ADHD and Addiction

what is adhd

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Some experts consider the ADHD diagnosis as highly suspect. Why is this? One reason is that its “symptoms” are in fact behaviors which, in countless cases, are typical childhood attributes. The diagnosis is not the result of any clinical test such as a blood test, urine test, CAT scan, or MRI. Moreover, these symptoms can likely be associated with nearly any child. The following are a few behaviors listed as symptoms of ADHD:

  • Fails to give close attention to details
  • Makes careless mistakes in schoolwork or other tasks
  • Work is often messy or careless
  • Has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
  • Fails to complete schoolwork, chores, or other duties
  • Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
  • Often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate
  • Is often “on the go”
  • Frequently talks excessively
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)

These are not always symptoms of pathology to ADHD. They can be qualities associated with growing up and being a child.  When a child is genuinely agitated, not sleeping, or unable to pay attention, etc. there are many possible reasons for these occurrences. So, what is ADHD?  If all symptoms persist after careful changes in diet, exercise, free-time management, and schedule changes, it may be that your child does indeed have ADHD.

Children at Risk

According to the CDC, an estimated 6.4 million children are diagnosed with having ADHD in the United States. The average age of children who are being diagnosed with ADHD is seven-years-old. But, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ADHD can be diagnosed in children as young as four-years-old. Children using ADHD drugs can end up using them well into adulthood and can be dependent on them their entire lives.

Underlying Causes of ADHD

ADHD is one of the most misdiagnosed conditions today.  Children are diagnosed with having ADHD rather than a physical health problem, or the parents struggling with behavior instruction. There are a number of physical problems, including sleep apnea, low blood sugar, nutritional deficiencies, hearing or sight difficulties, and allergies which can cause a child to demonstrate ADHD-like symptoms.

Children who are apparently demonstrating symptoms of ADHD can be helped immensely by a loving and patient parent.  If a child has the disorder, they will also benefit from:

  • a skilled and understanding teacher
  • one-on-one tutoring
  • proper nutrition free from excessive sugar
  • reduction in TV watching and video games
  • time spent outside playing
  • simple forms of therapy
  • a thorough medical examination by a competent practitioner, especially one well-versed in allergies and nutrition.

Undernourished children, those with allergies or those with sleep difficulties can actually benefit from the discovery of the disorder if they participate in the activities above. In school, many children (and adults) are more visual learners and need to see or do something to retain information. Any child could easily not understand each and every word a teacher is saying or something directly from a school book. Clarifying with patience and showing them what words mean can help a child do better in school. Other than in school, a parent or guardian can do an unlimited number of non-drug remedies to help a child manifesting ADHD-like symptoms before deciding to put them on addictive drugs.

How Does ADHD Differ from ADD?

The differences between ADD and ADHD are often difficult to discern.  ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder. Most people assume that both terms mean the same thing, however, they are different.  ADD is a type of ADHD. But, ADD does not involve the constant fidgeting and movement, known as hyperactivity. Of course, this is only a slight distinction between the two disorders. The term ADD is considered an outdated term, and in 2013, the DSM-5 changed the criteria for diagnosing someone with ADHD. Only an experienced mental health provider can make the correct diagnosis for your child.

Drugs Used to Treat ADHD

A variety of drugs are used to treat ADHD. These drugs include psycho-stimulants, also called stimulants, such as:

  • Adderall (amphetamine & dextroamphetamine)
  • Ritalin, Concerta, Methylin, Metadate CD, Daytrana, Quillivant XR (methylphenidate)
  • Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine)
  • Focalin (dexmethylphenidate)
  • Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)
  • Desoxyn (methamphetamine)

Medications classified as “non-stimulants”, as well as antidepressants, are also used to treat ADHD. These are:

  • Strattera, Intuniv, Kapvay (non-stimulant ADHD drugs)
  • Elavil, Wellbutrin, Norpramin, Pamelor, Tofranil (antidepressants)
  • Duraclon (painkiller)
  • Catapres, Tenex, Nexiclon (high-blood pressure medications)

A number of these drugs are listed as highly addictive by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The drugs are often prescribed to individuals at a young age, and it is thus the responsibility of any parent, guardian, or responsible adult to educate children on the inherent dangers and side effects of these chemicals.

Are ADHD Drugs Addictive?

