Recently, the New York Times published another opinion piece in its op-ed section criticizing ADHD drugs and raising the possibility that teenagers taking them may be more susceptible to anxiety disorders.

Teens are very emotionally reactive, and their capacity to control their emotions is still developing, according to Richard A. Friedman, a psychiatrist at Weill Cornell who does not specialize in treating children and adolescents. They are more adept at escalating their anxiety than at relaxing.

That may be one of the reasons why they are more susceptible to anxiety disorders, according to researchers. Everything is going OK so far.

ADHD drugs in 2024

However, Dr. Friedman then put out the theory—presented as two rhetorical questions—that stimulant drugs may be the cause of anxiety disorders in children because they can exacerbate anxiety symptoms in certain children. He composes:

Could our overindulgent use of stimulants hinder teenagers’ capacity to repress acquired fear, which is a natural aspect of growth, and lead to more scared adults?

And may teens who are exposed to stress unintentionally become more susceptible to PTSD if they use stimulants? Actually, we don’t know.

Though rhetorical queries may appear innocuous at first, as a parent I am aware that this type of conjecture—when “in truth, we haven’t a clue”—stimulates anxiety without providing meaningful knowledge.

Children with ADHD

Since many children with ADHD also experience anxiety, competent clinicians exercise extreme caution when writing a prescription for stimulant medication to a child who also experiences anxiety.

However, there is no proof at all that children who use Ritalin or Adderall are more likely to develop anxiety disorders than children who do not take them, despite the fact that ADHD medications are the type of medicine that has been studied the most in children’s health care, including follow-up studies.

Furthermore, what about the possibility of anxiety arising from untreated ADHD?

It bothers me when parents are exposed to what I perceive to be scare tactics. Over the past year or two, The Times has published several articles that repeatedly and unsupported by data imply that children who use stimulants are more likely than other children to abuse substances later in life.

Long-term investigations have really shown strong evidence that this is not the case.

Naturally, I oppose the “promiscuous” use of stimulant drugs for any child experiencing behavioral or attention issues. That actually causes harm to children. But it is detrimental to children and parents alike to add these unwarranted concerns about medicine, which is extremely beneficial to many children.