Home » ADHD » Too Many Preschoolers Getting Medications for ADHD

Too Many Preschoolers Getting Medications for ADHD

Too Many Preschoolers Getting Medications for ADHDThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just published its first national study on the various forms of treatment used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. The study examined the use of medication, behavioral therapy, and dietary supplements — and its results were eye-opening.

Almost 1 in 4 preschoolers were treated with medication alone.

That is an astounding number, when you stop and consider that a preschooler’s brain is still under active development. Prescribing stimulants to such a young child’s brain is a bad idea, given we have no longitudinal, long-term studies demonstrating that these medications won’t be harmful in a child’s development.

Read on to learn more about the study’s key findings.

The results come from the new CDC ADHD study entitled, Treatment of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder among Children with Special Health Care Needs that appears in The Journal of Pediatrics. “Children with Special Health Care Needs” (CSHCN) were defined as:

A child was considered a CSHCN if he or she met one or more of the following criteria because of a medical, behavioral, or other health condition that had lasted or was expected to last 12 or more months: needs or uses medicine other than vitamins prescribed by a doctor; needs or uses more medical care, mental health, or educational services than is usual for most children of the same age; is limited or prevented in any way in his or her ability to do the things most children of the same age can do; needs or gets special therapy, such as physical, occupational, or speech therapy; or has any kind of emotional, developmental, or behavioral problem for which he or she needs treatment or counseling.

“Among all completed NS-CSHCN interviews (n = 40,242), 9,459 CSHCN aged 4-17 years had current ADHD, valid responses to the ADHD treatment questions, and complete data on sex.” The researchers primary findings were:

  • Medication alone was the most common treatment for children with ADHD in the study in 2009-2010.
  • Almost 1 in 2 preschoolers (ages 4-5) with ADHD received behavioral therapy.
  • About 1 in 4 preschoolers — 25 percent — were treated for ADHD only with medication.
  • Less than 1 in 3 children (ages 6-17) with ADHD received both medication treatment and behavioral therapy.

The problem, as I see it, is that it appears that too many young children are being prescribed ADHD medication first or only. Medications for ADHD are actually the recommended second-line treatment for attention deficit disorder in children. If you went to your doc and they never offered you the opportunity to enroll your child in a course of behavioral therapy to treat the child’s ADHD, you should run — not walk — away from such a professional and seriously consider changing your doctor or pediatrician.


Also, some states in the U.S. have a much higher percentage of treating children with medications. For instance, in my home state of Massachusetts, a whopping 3 out of 4 children — 75 percent — were on an ADHD medication, while only 35 percent were receiving both medication and therapy. Surprisingly, this actually places Massachusetts mid-pack in rankings of U.S. states who appear to be over-medicating children for ADHD.

While I’ve been skeptical of “over-medication” claims in the past, the new data presented by the CDC is compelling and suggests that, indeed, too many children are on a medication for ADHD. I think this should serve as a wake-up call for parents and physicians everywhere — do not turn to medication for ADHD until behavioral therapy treatments have been tried and failed.

Medication is an important treatment component for many with ADHD. But let’s be sensitive to the fact that (a) very young children probably shouldn’t qualify for any ADHD diagnosis and (b) their developing brains generally shouldn’t be subjected to any medications except when absolutely necessary.


For further information

Read about the study: Key Findings: Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) among Children with Special Health Care Needs

Read the study: Treatment of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder among Children with Special Health Care Needs

Too Many Preschoolers Getting Medications for ADHD

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

2 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment
APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Too Many Preschoolers Getting Medications for ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 3 Apr 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.