ADHD drugs don’t raise kids’ grades

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder medications don’t improve academic achievement, according to new studies, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Stimulants used to treat ADHD like Ritalin and Adderall are sometimes called “cognitive enhancers” because they have been shown in a number of studies to improve attention, concentration and even certain types of memory in the short-term.

. . . However, a growing body of research finds that in the long run, achievement scores, grade-point averages or the likelihood of repeating a grade generally aren’t any different in kids with ADHD who take medication compared with those who don’t.

Boys who took ADHD drugs performed worse in school than those with similar symptoms who didn’t, according to the study, which tracked students in Quebec. Girls on ADHD drugs reported more emotional problems.

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  1. Crimson Wife says:

    Or the correlation could run the other way: kids who are more severely affected tend to get medicated while those who are doing okay without medication stay unmedicated. My son has been diagnosed with ADHD and so far we’ve been able to avoid the use of medication. But if the ADHD started interfering with his academic performance, we’d consider medicating.

  2. Stacy in NJ says:

    The purpose of ADHD meds aren’t to improve grades or even behavior. They’re a by-product of an ADHD diagnosis which is intended to qualify the kid for SSDI.

    • Crimson Wife says:

      SSI is only relevant for low-income families. High-income families are more likely to push for an AD(H)D diagnosis in order to get untimed SAT’s.

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        Please provide a citation illustrating how high-income families pursue and get more ADHD labels either as a percent or rate of population. Good luck finding it. What you will find is that the diagnosis has been exponentially increasing in populations on Medicaid. The rich people getting an advantage on the SAT is an urban myth.

  3. If you read the whole article, you’ll see that a large US study which randomly assigned kids to meds or no meds saw all benefits disappear within 3 years.

    When I was young (30 years ago), the standard was to medicate only the absolute worst kids with severe behavior issues. For the rest of us the recommendation was more time outside and more communication with parents and teachers. It took us longer to learn organization and time management skills then the normal kids, but, with help, we did learn them eventually.

    Now the standard is ‘meds first.’ So it makes sense that any benefit would disappear over time, because over time the unmedicated kids are learning life skills and coping skills. And, even worse, in many non-experimental situations, the kids get meds but NO coping skills.

    I wonder if the increase in medication rates is due to the decrease in two-parent families who have the time for intense interaction with teachers and the child.

    But, if you don’t teach an ADHD kid how to organize, break down tasks, and manage time, you’re crippling him for life. And it really does take longer than with a normal kid…. At 11, I was probably where most of my peers were at at age 7, organization-wise.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “I wonder if the increase in medication rates is due to the decrease in two-parent families who have the time for intense interaction with teachers and the child.”


      I’d guess that the US is seeing more medication across the board … for adults and kids. More medication for, say, restless leg syndrome, is unlikely caused by fewer two-parent families. It might be linked to more pharmaceutical advertising than in the past …

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        Just for fun, I’ll point out nearly 25% of women in the U.S. are anti-depressants.

        • Oddly enough, a study a few years back found that an ounce of dark chocolate a day works as well as anti-depressants for most women. Not sure why people would choose the drugs over chocolate. Maybe because insurance doesn’t cover chocolate?