As of 2011, 11% of children in the US aged 4-17 (6.4 million) were diagnosed with ADHD. Over half of these kids were on ADHD medications. This number has been increasing year by year since 2003. With the release of the latest psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), diagnosis of adults with ADHD has also become more prevalent, the net result is that more and more children and adults are being given ADHD drugs.

Stimulant drugs prescribed for ADHD, such as Adderall and Ritalin, are known to bring about dependence and addiction, so much so that the DEA classified them as Schedule II under the United States Controlled Substances Act. From the DEA website:

“Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, less abuse potential than Schedule I drugs, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous. Some examples of Schedule II drugs are:

“cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin”

The connection between ADHD and drug addiction developing later in life is still a matter of controversy in the medical community.  The best course of action to protect the well-being of these children is to do extensive research and apply some of the proven, non-pharmaceutical remedies first.

How do ADHD Drugs Affect the Brain?

Much like cocaine and methamphetamine, these drugs increase levels of a brain chemical called dopamine. This neurotransmitter helps the brain register pleasure as well as monitor attention and physical movement. The brain and body’s reaction to artificial (drug-induced) stimulation of dopamine accounts in part for the phenomena known as dependence and addiction. The individual using ADHD drugs feels the effects of an increase of dopamine after taking his or her “meds”; meanwhile, the brain associates the ensuing chemical reaction with increased pleasure.

Over time, the child or adult begins to depend on the medication to feel any pleasure at all or to feel “normal” – even if the original ADHD symptoms are no longer present. The dopamine increase lessens with repeated doses of the drug, which means more of the drug is required to get the “desired” effect. This is called tolerance and all too often means the dosage will be increased or the user will intentionally use more of the drug over time.  

This brain activity happens whether the person is taking the medication on-prescription or if using the drug illicitly. ADHD stimulants are abused in schools, among athletes, and even among business professionals who want to take something “legal” to increase concentration. One study indicated that 15-40% of students in high perfomance high schools use prescription stimulants in an attempt to excel in their studies.

Vital Facts About ADHD Drugs

A study done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) showed that children taking stimulants to treat ADHD had a higher risk of cocaine abuse than the average child. Another study done by The College of Arts and Science also confirmed this link. Their study found that teens taking Ritalin are twice as likely to develop a cocaine habit later on.

Professor of Psychology, Kathleen Kantak, explains this connection: “Adolescence is the period of the most rapid development of brain structure and function…You take a brain that is very rapidly transitioning, you add a pharmacological agent on top of that, and you increase the risk of having some long-term consequences.”

This same professor noted that misdiagnosis has its own dangers: “If they’re misdiagnosed, and get Strattera, this may also be putting them at greater risk…of acquiring an addiction to cocaine.”

Psycho-stimulants are amphetamine or amphetamine-like drugs whose molecular structures are similar to cocaine and methamphetamine. In the case of the drug Desoxyn, it is methamphetamine. Ritalin (methylphenidate) and other drugs are known as “Kiddie Coke.” Teens and pre-teens are known to crush it, snort it, smoke it, and inject it to bypass the time-release function and get high. Following are some of the documented side effects of psychostimulants:

Physiological Side Effects:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Angina
  • Anorexia
  • Blood pressure and pulse changes
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • Involuntary tics and twitching
  • Liver problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Stomach pain
  • Stunted growth
  • Tachycardia
  • Unusual weakness or tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss and “zombie” appearance

Psychological Side Effects:

  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Increased irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Moodiness, apathy
  • Nervousness
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Toxic psychosis
  • Violent behavior

Suicidal thoughts and completed suicide are also known consequences associated with withdrawal from psycho-stimulants, not dissimilar to cocaine withdrawal. Other non-stimulant drugs used for ADHD, such as antidepressants, also, unfortunately, have long lists of side effects and they too are routinely abused by children and adults.  

The drugs used to treat ADHD are addictive, and their use can cause future addiction to illicit stimulants and other drugs. Parents need to make informed decisions about their children’s health and future. How a parent or doctor treats a diagnosis of ADHD can affect a child for the rest of his or her life.

How Blu by the Sea Can Help Your Loved One

At Blu by the Sea, we believe treatment should be tailored to meet the specific needs of each client.  We provide a comforting and homelike atmosphere, nutritious meals, and more. Our evidence-based holistic therapies are administered by certified, experienced professionals who have the expertise to treat substance abuse and any co-occurring mental health issues, including ADHD.  Contact us today to learn more about our program. Also, we will be happy to answer any further questions you may have regarding “What is ADHD?”