It starts like this: a mom and her very hyper, very active son walk into a pediatric clinic. He is bouncing off the walls, asking tons of questions and incessantly begging for her to take him toy shopping when they are done.
It is important to note that he ate eggs, strawberries and toast for breakfast, a sandwich and fruit for lunch and carrot sticks for snack. They avoid fast food as much as humanly possible, and limit sugary foods like candy bars and processed treats like cheesy chips. He doesn’t even drink juice–just water and almond milk.
When they finally get to see the doctor, this mom is exhausted. She is thinking about the groceries they need, the budget she has to stick to and that meeting at work she is not as prepared for as she’d like to be. The doctor greets them and asks what seems to be the problem while her 70lb. son is literally hanging off of her.
The mom shares that while her son is the light of her life and incredibly intelligent, he is speaking out of turn a lot in school and having trouble making friends. He is obstinate at homework time and sensitive to certain sensory interactions such as getting his nails clipped, combing or washing his hair, and loud hand dryers in public bathrooms.
The doctor immediately whips out his prescription pad. He starts writing before the mom has even finished explaining the situation. He rips the paper off without much ceremony and hands it to the mom. “Try this, come see me again in a month,” he says.
He has handed the mom a prescription for amphetamine (also known as Ritalin, Adderall or Vyvanse).
There are many doctors who do not practice this way. Unfortunately however, there are many who do.
When writing prescriptions in this manner for kids (or for adults), the doctor is giving something that may help with the symptoms, without taking into consideration the underlying cause of the disorder or disease. The prescription may help calm the child down, or it might not. But it does not fix anything, it simply covers up or masks the symptoms of the issue.
And what about the side effects? Long term (even short term) use of these types of medications can be extremely dangerous to say the least. Patients with depression or anxiety face similar issues, and many of their medications come with a “Black Box Warning”, letting the patient know they may feel homicidal or suicidal.
There are many doctors out there who practice Functional or Integrative Medicine. These doctors are working hard to find the root cause of every patient’s symptoms, and to address them in a safe and healthy way. We applaud these doctors and their efforts.
In the case of this particular child, he had a nutrient deficiency which was taken care of by using broad spectrum micronutrients. He never ended up needing the drugs and has gone on to be a happy, healthy, productive young adult.
We want to caution parents, patients, and doctors against writing prescriptions for psychoactive drugs before understanding what is truly going on inside the patient’s body. If someone is exhibiting behavioral symptoms, something is wrong that needs to be addressed. Simply covering up the symptoms is not a fix, it is a mask.
We want to mention that we don’t blame the doctors–they are not taught about nutrition in medical school, they are taught about pharmaceuticals. Hopefully someday that will change, but in the meantime, we are doing our best to spread the word that not all mental health diagnoses require heavy medication–many simply have underlying causes that need to be addressed before the patient can get well.
We also recognize that there are many Functional Medicine and Integrative Health providers who strive to avoid the prescription pad, and use it as a last resort and we applaud them.
These are strong words, and we will likely receive lots of “hate mail” for sharing this post (we are used to it). But we feel strongly that more parents, patients and doctors need to seek research backed alternatives to medications before resorting to psychiatric medications. These dangerous drug need to be the last resort, not the first, especially for children.
(ABOVE) Dr. Scott Shannon, Integrative Psychiatrist and author of “Parenting The Whole Child” shares his thoughts on using alternatives to medications in patients at his clinic in Ft. Collins, Colorado.