Can Ritalin Cause Schizophrenia in ADHD kids?
DISCLAIMER: CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR BEFORE DECIDING ON A TREATMENT PLAN FOR ANY DISEASE OR INJURY.
Recently, my husband and I agreed to take in a 14 year old boy named Jason from the United States who’d been struggling in school. His dad was “abusive” and his mom felt strongly that if he were in a different environment, he’d be able to emotionally calm down and focus. We were going to homeschool him in Mexico where we live.
Before he came to live with us in Mexico, we had a number of Skype meeting with him. His mom withdrew him from public school in December and his passport wasn’t scheduled to arrive until February 6th. So John and I worked with him through January doing online meetings and sending him videos and articles to read in the meantime. Often, he complained that he couldn’t watch the videos because they weren’t available or his Internet was down. His mom complained that Jason didn’t finish his chores. He’d vacuum the floor, but then he’d leave the vacuum cleaner sitting in the middle of the room. He’d wash half the dishes and the half that he’d washed were washed halfway. He’d do the laundry, but then throw it down the stairs instead of folding it. Given the problem of abuse in his home, I was undaunted by these reports. They made sense to me. I looked forward to being able to give this kid a quiet environment and some tools and boundaries to help him learn some new things.
John and I drove all the way to San Antonio, TX to pick Jason up at the airport. His mother didn’t really seem worried about having Jason fly into Mexico City. She was at her wits’ end and she seemed to just not care anymore about what happened to Jason. Or (I thought), her primary goal was just to get him out of her house to a house that was “safe”. So we offered to pick Jason up at the airport in San Antonio because it was the closest airport he could fly to where everyone still spoke English.
This is where the story gets weird.
According to Jason’s mom, Jason was on both Ritalin (Metadate) and Prozac (Fluoxetine). She’d decided to let us wean him off the Prozac while he was with us since he could have suicidal ideation during the withdrawal process. When I asked him about his Ritalin and Prozac on the drive home, Jason said that he’d taken both of his pills that morning. By the next day though, Jason told us that he’d stopped taking the drugs two months before.
“I just throw them away.” He told me when I asked him how he got away with not taking the drugs.
“Okay.” I said. I asked him for some more details about this and assumed that maybe his mom wasn’t as tuned into Jason as she’d claimed to be. How could she not know that he was tonguing his meds?
Jason clearly wasn’t ADHD. He’d sit for hours and read his book Twilight. He’d resist reading books that I’d suggest, but sitting quietly and doing something that required some focus definitely wasn’t his problem. I hid his Ritalin and Prozac because if he was lying about NOT taking the drugs (clearly he’d lied about either taking them or not taking them), I didn’t want him to have suicidal ideation and then decide to overdose on Ritalin and Prozac.
Over the upcoming weeks, Jason showed us his most frustrating behaviors. He actively avoided doing any chores at all. I didn’t pressure him. I thought it would be better to let Jason have a short break from the chores and then create a new paradigm with new rules regarding chores so as to hijack the current abuse-cycle he was used to in his own home. I was working off the idea that Jason’s step-dad was a real asshole since this was what his mom had told us. It was during this time that Jason started concocting interesting “projects” that he’d jump into impulsively without asking us first.
The first project was a special shelf that Jason wanted to build for our essential oils. His enthusiasm for the project was surprising. He took measurements for the shelf and then built a model of it out of paper. John and I exchanged glances over it. We were proud of Jason and thought, “look at this kid’s spatial reasoning skills and his initiative!” We patted him on the back for coming up with a creative project like this.
The next day, we gave Jason a mission to walk down to the centro and back home. This was his task. He had a cell phone (purchased by us since his mother hadn’t thought ahead about Jason’s need to be able to communicate) and GPS. Jason was supposed to update us on his location throughout the day (even though we had software installed on the phone to tell us his whereabouts). He was NOT to get in the car with anyone for any reason (since everyone was a stranger to him as a brand new arrival in Mexico). On his way home, Jason got in the car with a man he recognized from a construction project we’re working on in Mexico. He didn’t send us a message or tell us his whereabouts.
