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ADHD & Substance Abuse
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CNS Stimulant Medication and Substance Abuse Addiction
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has become one of the most controversial diagnosis’s and disorders to treat. The diagnosis has been around for over half a century; however, its prevalence has increased so dramatically in recent years that the legitimacy of the diagnosis has come to be debated.
The center of the ADHD controversy seems to center around the most common form of treatment for the disorder, namely prescription drugs. The nature of the prescription drugs used to treat ADHD make having a diagnosis of the disorder an advantage, at least in the eyes of some. Prescription amphetamines are the most commonly used type of pharmaceutical in ADHD treatment and these drugs will give anyone an edge.
Millions of kids go to school taking the drug, making using pharmaceuticals to get ahead in school and life a near commonplace scenario. It might not be surprising, then, when the next kid sees how much better he or she can do with the help of prescription ADHD medication.
The biggest problem of all may not be the terrible life lesson that turning to drugs to fix a problem teaches, but instead, it’s that drugs used to treat ADHD are highly addictive. People start them early in school and may spend the remainder of their lives trying to manage a complex system of substances just to function, believing that they are necessary.
What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
ADHD is a complex psychological disorder affecting children and adults. The disorder is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are thought to be unable to sit still, pay attention in class and act out in distracting and impulsive ways. Stereotypically, those with ADHD are often in trouble with teachers or routinely perform below their capability as these children’s symptoms cause distress and potentially ostracize them from their peers.
This mental disorder is not yet fully understood; however, research suggests that genetics and child development play a role in the causes of ADHD.
Children are usually prompted by the school or the counselors to be tested for ADHD in cases where the symptoms are clearly present. More and more frequently, older adolescents are seeking the diagnosis without outside motivation to do so.
The symptoms of ADHD may be just as harmful in adulthood; adults diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are usually struggling with some area of their life, such as work or relationships. By the time an individual enters the workforce, most employers except him or her to be able to sit quietly for long periods of time.
The treatment often involves drug therapy, using one of several stimulant compounds. These potent drugs are increasingly causing life-threatening problems for those who use them.
What Medications are Prescribed for ADHD?
Most medications used to treat ADHD are stimulants. The most commonly used include Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse and Concerta.
The most commonly prescribed drugs are all either one or a combination of a few amphetamine compounds, namely dextroamphetamine, methylphenidate, lisdexamfetamine, amphetamine sulfate, or Dexmethylphenidate. These compounds all work similarly with minor differences in how they are metabolized and handled by the individual.
The addition of an amphetamine for a person already struggling with hyperactivity may seem perplexing; it seems to simply have been what worked and no clear reason for why has yet been discovered.
For adolescents and children, however, supplying a person with a steady stream of addictive amphetamines from an early age may seem like a disaster waiting to happen, and it is for many people.
The addictive nature of these drugs is not overcome by using the medication as prescribed. Using an addictive substance for an extended time is likely to end in addiction. Though not everyone becomes addicted, many do struggle with their ADHD medication and eventually have to choose between sobriety and death.
Another common problem is that underage teenagers are prone to experiment with substances. However, mixing ADHD medication and anything not prescribed by a knowledgeable doctor can easily result in a person ending up in the emergency room or dead.
According to SAMHSA’s DAWN report, in 2010, nearly half (45%) of all emergency room visits involving ADHD stimulant medication also involved another substance.
More Teens are Abusing ADHD Medications
The Potential for Misdiagnosis: Are Your Children Faking It to Get Better Grades in School?
An issue more common than many may think is pre-teens and teens faking an ADHD diagnosis simply to obtain the drugs that come with it.
Many school-aged students see the benefits of having an amphetamine prescription. With Adderall or Vyvanse, one can stay up all night studying without feeling sleep deprived. And who wouldn’t want to do better without hardly feeling like you’re trying?
People who take the drugs are given a clear advantage over those without them—increased energy and attention mean that you can listen through the entire seminar and study well past midnight, then get up early the next morning and continue functioning with superhuman attention, focus, and energy.
Weight loss is another popular side effect of the medication and has many using the drugs solely to reach their desired size. Using medications like Adderall to lose weight may seem like a good idea to some; however, the long-term consequences drastically outweigh the perceived benefits.
Keeping Up with the Bell Curve: ADHD Medication Abuse in High School & College
The higher the pressure to succeed, the higher the percentage of students taking ADHD medications. It’s a lot like pro-sports, but with a different type of performance-enhancing substance.
Both high school and college-aged students are prone to use and abuse ADHD medications. The trend in kids initiating the testing for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is definitely on the rise, according to the principal of New York Admissions.
The reason why students use ADHD drugs is to essentially increase performance at school and on entrance exams. When it feels as though your life depends on your score, would you consider using anything to gain an advantage?
