ADHD, which stands for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, is not uncommon in children in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5.2 million children have been diagnosed with the disorder. Twelve percent of boys and close to 5 percent of girls in the U.S. are diagnosed with ADHD.
Characterized hyperactivity, impulsive behaviors, difficulty paying attention and trouble focusing, ADHD in most children responds to both behavioral interventions and prescription medications. With so many kids struggling with this disorder, there is a huge potential for the abuse of the medications prescribed. For parents of children, whether they have ADHD or not, it is important to understand the dangers of misusing these drugs.
Adderall and Ritalin Use and Abuse
The most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD are the stimulants amphetamine and methylphenidate, which are sold under the brand names Adderall and Ritalin. When you take a stimulant, it releases a chemical in the brain called dopamine. This is a chemical that helps you experience pleasure and also pay attention to things around you. When taken as prescribed, these stimulants help reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
When doctors prescribe stimulants for ADHD, they assign dosages that will gradually increase dopamine production in the brain. This mimics the brain’s natural release of the chemical. When someone abuses one of these drugs and takes a higher dosage, the brain gets a flood of dopamine and a high that is similar to that achieved by abusing any illegal drug. That unnatural flood of dopamine can cause dangerous side effects as well as addiction.
Some people abuse ADHD medications to get a high from the dopamine rush, while others abuse them for loftier goals. It is not uncommon for teenagers and college students to use these stimulants as a tool for studying. Because they increase focus, and decrease sleepiness, students abuse them for all-night study sessions. Some may even abuse these drugs to lose weight.
Dangers of Stimulant Abuse
The abuse of Ritalin and Adderall has been a reality for some time. What those who abuse them often don’t realize is that their habit can be very dangerous. Too often people believe that prescriptions medications are always safe. This isn’t true. If you are a parent, make sure your children understand the effects these drugs can have.
Immediately upon taking a stimulant, the drug causes blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate to increase. At the same time, the drug causes a decrease in appetite and sleepiness. When someone uses these drugs over the long term, she may start to feel paranoid, aggressive or hostile. At high doses, Ritalin and Adderall can both result in serious and even fatal heart conditions or strokes.
It is also possible to become addicted to stimulants. The flood of dopamine produced when they are abused, over time, can lead to a dependence on the drugs. An early sign of dependence is the feeling of withdrawal, which can include irritability, fatigue and depression. Anyone abusing stimulants by snorting or injecting them is at a greater risk for a developing an addiction because these intake methods produce a greater output of dopamine in the brain.
Abusing any kind of drug can have serious consequences. For young people, however, access often determines which drugs are abused. Many kids have access to the stimulants used to treat ADHD, whether they come from a sibling, a friend or their own prescriptions. Make sure your children understand the dangers and the potential consequences of abusing these drugs in order to help keep them safe.