When he arrived back at our house, we called his mom and put her on speaker-phone and John and I yelled at Jason. This was dangerous and stupid behavior that could get him killed. Jason cried. He said, that he knew it was stupid but that his step-dad had texted him at the moment he got in the truck. It seemed as though Jason understood things at our house (the rules, the expectations, and the idea that we cared about his well-being) better after this incident. We moved his things out of his bedroom to a “common area” in our house and told him he’d have to earn the privilege of a private bedroom by obeying our rules.
But the next morning, when I came out of my bedroom, Jason was brewing alcohol in the kitchen with a pineapple and some of our prized stash of natural yeast (which is extremely hard to find in Mexico). His grandpa had brewed alcohol years ago and Jason had told us stories about how he’d brewed some blueberry beer at his home in the states. His mom had tasted it and said it was really good, but his step-dad (the abusive one), had been concerned about having Jason brew alcohol. John and I were both against having alcohol in our home because we’d both grown up with alcoholic family members. But Jason persisted with the idea of alcohol. His little bottle of pineapple beer sat on the counter and John and I were reluctant to throw it away. Jason was moody and persistent about certain things. The alcohol was one of those things.
Next, Jason designed a distillery on paper. He became obsessed with the distillery and even though John and I gave him no incentive to continue with it, he persisted.
One day we went to a hardware store and we told him that he could buy materials to build some walls to create some privacy in the common area where his bedroom space was located. John and I were there for quite some time getting some other things that we needed while Jason walked through the store with our daughter (age 17). She kept an eye on Jason who had trouble following his list. And he forgot about his bedroom and instead sought out the materials for the distillery even though John and I had been clear with him that we never intended to buy him the materials to create such a thing.
Jason also had a habit of seriously hijacking conversations. He’d interrupt with wildly off-topic tidbits that were hard to ignore. And if we didn’t tune into him, he’d get angry with us. Our evening routine involved attempts at conversations about things John and I needed to talk about with ten or more serious interruptions. Jason would get progressively angrier and angrier if we didn’t follow his train of thought. By evening, he was usually in a sour mood.
I enrolled him in Spanish lessons for 3 weeks. He’d be going to these classes for 4 hours a day, 5 days of the week. This allowed us to have time to recalibrate during the day. I could tell that Jason wouldn’t be able to learn anything sitting at a table with me or John. Jason was really interested in music (it seemed). He’d brought a guitar with him and John had intended to teach him some things, but what really interested Jason was building a guitar. Actually, no…he wanted to create a guitar-building business. So, as business people ourselves, John and I explained how a guitar-making business would actually work.
“How many guitars could you make in one year?” John asked Jason.
“I could make one per day.” Jason said.
“Okay…” John said, “A guitar that only takes one day to make probably won’t be very valuable.”
“But all I’d need to do is get a famous person to play it.” Jason told John.
“But how would you do that if your guitar wasn’t very valuable and wasn’t well made?”
As soon as Jason realized that making guitars wasn’t easy, he didn’t want to do it anymore.
It was around this time that we discovered that Jason was stealing things from us. Our things were packed away in his bags. He had one of my socks, a fork, and two pairs of our daughter’s underwear in his bags.
The more we tuned into Jace’s things, the more interesting his things became to us. We realized that he had a habit of stashing weird items. At night when we came home, we started asking him to empty his pockets. He would draw attention to things we otherwise would’ve missed. Like a carefully folded piece of aluminum foil.
“Where’d that piece of aluminum foil go?” He asked us after he’d made a pile of stuff from his pockets on the kitchen table.
“What aluminum foil?” We’d ask. It all looked like trash. But then, there it was…the aluminum foil.
“What’s that for?” John asked.
“Oh, it has my water purification tablets in it.” He said.
