Nearly Half of Preschoolers with ADHD Take Stimulant Drugs

girl taking medicationUse of stimulant medication to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) symptoms remains controversial, with proponents arguing that medication makes ADHD manageable and opponents citing concerns about safety and efficacy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 6 with ADHD be treated with behavioral therapy alone. A national study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that doctors may be ignoring these treatment recommendations, and that almost half of preschoolers with ADHD take stimulant medication.

ADHD Medication for Preschoolers

The study relied on data that parents provided to the 2009-2010 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs. Almost half of preschool-aged children took medication for ADHD, while the other half received only behavioral therapy. One in four children was treated with medication alone.

Treatment of ADHD in Older Children

The study also looked at the use of therapy and medication in older children. Overall, 70% of children with ADHD took some type of ADHD medication, and 10% took supplements such as fish oil, often in addition to prescription drugs. Thirty percent of children received both therapy and medication, with 40% being treated with medication alone. Thirteen percent of children received neither medication nor therapy.

Location may also affect treatment. States with a low rate of medication use, such as Hawaii and California, had higher rates of therapy, and states with a high reliance on medication relied less on therapy. Michigan had the highest rate of medication use at 88%, and Tennessee reported the lowest rate of therapy, at just 33%.

Therapy can be highly effective at helping children and their parents manage the symptoms of ADHD, so many treatment guidelines argue in favor of both medication and therapy. The study’s authors believe that the convenience of medication, the expense of therapy, and difficulties finding a therapist may help explain why parents often choose only medication. If you need help finding a therapist who specializes in ADHD,’s directory can help you find the right fit.


  1. ADHD: Clinical practice guidelines for the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents. (2011). Pediatrics, 128(5), 1007-1022. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2654
  2. CDC publishes first national study on use of behavioral therapy, medication and dietary supplements for ADHD in children. (2015, April 1). Retrieved from
  3. Frye, D. (n.d.). Trending: New nationwide study on ADHD treatment in children. Retrieved from

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  • jennifer


    April 7th, 2015 at 1:06 PM

    Until i was sure that I had exhausted every possible avenue, there is no way that I am going to start my child on drugs like this this early in life. That is not to say that sooner or later they will need to have this type if intervention and medication, but I will not agree to it until we have tried other possible solutions out there. I think that it has become way too easy for us just to agree to the medication because we are told that this is what will make the most difference in a shorter amount of time, but at what cost? What are doing to the overall health of our children by subjecting them to these medications this early in life? It is just too much at times I fear.

  • Penny W

    Penny W

    April 8th, 2015 at 5:35 AM

    Preschoolers are not taking “drugs” in the inflammatory sense that Americans assume when the word “drugs” is used. Kids with ADHD take medication. Because many need the medication to level our their neurological system enough to function successfully in this world. They should all have behavioral therapy in addition, but that just isn’t possible for many families due to the poor mental health care in this country and the high cost.

    Until someone has raised a child with ADHD, they should not be making assumptions about the necessity of ADHD medication. Some preschool children have such significant behavior problems that the get kicked out of preschools and day cares. Behavior problems that are due to the neurology they were born with, not the parenting they receive. What if this child lives with a single mom who must work every day to provide food and shelter. What if this mom has tried therapy and alternative treatments but her child still has significant behavior issues that threaten the welfare of the entire family? Those children should be able to treat their neurological condition with MEDICATION, and the parents should not be chastised for it.

    Are there preschool kids on ADHD medication that shouldn’t be? I’m sure there are, probably many. but saying that no preschooler should ever take ADHD medication is judging individual circumstances you aren’t privy to.

  • Aubrey


    April 8th, 2015 at 10:26 AM

    I would hope that medication alone would not be relied on at any age for positive results but certainly not for kids so young!

  • Penny W.

    Penny W.

    April 8th, 2015 at 12:05 PM


    You are so right! The newest AAP guidelines for ADHD state that medication and therapy together offer the opportunity for the best outcome. But these things aren’t free, and financial status often gets in the way for therapy. As well, insurance limitations and access to care geographically or because of long waiting lists are barriers too. Not everyone can get the Cadillac of care.


  • Nekisha


    April 9th, 2015 at 5:27 AM

    I agree that medication use in ADHD should be coupled together with behavioral therapy for the best benefits to children. Many times the therapy piece gets left out for a myriad of reasons. In these cases, I encourage caregivers to reach out to schools (i.e. school counselors, school social workers, mentoring programs, churches, teachers, volunteers, etc) for additional support. Counselors and social workers are trained to teach social skills, reinforce positive behavior and can share parent tips. They also may have information about free or reduced programs that they can share. Parenting is tough and we have to support each other.😃

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