ADHD Medication Demystified by an Expert Psychiatrist

Like many adults diagnosed with ADHD, I was pretty ambivalent about taking medication at first. Of course the idea of getting focused piqued my interest, but part of me also balked at the idea. After all – I had done quite well in my life without medication until that point.

But my psychiatrist had a pretty compelling sales pitch.

Do you remember the old community service advertisement, the one with the egg sizzling away in the frying pan and the solemn voice-over warning that this is what our brains would like on drugs? The same analogy was pitched to me, but in this version a spatula scrambled that iconic egg and the admonishment was heard clearly:

“… this is what your brain looks like NOT on drugs.”

Okay, that wasn’t exactly what he said, but that’s how I heard it. I do exaggerate a bit.

So I took the drugs, and months later remain as ambivalent about them as I was before ever setting foot in his office. Not sure I can live with them. Not sure I want to live completely without them either.

If you’ve ever felt this way about meds, read on. And honestly, I don’t mind if you skip to the end. Just because I can’t get straight to the point, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Are you still here with me? Okay, moving on…

I have just finished reading a compelling new book that will change the way you (and hopefully doctors around the globe) think about ADHD and the way it is treated: New ADHD Medication Rules: Brain Science & Common Sense by Dr. Charles Parker.

Dr. Parker is an acclaimed author, speaker, neuroscientist, and a passionate psychiatrist who has been treating patients with ADHD a few years longer than I have been living with it. But I don’t care about ANY of that – there are plenty of professionals out there who fit that description. What made me really pay all of my limited-attention to what he had to say was this introduction:

“ (this book) arises from more than forty years of practice feedback from patients, especially when I didn’t get the meds right following the most approved protocols. I listened, and I looked for additional answers and more evidenced-based approaches. Rules summarizes that learning history”.

That may seem like a pretty banal comment to you, but as a nurse I immediately knew something very important about the author. This was not a doctor doing his job. This was a man on a mission, writing a book that moves that mission forward. A man who actually listened to his patients and learned from the feedback he gave them.

I don’t know about you, but someone like that gets my full attention.

I really want to tell you about everything I read, share how interesting, how unbelievably sensible and yet profoundly forward-thinking his ideas about prescribing for ADHD are, and how time after time most doctors are missing huge pieces of the bigger picture, and yet these pieces are not hard at all to see if you actually look for them. And that finding and addressing these pieces can actually change the way a person responds to ADHD medication and transform lives …

But I’m not going to.

He has said it all much better than I could. And he says it in a mere 154 pages. 154 pages to change the way the world thinks about treating ADHD. If the world listens.

And besides, you just know it would take me 300+ pages to review it – and probably murder it with overly complicated analogies and wordy metaphors. I would bore you and my fear is that by doing so, it might just put you off of reading it.

So why do I think you should read it?

Because a man who has actually listened to his patients for over forty years…

who opened his eyes and his ears to hear what his ADHD patients were reporting, rather than focusing only on what the “guidelines say”…

who has taken what he has heard and used it to deepen and widen his research….

and adapt his treatment strategies in order to find what works for his patients, instead of making his patients fit to the treatment…

A man like that deserves to be listened to.  

Especially when everything he has to say is (shockingly) pure common sense.

But you’re probably still interested in finding out just a bit more about what he has to say in New ADHD Medication Rules before you delve into his world.

Buckle up while we go on one more little tangent…

Four Christmases ago, my husband was bed ridden with the flu and the worst sore throat he had ever experienced. Sharp, burning pains lit through him with every swallow, leaving him wonder if perhaps his pharynx had, unbeknownst to himself, offended a Tarantino gangster and was now getting its comeuppance. Kill Bill versus Reservoir Dogs, battling it out on a microscopic set beneath his epiglottis. (Did I mention I exaggerate?)

Anyway, he went to the doctor. I called his mom and told her either he was dying or had lost his mind, because those are the only two possible scenarios in which he would go to a doctor on his own accord. The doc listened “carefully” to his classic symptoms…

“Ah yes, an inferno of burning razor blades” and sent him home with an antibiotic prescription to treat strep throat. Take that Tarantino.

Less than 24 hours later, he developed a little red, prickly looking rash that started at his scalp and ended at the soles of his feet. The sore throat was no better, but there was some relief in the form or distraction, as he was now starting to look like a strawberry.  And I visual evidence that he wasn’t losing his mind, but now I was more convinced of the dying part.

He toddled on back to the doctor and you can’t imagine the response he got. It went something to this effect…

 “Ah yes, you have mononucleosis (known to my British friends as glandular fever). This is the classic reaction patients have when they have mono but are being treated with antibiotics for strep. This is how we know…”

This is how we know?! Seems a crazy way to diagnose a condition, doesn’t it? Even crazier when you learn that there is a simple swab  that can be taken to test for strep in the first place.

But no crazier than the way most people are prescribed medications for ADHD. They describe the symptoms, and the doctor prescribes . In your doctor’s defense, he does prescribe according to treatment protocols. But those protocols don’t advocate for more advanced testing to figure out what is going on in the rest of the body. Those tests exist, but it the world of ADHD treatment, it seems that the rest of the body is not considered as important as a set of reported symptoms.

This is Dr. Parker’s mission. Better testing methods will lead to better treatment. On-the-mark treatment, actually. If  you want to know how much better, you gotta read it for yourself.

Let’s just say this: the state that your body is in – from autoimmune processes, to allergies, to how many times you visit to the loo – will affect how you respond to your medication. And the window of effectiveness for that medication, depends equally on those things.

If you don’t know which of “those things” are going on in your body while you are taking ADHD medication, you are at risk of being under-treated, or worse – toxic. And if you have anything else going on with your ADHD – say depression or anxiety (and the prevalence, we know, is significant) – then there are huge treatment considerations that most doctors are missing.

