Why I Chose No Medication for My Son’s ODD

I never really seriously considered medication for my son.  He was diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) when he was 5 years old.  At the same time, the doctor observed defiant behaviors but did not diagnose ODD (oppositional defiant disorder).  That early on and throughout the following years, many doctors recommended medication but I was extremely hesitant to pursue it for a number of reasons.  Unlike other medical conditions where symptoms are measurable (ex: high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, etc), ADHD is not measurable.  So how could I know with certainty that my son, in fact, had a disorder and that drugs would help?  After all, he was only 5 years old and at that age, most boys are rambunctious.  The diagnosis was based purely on other people’s observations and assessments (ex: a pediatric developmental psychologist who had met him for the first time and spent about 45 minutes with him during her evaluation), which in my opinion just weren’t compelling enough to warrant medication.

In addition, I have always been one of those parents who believes in trying everything possible before resorting to medication.   Isn’t this what parenting is all about?  My son presented inattentive and hyperactive behaviors for a long time – well into middle school.  Then the behaviors evolved into defiance as he got older.  Through the years, there have been extremely difficult episodes (ex: psychiatric hospital stays, family service investigations & crisis intervention, police visits at my home) where I was repeatedly confronted with the option of medication.  But each time, I just could not bring myself to go there.

And of course, there was his father, who every step of the way undermined my parenting style & decisions and who on many occasions told my son that medication was not ever a solution for him and that it was only my idea to be used for my own benefit (ie: you don’t have a problem, your Mom does and she needs medication).

For all these reasons and more, I did not choose medication for my son.  I resolutely insisted on constantly adapting my parenting style & skills to meet his needs, on individual and family therapy sessions, on working with schools to help my son and on finding creative & loving ways to defuse an escalating situation between us.  To this day, I still do all of these things (ex: two nights ago I did just this).  It is far & above an enormous amount of work.  It is not for the faint hearted.  That’s why I go to therapy and why I have created this blog.  So that I can cope and manage through whatever ebbs and flows these disorders give us and to hopefully help all of you who may be dealing with similar/the same experiences relating to behavioral mental health.

Do I sincerely believe he needs medication?  At times, I do.  Because I observe him during some of his episodes and I see him behave in childlike ways where I just don’t believe, in my gut, that he can self-regulate.  In those moments, I try not to lose my cool and instead I try to distract and redirect him by talking about a positive memory.  It works nine times out of ten but it takes every last bit of mental fortitude in me to call on it each time.  The alternative is to do what’s easiest and sometimes most natural which is to yell and exert parental control but that never works – not with a defiant child.  Either way, work is required so I try hard to choose the path that is positive and healthy for both of us.  And of course, there are many more times when I see that he is capable of behaving in an age-appropriate way, unassisted by something like medication.  Hopefully it’s because my parenting consistency and values are far more potent and effective than any drug.

There are many moments when I look back and I know that my decision not to medicate was right for him and for us.  It may be different for you and your child and medication may need to be considered to manage behaviors.  This does not make your child bad or you a bad parent.  Only you know your child and only you can know what’s best.  And if medication is part of the solution, then that’s perfectly OK too.

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