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02-18 Rewards and risks of ADHD medication

Posted in Addiction

Rewards and risks of ADHD medication

It’s not easy to spot the difference between normal fidgetiness in a child and Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). One is just normal kid behavior – forgetfulness, distractedness – and the other is a developmental disorder that is increasingly being diagnosed in children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 percent of children aged four to 17 had ADHD in 2013. It’s a disorder that has spawned an industry of treatment, therapy and medication. Although there’s no magic cure for any disease, drugs can help patients with ADHD manage their symptoms. But there’s a growing concern about overmedicating children, and ADHD medicines have dangers of their own: They’re often abused.

Stimulants for the over-stimulated?

It sounds somewhat counterintuitive to give stimulants to a child who already appears to have trouble focusing, but that’s what most children – and adults – who have been diagnosed with ADHD receive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), amphetamines and methylphenidate have a calming and focusing effect on patients with ADHD, especially when they are combined with psychotherapy.

A 1999 study found that children with ADHD did benefit from managed medication. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry also says that most children with ADHD benefit from medications. Although drugs like Ritalin and Adderall do not cure ADHD, they can help a child control their symptoms. Additionally, a 2013 study in the “Journal of Clinical Psychiatry” found that stimulant medications may have further benefits for children with ADHD.

On the other hand, there is a valid debate over how ADHD is approached and treated. Short-term side effects of ADHD medication include nervousness, decreased appetite and increased blood pressure. Some studies have shown that strengthening people’s concentration may not require drugs at all. A study published in the journal “Pediatrics” in 2014 found that kids who participated in regular physical exercise showed increased cognitive performance.

However one feels about how ADHD is treated, it’s important to remember that ADHD drugs are potentially addictive and often abused.

ADHD drugs have a high abuse potential

Amphetamine drugs are addictive and can cause a euphoric sensation in users. Many people take ADHD drugs like Adderall without prescription, or in greater amounts than prescribed. Some drug users grind up the pills and snort them, which is dangerous.

That hasn’t stopped people from abusing ADHD drugs. According to a study conducted by the University of South Carolina, 1 out of 6 college kids abuses ADHD medications. Additionally, a recent study published this month in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that 60 percent of nonmedical Adderall use occurred among people aged 18 to 25. The study also reported that nonprescribed use of the drug increased by 67 percent from 2006 to 2011. Emergency room visits related to Adderall rose by 156 percent. For younger adolescents, nonmedical use remained stable and emergency room visits declined by 54 percent.

According to the study, most of the users engaged in Adderall abuse got the drug from family or friends, most of whom had prescriptions for the drug. One of the reasons driving abuse of Adderall and other ADHD stimulants is a misconception that these drugs make people smarter. NIDA reports that studies have shown that these drugs do not enhance one’s learning or thinking ability, and that students who abuse prescription stimulants have lower GPAs than those who don’t.

The Sovereign Health Group’s Rancho San Diego facility specializes in treating developmental disorders like ADHD as well as other mental disorders and substance abuse in teenagers. Our specialized program uses proven techniques tailored to our patients’ needs. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the Author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at

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