These things are not to be ignored. Especially when they could make the difference between a beneficial regime and a sub-therapeutic, intolerable, or even potentially dangerous one.  


And if you’re not one for reading, then here is a wonderful opportunity for you…

On Thursday, March 14, 2013 6:00 to 8:00 pm EDT, Dr. Parker will be holding a live “Shindig” talking about the new book and his findings.  Click here and get your FREE invitation to participate and be a part of ground-breaking science paving the way for ADHD treatment in the future.


I will “be there” and hope to “see you there” too. And I’m not too cool to admit I am SUPER EXCITED to be meeting the author as well.


One last little thing…


Nothing I have written was intended to diminish the wonderful work doctors and psychiatrists are doing every day. I have worked with them for many years, and (for the most part), I have never met a more dedicated group of professionals.
My own psychiatrist is a wonderful man and worked very carefully with me when prescribing. He changed my life. Unfortunately, I moved before I began to experience intolerable side effects of my medications, but I have no doubt he would have worked effortlessly to change my regime to one that worked. It was him that validated and understood everything I had experienced. I did exaggerate with my egg analogy, but only for effect. What he really told me was that there could be a better way for me…


And I still believe there is. Now I find myself of needing to find a new local doctor who will help me rethink my regimen. And I guarantee that Dr. Parker’s insights will be hugely influential in that process.

Hope to see you all at the Shindig this Thursday!

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11 comments on “ADHD Medication Demystified by an Expert Psychiatrist

  1. Five out of seven of my friends have ADHD. I think that the types of treatments and medications vary for each of them. All I know is that they are different when they have not taken their medication. Wither or not they needed it at the start they definitely need it it now.

  2. I don’t mean to be so negative about add meds, but my own personal experience with them left me with a sour taste in my mouth, so to speak.

    I’m sure there are many who swear by the meds, they can’t go a day without them and I’m glad for them, but for me the side effects were such a high price to pay for a slight improvement. I think in my case meds don’t work because deep in my sub-conscious, I don’t believe they are the way to go.

    I am a firm believer in God, and as such, I don’t believe we were created with defects. The toxicity of our modern environment is making us seem defective. I am saddened when I hear about so many kids being medicated. It reminds me of what we are doing to the natural crop yielding plants, our sources of food. In their natural state, they are resistant to the climate and to diseases. When they have been genetically manipulated, they yield more food per hectare, but they cannot thrive without artificial pesticides and fertilizers. My point? I think we are meant to bring balance back to the world, but in our natural state. Medicines will fool us into thinking we are someone we are not. And when those medicines stop working (or if we can’t afford them anymore), our self-worth is shaken, so we seek another pill that will restore that un-natural state…. and on, and on.

    Sorry to be so dramatic, but I just couldn’t stop myself from sharing my opinion. I know it is radical, but it is what I believe.

    1. Mmori – Sorry for the long-delayed reply. Life has taken me away from the blog lately but I am back! Btw, I enjoy your radical opinion and thank you kindly for sharing it. I agree with your belief that we aren’t defective. At the same time, I do think there are situations where some people are disadvantaged and taking meds simply evens the playing field. If life would adapt around us then probably wouldn’t be the case. But I don’t think society will dramatically change in that way any time soon.

      I do recommend Dr. Parker’s book in that it will almost certainly explain why meds didn’t work for you, and how they could have worked if they had been prescribed differently. I maintain that taking meds is a personal choice. I managed fairly well most of my life without them. But there are no doubt many an ADDer out there who have struggled a great deal more and have benefited infinitely.

      Dr. Parker offers a really great perspective on the whole issue, definitely check him out when you get the chance!

  3. Andrea,
    Thanks so much for showing up and offering some interesting insights at the Shindig Q&A – it was a pleasure meeting you there on video chat. Loved that community feeling, and will be setting up more chats with Shindig soon.

    And special thanks for this thoughtful and kind piece. I look forward to our working together down the line,

    1. Thank you Charles for giving us this wonderful opportunity to meet you and get a “face-to-face” explanation of the new Rules. Exciting and very important work you are doing and I am very happy to have made my small contribution. Looking forward to more in the future.

    2. Thanks Chuck, and likewise! I would love to participate in more Shindigs, it was an awesome experience! Thanks again for Med Rules … you are changing lives 🙂

  4. Andrea,
    Many thanks for your thoughtful and interesting review! It’s so excellent, indeed reassuring, to meet others out there who get the relevance of using good biomedical data points to move forward with the latest neuroscience applications. Hope to meet you in Atlanta!

  5. You nailed it, Andrea. Those of us who have had less-than-perfect “guesses” at ADHD medications will appreciate Dr. Parker’s book more than most. He is on a mission and told me today “we” are going to change the way medicine is done. He and a few other doctors are seeing that we have so many more tools now than only a decade ago to use in diganosis and treatment-but they are being left on the table for outdated “appearance-based” diagnoses. If a test is relatively inexpensive and available, why not use it when there is doubt? (Read “The Creative Destruction of Medicine” by Dr. Topol.)

    Brain functioning is not something to be left to trial and error. I’m now into my 2nd period after just retesting and 4 months of the “new” program, and I feel my 18 year quest for a good, solid, predictable response is finally working.

    The Shindig, tomorrow, is a great chance for everyone to open their minds to a more accurate way to balance the entire bodily systems, with the meds. Over 350 are signed up but there is a limit so all interested should register now.

    1. Glen – Thanks for commenting my friend and sorry I have been so tardy in replying. You are a prime example of how Dr. Parker’s mission is working in real life. Perhaps you can do a post on it one day? Lets reconnect soon!

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