Updated: Apr 21, 2021
Today more than ever, children and adolescents are being prescribed psychotropic medications for emotional and behavioral issues. This has long been a controversial topic. As I mentioned previously, a higher percentage of adopted children as compared to non-adoptees are referred to therapists. This also means that adopted children may be more likely to be prescribed these types of medications.
Studies have shown that adopted children have higher incidences of diagnoses such as ADHD/ADD, Anxiety Disorders, Depression and Mood Disorders as compared to non-adoptees. This should not surprise us, since most adopted children have been through significant trauma. If your child’s pediatrician, therapist or psychiatrist suggests medication for your child, be sure to do your homework. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or therapist questions abut the medication. My experience as a counselor in this area has been three-fold - meaning I have seen many kids that I believe are over-medicated (who don’t need medication at all), those who have been misdiagnosed, and those for whom medication was a literal lifesaver.
I once worked with a 17-year-old boy in a long-term residential setting who had been on a cornucopia of psychotropic medications for years. His most recent diagnosis was Bipolar Disorder for which he was on two different medications. Living for over a year in the highly structured environment of the residential program which included weekly therapy, daily mentoring, and a highly structured school setting, the young man was able to successfully discontinue his medications. I am not a psychiatrist, but I do not believe he was bipolar. What he was, was a sensitive, chronically angry, and hurting young man due to the stress at home caused by his mom and dad’s non-stop arguing and subsequent divorce. This compounded stress sent him over the edge, leading to some dangerous and damaging behaviors.
The above story illustrates the importance of a healthy environment and regular therapy (sometimes combined with medication) for adopted children who are struggling. Medication—although sometimes necessary—should never be viewed as the sole cure-all. As a counselor, I’ve seen many parents fall into the faulty thinking that medication along will “fix” his or her child. This thinking is a set-up for frustration and failure. Again parents, do your homework if you feel your child may need medication. Choose a doctor who will listen openly to your questions without him or her getting defensive and trying to push the meds on you too quickly. Talk to other parents whose children may be on medication to learn of their experiences, but at the same time remember that your child is unique.