour per day, more likely to have more than two hours of screen time per day, and more likely to engage in fewer hours of physical activity during the week. Parents of children with ADHD were also much more likely to report that their children have difficulty falling asleep, to report concern about their child’s sleep habits, and fear that sleep problems may be leading to behavior issues. These associations held even in those children not currently taking ADHD medication, which is known to cause sleep disturbance.” (7)
A diet of sugar and processed foods can contribute to undesirable behavior and decreased neurological function (8). High levels of exposure to electromagnetic frequencies, such as those emitted by electronic devices (microwaves, cell phones, televisions, computers, etc.) and wireless technologies (WiFi routers, headphones/Bluetooth, cordless telephones, smart meters) in almost every building in the Industrial World also cause imbalances in body chemical interactions—especially in children (9, 10).
Add to these a lack of adequate exercise and environmental toxins like heavy metals and you have a very potent recipe for the genesis of ADHD.
Why French Children Are Different
French culture is quite different from that of North America.
For one, children’s diets do not include the high levels of sugars, artificial ingredients, and processed foods that other countries do. Also, the use of electronics is less prevalent, physical activity is part of children’s everyday lives and doctors are less prone to write a prescription for every ailment.
According to Psychology Today: “French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling.”
“This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child’s brain…the [French] definition of ADHD is not as broad as in the American system, which, in my view, tends to ‘pathologize’ much of what is normal childhood behavior. The DSM [the U.S. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] specifically does not consider underlying causes. It thus leads clinicians to give the ADHD diagnosis to a much larger number of symptomatic children, while also encouraging them to treat those children with pharmaceuticals.” (11)
In addition, French parents are generally firmer with their children than in North America, imparting limits and structure from infancy. Children are taught that they have the ability and responsibility to control their behavior as active members of society.
Along with wine and cheese, perhaps we should import the French approach to ADHD in children rather than giving them brain-altering pills.