Many will answer yes, but then what about the next test? And the next? They all seem pretty important after all. Maybe a full prescription and daily use are better than just one time. Eventually, though, the drugs don’t work as well and you’ll need more of it and more often. Then, after a while, you can’t function normally without it.
More and more high school and college-aged kids are using such study-aids. More kids who start in high school continue into college with their prescriptions. Many, however, are finding that the drugs are too much and stop using before they enter college, but there are some that increase their use and wind up abusing illegal substances within a relatively short time.
Performance Enhancements in Society: CNS Stimulant Medication Abuse
Kids aren’t the only ones who see the upside to carrying a legal amphetamine prescription. Many adults are turning to ADHD medications to boost performance and meet the expectations of society.
Take the “super mom” who is up at dawn and stays up long after the kids have gone to bed, working in the office or at home to help the family. In a fast paced society and even faster paced children, mothers are turning to medications like Focalin XR to be able to do that much, day after day, failing to realize the dependency.
The Wall Street broker, who, similarly, is awake most hours of the day, producing reports from dawn to dusk, and analyzing market trends.
Where sports like football and baseball run into steroid abuse, esports has breaking headlines of Adderall abuse. The use of stimulants like dextroamphetamine in esports has emerged as a concern, with one professional stating, ‘we are all on Adderall.’ To combat this reality or perception, some leagues have begun to implement drug testing to level the playing field.
The more society expects of people, the more people turn to enhancements like Vyvanse. However, these drugs come with serious, long-term consequences and those who have witnessed how destructive they can invariably attest to one’s health is more important than whatever you think you will gain.
Good Grades are Not Worth an Addiction
When Substance Abuse Addiction to ADHD Medication Manifests
Addiction to ADHD medication is becoming one of the most common reasons people find themselves in need of addiction treatment. Not only are the prescription drugs highly addictive, but in many cases, they lead to the abuse of other substances as well; most people who start using meth were first users of prescription stimulant drugs.
Even those who don’t end up on the most toxic and destructive substances known to man, namely meth and heroin, do find themselves wondering how their lives became so difficult.
The problem usually starts with a tolerance to the prescription drug, prompting the individual to get an increase in his or her dose. Eventually, you reach a maximum dosage. When that happens, it may feel like the world is working against you. You need more, so why won’t they just prescribe more?
Some people find a way around this problem: they find another doctor to prescribe their medication and continue getting the other prescription from the original doctor. This is called “doctor shopping” and some have managed to accumulate an enormous quantity of drugs doing this.
Others may try to boost the effectiveness of their medications by altering other habits. Maybe they stop eating while they take the medication and only eat at night before bed, this way the drug’s effect is not dampened by food.
And yet another way of getting more when there is no more to be had from doctors is to buy the drug illegally, either by buying from friends or by someone on the street.
All of these ways of lessening the dwindling effects of ADHD medication is exhausting and time-consuming. Eventually, it becomes too much and each individual is faced with a decision: continue spiraling down the rabbit hole or get help.
Seeking Treatment for ADHD Medication Addiction
Prescription drug addiction has seen one of the greatest increases in any addiction. These potent chemical compounds are given out with seemingly little consideration or warning of their potential hazards.
Many people who become addicted to prescription medication find it hard to wrap their heads around the situation. After all, the person may be a law-abiding citizen who doesn’t have even a speeding ticket and makes straight A’s. How could he or she be a drug addict?
The reality is that these prescription nightmares have opened the gates of addiction to many unsuspecting persons. The “medicine” was being taken as directed, so it’s not possible to be addicted, many may believe.
But regardless of how you took your pills, or of how far down the path of addiction you have gone, if you can’t live or function normally or happily without your prescription, then you probably need help.
The consequences of waiting can be truly disastrous, even deadly. How far into despair and demoralization you go is entirely up to you.
There is no shame in having become addicted to your medication—it has happened to millions of people in the U.S. alone. Stories of the destruction that prescription drugs have caused are all over the headlines. Anyone can fall prey to these substances and needing help is not a fault.
If you feel as though your use or abuse of prescription ADHD drugs is tearing your life apart, reach out today. Help is available.
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Reputable Sources are Vital When it Comes to Long-lasting Recovery
NIDA. (2018, March 6). Prescription CNS Depressants. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants on 2019, February 15
Urmc.rochester.edu. (2019). Abuse of Prescription ADHD Medicines Rising on College Campuses – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center. [online] Available at: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=23617 [Accessed 15 Feb. 2019].
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Adults With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Substance Use Disorders. Advisory, Volume 14, Issue 3.
Asam.org. (2019). Public Policy Statement on the Definition of Alcoholism. [online] Available here[Accessed 22 Feb. 2019].
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Incorporating Alcohol Pharmacotherapies Into Medical Practice. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 49. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 09-4380. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2009.
Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51). Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/
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