The last few blog posts at Attentionality have been devoted to kids’ own reflections and opinions on ADHD treatments. They share their experiences with me every working day, and it’s sometimes remarkable how much they know.
Recently, I talked with an 8 year-old boy named Michael* who had been taking medication for his ADHD for several months. He called it “my stay-out-of-trouble pill”. He was very proud of his academic and behavioral improvements.
The notion that a pill can induce better behavior is a giant stumbling block to public acceptance of medication treatments for ADHD. Almost everyone has seen the behaviors induced by alcohol, marijuana, sleeping pills and pain pills to name some of the most common brain-active drugs. Slim chance you’ve ever seen someone “under the influence” and thought to yourself,”Hmm, now that is better behavior.”
Swedish researchers decided to look at the effects of ADHD medications on the stay-out-of-trouble behavior of their fellow countrymen and women. They compared prescription records in over 25,000 Swedes with ADHD to “date of crime” records from their court system. Crime rates dropped when Swedes with ADHD were medicated for their ADHD. This effect was not seen with other classes of medication such as anti-depressants. You can read the study here, if you like. (Nerd alert: heavy statistics and no pictures of beautiful Swedes.)
Criminal conviction rates were 9% in men without ADHD and 36% for men with unmedicated ADHD. The corresponding conviction rates in women were 2% (without ADHD) to 15% (unmedicated ADHD). This study covered a 4-year period, not a lifetime. Try to wrap your mind around the magnitude of this problem for a minute.
Medication treatment for ADHD was loosely defined in my opinion: an individual was considered to be “treated” if they were issued at least one prescription every 6 months. Someone could skip most daily doses of medication and still be “treated” in this study. At my house, the definition of “treated” has a daily standard, not a bi-annual one.
Even with the very laissez-faire definition of “medicated” that the Swedes used, criminal occurrences decreased by 32% in men and 41% in women during “medicated” periods. “Hmm,” summarized the Swedish researchers, “now that is better behavior!”
Michael is neither Swedish nor a professional researcher, but he’s replicated their research on a smaller scale. He compared 3 years of schooling without medication to 3 months with daily medication. “I used to be in trouble and go to the office like every day, and now I never go there,” he summarized. How does he feel about that? “Better,” he said matter-of-factly. “Pretty happy.”
Michael’s mom nodded and added two more statistics. “It’s a 180-degree turn-around for Michael,” she concluded. “His self-esteem is through the roof.”
*The names of patients in this blog are always changed to preserve their privacy.