The next day, when I found the aluminum foil in his bags, I unfolded it and discovered there was nothing in it which prompted John and I to search his room more carefully. Upon closer inspection we found that Jason had also disassembled a cell phone charger and removed the copper wires. The copper wiring had been coiled and was laying in the middle of the floor in a pile of torn papers, lint, and other trash.
This was when John and I remember Jason talking about another one of his obsessions: weapons. He’d talked at length about his goal to build electrified brass knuckles and other electrically inspired weapons that worked like a taser. During my Skype time with Jason before he got to Mexico, he’d told me that he’d watch a YouTube video about how to build a taser using an old camera.
His mom told us that Jason had been put in suspension for lighting a fire in his own hands on the bus using hand sanitizer and a lighter.
So John and I looked on YouTube for videos that would help explain all the odds and ends in Jason’s possession. The results worried us.
Meanwhile, we took back the things that Jason had stolen from us. And he seemed to not notice. His behavior in terms of interruptions, anger, and even smiling and silliness with us remained unchanged.
One night, after his classes, we asked Jason to stay in the garden area downtown and read a book while we went and ran errands. Instead, Jason went around the garden again and again. He told us that he went “90 laps” around the tiny space while we were gone. John and I both noted that each time we walked by, Jason looked a little crazy and we were sure that the restaurant owners around the perimeter of the garden probably thought that Jason was crazy too.
Strangely, Jason didn’t seem crazy to me in a lot of ways. He seemed really frustrating to me. And at times dangerous. He stole a needle from me and put it in the window mesh. We started locking our bedroom doors at night. The doors had the kind of locks on them that were easy to pick with just a thin, cylindrical piece of metal (we used a bobby pin that was bent open in the shape of a “L”), but we figured that if he decided to break into our bedrooms that the locked doors would send a strong message at least. We were most concerned about our daughter because she slept upstairs in the same area with Jason and Jason seemed infatuated with her…and he’d stolen her underwear.
The next morning, after we started locking our doors, John and I went upstairs to look through Jason’s things after he’d left for Spanish classes. Our daughter told us that while she was in the shower, she’d heard Jason come in from the outside patio and jiggle the door to her bedroom. But I felt certain that we wouldn’t find anything in Jason’s bags since we’d been taking back all the stuff he’d stolen and going through his things each day. Certainly Jason knew that we’d been going through his stuff since his loot was gone. And why bother stealing more if this was the case? John picked through Jason’s bags, one item at a time and three layers down, he found a bobby pin which was slightly bent and that looked like it had been forced into something (probably our daughter’s door).
We hired a guard to watch over him for the next two nights since this seemed to be the time of the day when most Jason’s insidious activities took place. He seemed to have a rhythm or a cycle that he followed. In the mornings he was grouchy, angry, and nervous. In the afternoons, he was lucid and seemed normal and happy. By evening, he was angry again or confused, depending on the day’s events.
And we called Jason’s mom and told her that Jason’s needs were too high for us to be able to manage them here in Mexico. We weren’t equipped to deal with a kid like him. When we told him some of his behaviors she told us that this was, “classic Jason” and not to worry. This was when we suddenly connected some dots: Jason’s mom is Bipolar. And Jason’s history of taking Ritalin places him at risk for developing Bipolar spectrum or Schizophrenia spectrum disorders. It took no time at all for me to find a set of symptoms that fit Jason perfectly:
- Active, but aimless behavior that’s not constructive (working on a distillery when Jason actually needed walls for a bedroom, walking 90 laps around a small garden)
- Bizarre emotional responses like an inappropriate or flat affect (John and I would point out to Jason that he would smile and laugh when Jason was really describing something that made him feel sad or mad…each time we pointed this out, Jason would react to this information as though he’d never noticed his incongruent facial expressions before.)
- False, fixed beliefs (Jason’s beliefs were rigid and unmoving. No matter what John and I said, he wasn’t able to change his beliefs about the appropriateness of a 14 year old making alcohol, for example.)
