Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Looking Past the Pill

About 20 years ago, doctors were struggling to get the medical community to recognize attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a legitimate syndrome that needed a drug treatment.

Today, ADHD is widely diagnosed. A recent New York Times article highlighted the pronounced growth in diagnoses of the condition over the years, which rose from 600,000 children in 1990 to 3.5 million today. Treatment typically involves pharmaceuticals. While many doctors have portrayed ADHD medications as benign and safer than aspirin, these drugs have the potential for abuse and addiction, according to the story.

At Lehigh University, researchers are examining solutions for ADHD that go beyond pharmaceuticals. While drugs can help, they don’t improve all aspects of functioning, particularly in the academic and social areas, says Education and Human Services Professor George DuPaul.

“The fact of the matter is that stimulant (as well as several other) medications do help the majority of children and adolescents with ADHD who are treated, but these medications are not ‘cure-alls,’” he says. DuPaul is working on more comprehensive approaches that involve early intervention, behavior modification and academic support.

“Most children and adolescents with ADHD require a combination of treatment approaches that may include medication.  And because ADHD is a chronic disorder, treatment over the long term is frequently warranted,” he said.

DuPaul is working with local schools and health care agencies to develop and evaluate non-pharmacological interventions for young adults with ADHD. Those alternative treatments can improve the academic and social functioning of children and adolescents.

“In particular, we have found that early intervention for families of preschoolers at-risk for ADHD helps children to function better at home and school as well as to be prepared for elementary school,” he says.

And strategies that directly target skills involving academics, organization, and self-control are very helpful for elementary and middle school students with ADHD, even those who are already taking medication, he adds.

The focus on ADHD patients is typically centered on the very young, but DuPaul also investigates how college students with the syndrome are struggling relative to their peers. Researchers hope that this information can be used to develop effective treatment for young adults.

College students with ADHD encounter an additional risk: they may allow fellow students to use their prescription drugs for recreation or under the mistaken assumption that the pills will help them focus academically, DuPaul said.

He hopes non-pharmaceutical interventions will help reduce incidents of drug abuse among young people.

Story by Manasee Wagh

Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013

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