Placebo Treatment of Inattentive ADHD

I ran into this study the other day while I was reading up on something else that I found kind of amazing. The researchers of the study were trying to figure out the degree of placebo effect that you were going to get when you gave individuals with ADHD a new drug treatment.

The researchers used data gathered from a study on Strattera and determined that if you had never been given any drug treatment OR if you were predominantly inattentive, your response to a placebo was going to be pretty good.

It is important to gauge placebo effect when studying a new drug because if you give 10 people Strattera and ten people a sugar pill and the people on the Strattera report 40% fewer symptoms you might say, "Wow, this drug is fantastic, my patient is 40% better," until you realize that the people on the sugar pill (the placebo) also reported 40% fewer symptoms and the Strattera was no better than a placebo in reducing symptoms.

The researchers of the study found that if you were predominantly inattentive, or if you had never been treated with medicine for ADHD you were going to have 40% fewer Inattentive ADD symptoms when measured by the ADHD rating scale by simply taking a sugar pill. This was not true with people with combined type ADHD. They did not have a big response to the sugar pills. This was also not true of people who had previously been treated with stimulants.

This Inattentive ADHD finding reminds me a little of what Woody Allen has said about life. Ninety percent is just showing up. I believe that with Inattentive ADHD paying attention to the disease (just 'showing up' with a diagnosis) makes a good bit of difference. I believe that if you pay attention to inattentive kids, they do better. If you give them omega-3, vitamins, coffee, encouragement, respect, a mission or a task relevant to their lives... they do better.

Maybe all of these tactics help simply because of the placebo effect. Maybe they would do better if you just ask them to do better. I do not know but it makes sense to me that the first step to improving the symptoms of  Inattentive ADHD if the recognition of the problem and the formulation of a plan, any plan, that will address the inattention.

It may go without saying but it is also important to continuously remind the inattentive of what you are doing to encourage their focus and attention because if you do not set up a reminder system, those of us with Inattentive ADHD are like to forget.

Characteristics of Placebo Responders in Pediatric Clinical Trials of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
Newcorn JH, Sutton VK, Zhang S, Wilens T, Kratochvil C, Emslie GJ, D'Souza DN, Schuh LM, Allen AJ.

RESULTS: A subset analysis of patients completing 6 weeks of treatment (to eliminate the effects of early dropout) identified inattentive subtype and lack of previous stimulant experience as significant predictors of robust placebo response.

Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2009 Oct 23. 


  1. I concur with this. We have sometimes to put a "SPIN" on things in our own mind to feel good and get things done....Years back I read an experiment/study was done with college students....They gave them fruit cocktails. Half had alcohol in them and half did not...Result. The majority got "Happy" & "At Ease" whether they drank the ones with alcohol or not....Some students had no effect with the drinks....Maybe they were regular alcohol drinkers and had drinks with no alcohol....Just like you mentioned no effect on people who had taken stimulant drugs before.... The Mind tells us if we are having a happy, accomplished day or not....Yes, a goad like praise or reminder to stay on task is important...Those timers are good but for me. 15 minutes is best...Amazing when you concentrate how much in 15 minutes you can accomplish and feel good about it...Then I need a break to recoup and regenerate, then start again. Like a violin plays great but at some point has to be turned. Not a one time deal.

  2. The fifteen minute trick works really well for my inattentive son and I. He calls it the break he gets after 15 minutes of work "the bribe". During the break he gets to kind of rest his brain and daydream which for him is regenerating.

    I tend to do something that I like during my break like troll the internet or have a cup of coffee but breaking up the task absolutely 'helps the medicine go down'. Thanks so much for your comment. Tess

  3. Yes. Life "Life is a Series of Moments". You String them Together and you have quite something to show which you created thru the months & years....A work of Art? Yes....We make our own painting of or Life. Or in todays technology, our own movie.


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