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Why should I put my child on medication to treat ADHD?

In a ZHAW study, the most common reasons cited by parents of children with ADHD are emotional stress in school and family life, family problems and school performance demands. The study on parents’ decision-making processes regarding ADHD treatment is part of a Swiss-wide interdisciplinary study on ADHD undertaken by the University of Fribourg, the ZHAW and the Collegium Helveticum of ETH and the University of Zurich.

Time and again, increases in the pharmacological treatment of ADHD give rise to criticism, concern and unanswered questions among experts, in the media and among people who are affected. Why do parents decide to treat their children with medication and what are the everyday challenges they face?

Emotional stress in school and family life most important decision-making factor

The study results gleaned from interviews and 87 online questionnaires show that decision-making processes are marked by long and protracted treatment histories. At the outset, parents often do not consider medication as a first-choice treatment, but try other treatment methods first.

However, parents describe these treatments as insufficiently effective or even ineffective. They observe increasing emotional pressure in their children, which often manifests itself in the context of school. According to the parents’ accounts, the children’s emotional stress stems from overly high expectations at school or from the pressure of having to perform. Parents say their children have to move “from one thing to the next” too quickly and have “too little leeway” to complete tasks in the way they want to. This overload, they say, ultimately leads to an inability to keep up with the subject matter taught in class and to complete tasks in a timely fashion.

According to parents, their children suffer from input overload and are unable to deal with the flood of information. On an emotional level, they say, this causes children to feel “more forgetful, slower or stupider” than other children, often leading to them becoming “isolated”. The effects of this increasing emotional stress, which first arises at school and causes parents to eventually consider medication, additionally has a negative impact on family life.

The feedback principle

The study results show, moreover, that there is a negative interaction between challenges at school and those in the family context. Overly high expectations at school not only lead to emotional stress in the children, but also cause stress in family life, which manifests itself, for instance, in fights between parents. This, in turn, has a negative impact on the children’s behaviour. This situation exacerbates ADHD, and the school and family contexts influence each other negatively. The parents describe this process like waves “spilling” back and forth.

“elpost” article

Further information on the study carried out by the ZHAW Institute of Health Sciences can be found in the German-language article "Warum Eltern sich für eine medikamentöse ADHS-Behandlung ihres Kindes entscheiden – Erkundungen zum Entscheidungsprozess(PDF 2,2 MB)" (Why parents decide to give their children medication to treat ADHD – Investigations into the decision-making process) by sociologist Dominik Robin in the June edition of the journal “elpost”, published by ELPOS (in German), the umbrella organisation of Swiss ADHD associations. The study will be concluded in autumn 2017. Further publications in specialist journals are planned.


Dominik Robin, lic. phil.
Zurich University of Applied Sciences
School of Health Professions
Institute of Health Services
058 934 63 42