More kids are prescribed more drugs than ever before. They are also more depressed and more anxious than ever. It's not working. It's time to change course.
When I was a teenager and even into my twenties (in the 1980’s-1990s), I was anorexic, then bulimic. At a certain point, it became less about being thin (as it was during my gymnastics career) and more about obsessive compulsive behaviors (calorie counting, etc) and dysfunctional management of anxiety during a major life transition — adolescence to adulthood. Obsessing over my weight, calorie intake and burn, didn’t leave much time to engage with the stressors of life — getting a job, living on my own, managing relationships and feeling generally less than up to the task.
Eating disorders are all-consuming. And so all that other life stuff receded from the foreground. My worries were drowned out by the compulsive tracking of calories and pounds on the scale. But all that life stuff was still there, needing to be dealt with.
Today, I might be put on an anxiolytic to treat the anxiety that was manifested as disordered eating and weight obsession. I’m glad I wasn’t medicated though. It forced me to learn to manage that anxiety in other ways rather than just shoving it down or off to the side, or simply erasing it artificially.
Out of necessity, I learned to deal with anxiety through therapy, healthy non-obsessive exercise and even my own version of “exposure therapy,” which allowed me to learn that the things I was so worried about were all manageable. Sometimes even fun and exciting. And the anxiety lessened, then disappeared, over time. It may seem like a longer road than jumping straight to medication. But ultimately it’s a more sustainable one, with fewer unintended consequences and side effects.
Today, when a child is very active and busy, has a hard time sitting still in class — bouncing off the walls — we don’t provide them with more time and space to move around throughout the school day. We medicate it out of them with Adderall. About 10% of kids between the ages of 2-17 are diagnosed with ADHD — about 6 million of them. And about 60% of those kids are put on medication — approximately 3.6 million of them.
Almost 10% of kids 3-17 have been diagnosed with anxiety. And The National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that 25% of of adolescents 13-18 suffer from anxiety.
What is done for these kids? All too often, doctors leap to medicate and obliterate their anxiety with all manner of powerful and addictive anti-anxiety drugs.
The most common prescription for anxiety is Xanax. However, tolerance to Xanax can develop in less than a month. Which is why it is recommended that it not be prescribed for more than 6 weeks, though many practitioners prescribe it for longer than that. The effect is that the brain adjusts to it and becomes unable to regulate anxiety without it. Essentially, we become less resilient — less able to manage anxiety on our own — the more medication we take to ameliorate anxiety.
Once a child is on one medication, it becomes more likely that they will be prescribed a second. Even very young children between the ages of 0-4 are being prescribed a polypharmacy regimen (use of more than one prescription medication), despite limited evidence of efficacy and increasing concerns about safety.
“The number of US youths treated with psychotropic polypharmacy increased from 101, 836 (1999-2004) to 222, 955 (2005-2015) [. . .] an increase of over 180%.”
It’s not hard to fathom. A kid goes on Adderall, then can’t sleep. Add sleeping pills to the protocol!
An August 2022 article in The New York Times lays this out:
“A.D.H.D. medications are prescribed widely and considered to be a relatively risk-free way to improve focus. But [. . .] when one medication doesn’t resolve all the issues — or when new ones crop up — parents and doctors can be quick to add additional medications instead of relying on non-pharmacological solutions such as therapy. And A.D.H.D. drugs can have side effects, including sleeplessness, that doctors sometimes treat with additional prescriptions.”
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