ADHD Drug Misuse Skyrockets–What are the Alternatives?

file1321340932141The public has been bombarded in the last few years with news of the dangers of many well-known psychiatric medications. One of the latest health scares of the past few years has been the abuse and misuse of Adderall, commonly prescribed for Attention Deficit Disorder, among college students.

Adderall, an amphetamine, is one of several stimulant medications (Ritalin and Concerta are others) commonly prescribed to children as well as adults. These drugs stimulate the central nervous system (nerves and brain) by increasing the amount of certain chemicals in the body, simultaneously increasing heart rate and blood pressure and decreasing appetite.

What are the Dangers?

Like any medication, stimulants carry a list of potential side effects. Some of the common ones are disturbed sleep, lowered appetite, increased irritability or jittery nerves. If a person takes Adderall and has a health condition such as heart disease, a seizure disorder, liver disease, or hypertension (only a partial list), the combination can be deadly.

If prescribed and monitored by a good physician, these risks can often be minimized–but the bigger problem is that stimulants can be both physically and psychologically addicting. The other scary reality is that far too many teens and young adults are taking these drugs without a prescription and using them in dosages that are extremely dangerous.

file3061340932147Recent research out of Johns Hopkins University found that the nonmedical use of Adderall went up 67% among 18-25 year olds in recent years. During the period studied, Adderall-related emergency room visits went up 156%. The researchers concluded that too many college kids think that stimulants are harmless and will help them do better in school.

Nothing could be further from the truth. You can check out the list of the 516 drugs that are potentially dangerous drug interactions with Adderall. This is information that most adults don’t even know, let alone the young people who are experimenting with these and other drugs. (For more information, study and share the Fact Sheet on the Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants written for parents, school administrators and students by the U. of Maryland School of Public Health.)

What Should You Do If You or Your Child Has ADHD?

I invite you to join us on Saturday, May 21st, 2016 for a provocative and fresh perspective on this topic. Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara (details at is thrilled to bring back Scott Shannon, M.D., nationally known child psychiatrist and author.


FTI sponsors a three-hour workshop on this topic, entitled The Whole Child: Effective Alternatives for Treating ADD and ADHD in Children & Teens. This event, a fundraiser for the charitable activities of FTI, provides continuing education for mental health professionals and is open to interested parents and teachers. Shannon’s books and others on the topic will be available for purchase and book-signing. Time: 9am-12:30pm ~  Date: Saturday May 21 ~ Register at

Scott Shannon, M.D., is a nationally known child psychiatrist who is doing groundbreaking work in the field of holistic health and psychiatry. Mentored by Andrew Weil, Shannon authored the first medical textbook on complementary medicine and alternative treatments for anxiety, depression, and ADHD in kids.

2e7f578Last March, FTI sponsored our first workshop with Dr. Shannon, entitled The Future of Psychotherapy: New Frontiers in Complementary & Alternative Treatments for Kids, Teens, & Families. The seventy plus attendees were riveted by the wealth of experience and information Shannon packed into three short hours. Many, including the whole FTI staff, requested further training.

A Challenge to Traditional Psychiatry

Scott’s presentation began by laying out many fundamental assumptions underlying traditional psychiatry, and then he proceeded to challenge them, one by one. At every step of the way, he backed up his positions with dozens of research studies. First, he debunked the theory that mood disorders are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. He explained that no neuroscientist of any stature holds to that view any more.

Unknown-2Next, he showed how our current diagnostic system (yes, the esteemed DSM-5) is wildly unreliable and not useful in formulating treatment plans. The most provocative (even shocking to many) part of his presentation was the abundant evidence questioning how, for the majority of patients, the long-term use of psychiatric medications is neither as safe nor as effective as approaches using alternative treatment strategies.

Due to selective publication by drug companies, discovered through the Freedom of Information Act, Dr. Shannon presented the results from studies NOT published, leaving the public—and many or most mental health professionals—with only the data showing positive effects.

images-5Alternative Treatments Can Be Safe AND Effective

The last myth Dr. Shannon challenged was that treatments other than psychotropic meds have not been validated by research. He discussed some promising effective alternatives, (yes, double-blind, evidence-based), using numerous herbs, nutrients, vitamins and nutritional approaches. He included procedures using family therapy, parent training, sleep, exercise, EMDR, various body psychotherapies, mindfulness approaches, and neurofeedback.

Shannon did not throw the baby out with the bath water—he acknowledged that he still prescribes medication and sees its helpfulness, particularly in more severe cases. But, at the same time, he offered numerous case examples of complicated patients who were only helped when their problems were addressed holistically—body, mind and spirit.

I am really looking forward to hearing what Shannon can offer for those who choose not to go the Adderall route or those who want to try other options first. Without intervention of some sort, many ADD kids (and adults) cannot succeed or flourish. Now the Santa Barbara community has the opportunity to learn about what choices are out there that even our doctors may not know about…yet.

P.S. Audiotapes of last year’s workshop are available: For those of you who missed this incredible workshop, you can rent the CD’s by going to If you plan to attend on May 21st but missed last year, this first workshop will familiarize you with Shannon’s approach to assessment and treatment.

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