Is there a link between divorce and methylphenidate prescriptions?

The analysis of data gathered from 4,784 Canadian children indicates that there seems to be a link between parents divorcing and the rate of prescriptions for methylphenidate (Ritalin). This medication is commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The analysis of data gathered from 4,784 Canadian children indicates that there seems to be a link between parents divorcing and the rate of prescriptions for methylphenidate (Ritalin). This medication is commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Studies had previously demonstrated that children living in a single-parent family, or those living with a parent and step-parent, were more likely to be taking methylphenidate than children living with both biological parents. A Canadian researcher wanted to know if divorce could be a predictor of the prescription of this particular medication.

This researcher analysed the data gathered as part of a larger study on the development, health and wellbeing of Canadian children. This study began in 1994 and is still on-going. Every two years, researchers compile various data on close to 23,000 Canadian children.

In order to determine if divorce actually had an impact, only children who lived with both biological parents, either married or common-law, and who did not take Ritalin at the beginning of the study were included in this new analysis. Among the 23,000 children who participated in the main study, 4,784 met the criteria for this analysis.

Researcher analysed the data gathered for six consecutive years, from 1995 to 2000. During this period, 633 children (13.2%) lived through their parents’ divorce. At the end of the analysis period, a greater number of children who had lived through divorce were taking methylphenidate. The exact numbers were: 6.1% of children from divorced families, against 3.3% of children who were still living with both parents.

Many hypotheses were brought forth in an attempt to explain this phenomenon. It is possible that the stress brought on by divorce exacerbates behavioural problems to such an extent that recourse to methylphenidate is inevitable. In addition, we know ADHD is thought to have a genetic component. It is therefore possible that parents with a history of ADHD are more likely to divorce, and that their children are more at risk of also suffering from ADHD. It is also possible that these children are simply in contact with the healthcare system more often throughout the divorce period, or that their parents or physicians are simply more aware of behavioural changes, knowing that divorce is such a huge source of stress.

This analysis has helped establish a link between divorce and children taking methylphenidate. However, further studies are required to determine if prescribing Ritalin in these cases is actually appropriate. In fact, prescriptions for this medication have increased so much over the last few years that many experts are wondering if all these children really do need Ritalin, or if it has simply become a panacea for all behavioural problems.

Methylphenidate is an excellent medication in the treatment of ADHD. However, a child must actually be affected with the exact disorder that responds to this type of medication. The key to the successful treatment of behavioural problems has always been, and will always be, an accurate and vigilant diagnosis.

A single short visit cannot possibly culminate in a child being diagnosed with ADHD! Make sure your child’s physician takes the time needed to explore all other possible causes, be they physical or emotional, before pronouncing his or her diagnosis. The physical and mental health of your child lies in your hands. It is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

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