- Lack of motivation to do work (Jason lost interest in projects like making a guitar for example, once he realized that the project would require work)
- Silly or strange behavior (stealing random objects, Jason would also often try to change the seating arrangements in the living room, and he laughed at almost everything no matter how serious it was; Jason’s answers to questions were only tangentially relevant)
- Disorganized speech (In addition to interrupting us, Jason often interrupted himself as he was trying to talk about something else)
- Disorganized behavior (Jason had a distinct smell that led us to believe he didn’t clean himself in the shower; Jason was extremely clumsy to the point that we often reminded him to be careful not to fall in front of a bus)
These behaviors describe a person with disorganized schizophrenia although there are some additional symptoms not listed here. At first, I thought that maybe Jason’s behaviors were a combined results of having been on Ritalin since the 1st grade plus lots of time playing violent video games. But a quick search online revealed that Ritalin can actually cause schizophrenia even in kids who are not predisposed to the disorder. Once I realized that Jason’s symptoms were part of a disorder, several kids came to mind who had the same kind of bizarre behaviors. I’d viewed these kids as “creative”, but the more I thought about it, many of them were almost non-functional. The mother of one of these other kids had told me that her daughter complained of “hearing voices” at times. This girl was only 12 years old at the time. A 22-year old man who’d seemed completely normal to me when I wrote to him via email was a complete mess when I met him in person. I’d wondered if this young man had multiple personalities, his behavior was so erratic in person. He was intelligent in writing, but he lacked motivation and he wasn’t able to learn new things (it seemed) even from personal experience. His behavior was so similar to Jason’s that I was surprised I hadn’t noticed it before. Yet another young woman who was not a prostitute, aged 18, had agreed to be paid for sex by a man 20 years older than her. She’d failed to see that this behavior was technically “prostitution”. Is there a link between Ritalin and schizophrenia? Apparently. These kids had all taken Ritalin to treat “ADHD”.
I spent some time researching Bipolar Disorder and Ritalin as well and found that Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia Disorders are related. Schizoaffective Disorder is where these two mental illnesses categorically overlap. But labels are mostly designed to help the insurance companies decide how much to pay out for a patient’s treatment. In reality, in many situations it’s difficult to tease apart what’s Bipolar and what’s Schizophrenia. Psychiatrists even have a hard time telling the difference between these two disorders.
So we hired a guard to watch over Jason at night while we slept during Jason’s final days with us in Mexico and we worked Jason differently during this time. Instead of getting angry or feeling fearful about what he was doing, we started approaching him as though something was glitching out in his brain. Jason seemed okay with this. And it made us feel less crazy to acknowledge that Jason’s behavior was perhaps caused by schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. On his final day with us, we took him out to dinner and talked with him honestly about what we’d observed in his behavior and why we’d hired the guard. At no time did Jason seem scared by the guard or frightened by the fact that we’d felt compelled to hire a guard to oversee him. This seemed strange by itself. In fact, Jason slept so well on the nights when the guard was there, that he didn’t even know when the guard left (even though we’d moved Jason’s bed to an area right next to the front door to make it easier for the guard to keep an eye on him).
I never mentioned schizophrenia to Jason because I didn’t want to scare him and I knew that he probably knew very little about schizophrenia except that it’s socially stigmatized. Instead, I told him instead that I suspected that he had Bipolar Disorder like his mom and that he needed to be medicated differently. His mom resisted the possibility that this was the problem and insisted that I give him Ritalin again (I refused). I didn’t hear from her from two days before Jason’s plane took off for home until a week later when she finally decided to send some money for the time Jason had spent with us. We had to put him on a plane to fly to Texas, 16 hours from her and Jason’s step-dad’s home. She didn’t have a passport and she and Jason’s step-dad had cut up their credit cards so they weren’t able to come get him from Mexico. Talk about planning ahead…
At the beginning of this whole venture with Jason, John and I thought we were going to be dealing with an abused 14-year old boy who would simply need some guidance, boundaries, and direction. We’d planned to buy him some books and give him lots of educational opportunities. We figured there was a good chance that Jason would stay with us permanently. What we ended up with was a kid who has either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and a mother who refuses to admit that Jason has a mental illness. I suspect that a lot of the “abuse” that’s happening in their home goes both ways because Jason is rigid and not able to reason according to the reality that most people ascribe to. It’s possible that Jason’s step-dad reaches his limit with Jason and gets abusive because he feels like his step-son’s behavior is dangerous and stupid (which it is). But if the parent’s don’t acknowledge their son’s mental illness and start working with it, the prognosis is poor. Jason needs some kind of intervention for his own safety. Unfortunately, his mom and step-dad will probably figure that out eventually, but maybe under some dire circumstances.
