The New York Times, in an extraordinarily lengthy front-page article, chronicles the descent of popular college class president, athlete, and aspiring medical student into an ADHD diagnosis, Adderall addiction, psychosis, and suicide.
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at
Does anybody know of recent research linking stimulant use – the standard kind like that being prescribed to children diagnosed with ADHD – to psychosis?
It’s on the product label, for one thing. There was something in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry in the early 2000’s where a guy went back and checked records of kids who’d been given stimulants, 100 records, and found that, as I recall, over 6% of the kids reported psychotic symptoms. I’ve heard research estimates of anything from 2-8%. I think it depends what they define as psychotic symptoms. Anyway, I found that one just by typing “stimulants cause psychosis research studies” or some such thing into my browser. There were multiple hits, but that was the best one. Totally legitimate, mainstream journal. I don’t think there’s any doubt that it can cause psychosis.
My son was on stimulants by age 7. Only by age 14 did he have a full psychotic break. Though it is impossible to know, I want to blame the continual use – not abuse by medical standards – of Ritalin/Focalin during 7 years. The studies are generally short term and can only pick up fairly immediate effects. Just like other psychotropic drugs, some of the insidious effects of stimulants may start emerging only in the long term. Not that the psychiatrists I dealt with cared to know…
I don’t think any psychiatrists or any doctors at all for that matter care to know about this in relation to ANY psychotropic medication, but we are certainly led to believe that these drugs are very mild compared to others. I think they are all as toxic as the rest.
some of the comments, and perhaps the article could be interpreted as implying, that if you really do have ADHD the drugs are not dangerous. Scary…
People are scared to admit what the real dangers of any of these drugs are. I have had thousands of people claim that the only reason antidepressents are linked to suicide, is because they work so brilliantly and so fast that the person does not have time to adjust to not being depressed anymore!!! They claim that side effects are only an issue in people who do not have the underlying condition, as in those with the said conditions, ANY side effects will be mild in comparision to the underlying disease.
I also don’t think the parents in this case are willing to consider the dangers that these drugs cause to anyone who takes them. Why should there son have been so badly affected, when the media says they are brilliantly – must have been a wrong diagnosis. Better to blame that than the admit the real problems.
Of course one has to question what an accurate diagnosis is. One can hardly accurately diagnose something that does not exist. The same is said of antipsychotics, antidepressents, etc, etc. They do not cause problems for those with the underlying condition.
When problems develop that cannot be ignored they simply change the diagnosis and said the previous one was wrong!! You don’t see real doctors doing that. I mean if chemotherapy does not work in treating cancer, one does not say, hey sorry we got it wrong, they don’t have cancer, they have diabetes instead!!
When we prove that we have recovered and don’t require maintenacne medication they say that we never had the underlying condition in the first place. Yet they were the ones who stood in front of a judge and said that we would die without this treatment?!!! How do they manage to get things so so wrong. Seeing the truth is just too hard for most people!!
It’s pretty clear physicians cannot tell the difference between someone with “real” ADHD and someone who just wants legal speed.
This is the reason I come to this site. A couple years ago I wrote Robert Whitaker after reading his book “Mad In America” to tell him about our son and to urge him to write a book on the amphetamine epidemic sweeping this nation. This story is our sons story but so far without the suicide. Our son needs therapy but we don’t know where to turn because he will talk the pdoc into an Adderall perscription. This is his answer to his loss of self-confidence and we can’t get it out of his head. Is there a doctor in the Boston area that can be trusted to provide non-drug therapy? More to the story…
i live in boston and would be more than happy to help connect you to someone, if you’re still interested. shoot me an email at [email protected] and we can connect offline.
This bit of the article just really summed it up well:
“Dr. Parker met with Richard alone. The doctor noted depression, anxiety and suicidal ideas.
Dr. Parker wrote three 30-day prescriptions: Clonidine (a sleep aid), Venlafaxine (an antidepressant) and Adderall, 60 milligrams a day.
In an interview last November, Dr. Parker said he did not recall the details of Richard’s case but reviewed his notes and tried to recreate his mind-set during that appointment. He said he must have trusted Richard’s assertions that medication was not an issue, and must have figured that his parents were just philosophically anti-medication. Dr. Parker recalled that he had been reassured by Richard’s intelligent discussions of the ins and outs of stimulants and his desire to pursue medicine himself.
“He was smart and he was quick and he had A’s and B’s and wanted to go to medical school — and he had all the deportment of a guy that had the potential to do that,” Dr. Parker said. “He didn’t seem like he was a drug person at all, but rather a person that was misunderstood, really desirous of becoming a physician.”
According to the doctors assessment he was suicidal, depressed
and anxious and he was prescribe THREE different medications, yet they felt that he would make a good doctor??? How is someone who is suicidal supposed to be a doctor?? Let alone one who is so depressed and anxious that they require psychiatric treatment. I guess one should add that the person was also very psychotic and addicted to drugs as well, but they did not even consider that. Still trying to work out why he prescribed the Adderal for depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation??? Since when is that a standard treatment for those so called conditions which the doctor diagnosed?!!
Is it any wonder that we have a problem with doctors prescribing these drugs, when half of them are probably already taking them themselves, and they consider side effects proof of another brain disease!!
So if he had the deportment of a person headed for medical school, why the hell did he need psychiatric treatment? And what the hell does a “drug person” look like? Does he not know that addiction rates among MDs are very high?
The guy is an idiot with a degree and a prescription pad. Unfortunately, such people appear to be par for the course in psychiatry. You’d probably get better mental health care from a cab driver or a bartender or a healthy 12 year old.
the only adhd meds I took that didn’t make me feel like my heart was blowing out were dexedrine and desoxyn and desoxyn made me lazy… I tried concerta once and when that wore off I destroyed my apartment in a rage after arguing on my phone once…. they tried everything to shut me up
It sounds like he really thought he had ADHD, and with all the diagnosing, and with the broad range of symptoms it doesn’t seem unlikely. Any given person could end up with a diagnosis, without having to “fake” symptoms. He was told by a doctor he had it. He used it for studying.
I was given this in elementary school for being tired, and sluggish. I asked to taken off of them, and was. I said I didn’t like how it made me feel. Granted with everything wrong in family, my parents were not huge on meds. Although with all their “concerns”, it’s no wonder why Meds were often suggested. I have no doubt, if things were as bad as they were now, I would’ve been given heavy meds. Although this was back in the early two thousands. It was still bad. I was tired from lack of sleep. Instead of, acknowledging it they wanted to medicate it. My mom had said if I was awake during the day, and had energy to do stuff, I’s sleep better. Never acknowledging the stress she caused.
That’s why I get pissed off when I hear, people saying stuff like not for it’s “attended purpose”. I mean I think I technically got the med prescribed “off label”, as I wasn’t even diagnosed with ADHD. However, Richard was diagnosed, and he wanted to do better in school, which was why he went in. I honestly don’t see any intentional deceit, as far as needing them, and why. I know after the potential to lose the scripts, he had lied to keep getting them. However to imply that he was actually lying all along to “abuse” them is ridiculous. He got these from a doctor, and saw it like any other medical advice.
Of course then there was all the “side” effects, that come with that. The effects, of thinking your parents are trying to prevent you from getting a medical need met. To see it just get chalked up to more careful screening needs to be done. Someone dies, and all psychiatry does is speculate that maybe they need to make some modifications. It’s what I see, and place the blame on people who are actually expecting medical advice. Maybe, because they portray themselves as giving actual medical advice. People who end up worse, or even dead because of them are being blamed.