I sent an email to my dad telling him how sick I was about Jason and how Jason had gotten a raw deal by having to take Ritalin. And my dad sent me a message back saying that 25 years ago, when he was the president of the school board in the small town where I grew up, he remembers teachers calling parents in to talk with them about putting their kids on Ritalin. The teachers knew that this drug would qualify the school for extra financial assistance and Ritalin made kids easier to control. My dad said that he was angered by this whole situation even 25 years ago and that it still makes him angry, but that the fact that kids end up suffering with problems like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder is even more infuriating.
I add this story to the long list of stories I’ve heard about how the pharmaceutical companies are destroying people’s health…
But I want to add a shred of hope to the Ritalin link to schizophrenia. Jason was not a bad kid. If I had known that he was schizophrenic or bipolar when he arrived here, John and I would’ve approached everything differently with him. We wouldn’t have gotten as frustrated with his constant interruptions. We would’ve worked within his limitations. But since his mom set us up believing that Jason had no limitations (intellectually, emotionally, physically) and that we were just supposed to help him overcome his abusive past, it took us several weeks just to figure out what we were working with.
I believe that Jason could’ve rewired himself over time and probably even developed some insight into his own mind with the right kind of guidance, but he’d need 24 hour care and people dedicated to the project. And I don’t know how severe the problem will get for him. He’s only 14. These disorders tend to hit people the hardest around age 15 to 25 years. Jason’s mom wanted me to start giving him Ritalin again before he got on the plane to go home, but I refused. It seems like bad karma to give Ritalin to anyone in my opinion, but I suppose everyone has to make their own decisions about this drug. Parents should know though, that the consequences of giving this psychoactive drug to kids even briefly can be lifelong and serious. I suspect that many parents, if they knew the potential risks, would opt out of giving their kid Ritalin, which is why I’m writing this article.
Since the time of this experience, I’ve read that Iboga or Ibogaine (a plant medicine) can help some people who suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Iboga and Ibogaine are entheogens that can help the brain reconfigure itself. Some Ibogaine practitioners feel that people need to be pretty grounded before doing this treatment. The patient has to be able to understand how Ibogaine could effect them. Iboga/Ibogaine is especially useful in situations that involve addiction of any kind (methamphetamines, alcohol, etc.) as well as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The use of Iboga for the treatment of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder isn’t common, but it’s a possible avenue that some people may want to consider.
Additionally, I recently found an article called The High pH Therapy for Cancer Tests on Mice and Humans. This article by A. K. Brewer, outlines a study that showed that Cesium salts or Cesium Chloride can be used (with great effectiveness) to cure cancer. At the end of the article, the author also mentions that Cesium salts are very effective at treating heart arrhythmias and Bipolar Disorder.
2021 UPDATE: Since writing this post, we’ve learned more about possible therapies for addiction, ADD/ADHD, PTSD, mood disorders like Bipolar Disorder, and schizophrenia. Read this article to learn more about effective potential therapies for these problems, and consider reading the book Niacin: The Real Story for more information about how vitamin B3 (niacin) can often cure schizophrenia (and how schizophrenia and other related disorders can be considered a deficiency disease brought on by too little vitamin B3 in the diet).