When a medication is effective, we give thanks. Drugs that can alleviate problem symptoms help patients live normal lives and restore a positive and hopeful outlook that brings many other desired outcomes. But when good medications are misused, everyone suffers.
Patients are greeted with more skepticism and eventually medications become harder to obtain. Doctors are concerned that abuse of stimulant drugs used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be taking us in that very direction.
Part of the difficulty off ADHD is the brain’s inability to remain focused on a single task. This can lead children and adults to engage in meaningless movement, wandering attention and a general state of disorderliness. This makes paying attention in school and completing assignments terrifically challenging. It can make it tough for adults on the job as well.
Treating ADHD with stimulants like Adderall can help the brain become more focused. Attention improves with drug therapy and a host of other problems resolve as the child/teen is able to sit still and give full thought to the task at hand. A drug that can help students laser in on learning has gone from being an effective treatment to a sought-after GPA enhancer, however. Kids with no real ADHD condition are seeking out the drug in order to boost their study and learning capacity.
Neurologists warn against over-prescribing stimulants like Adderall for this very reason; perfectly healthy kids are seeking them out and abusing them. The problem of Adderall abuse to increase GPA is a growing concern on college campuses. It is also an issue for teenagers, some of whom are willing to fake ADHD symptoms at the doctor’s office in order to get a prescription for stimulants. Unfortunately, parents are sometimes complicit in the problem. Whether they really think their child may have brain disorder or are just hoping to give their child a “leg-up” in school isn’t clear.
A national survey of high-schoolers found that 3 percent of seniors had taken Adderall but did not have a prescription. The majority of teens said they had gotten the drug from a relative or a friend. Other studies show that 8 percent to 35 percent of university students are using the medication to boost their grades or school performance.
Somewhere between 3 percent and 7 percent of kids in the United States have an ADHD diagnosis and are being treated. Over the last 20 years, ADHD diagnoses have increased sharply along with the prescriptions for the drugs used to treat its symptoms. According to some reports, the number of prescriptions for those in the 20- to 39-year-old age bracket more than doubled in one four-year span (5.6 million to 14 million). This could represent the aging up of children with ADHD along with an increased willingness of adults to be screened and treated. Yet suspicions remain that many fake cases are embedded in the high numbers.
Doctors are caught between a rock and a hard place on the issue. Many of their patients appear to be in a murky place between strong, clear signs of the disorder and normality. Discerning which are legitimate cases of ADHD and which are teens trying to get drugs like Adderall can be tricky. After all, a teen interested in faking ADHD need only read a few articles on the Internet in order to convincingly present symptoms to his or her doctor. Doctors who are feeling growing pressure to see and treat more patients, may be hesitant to dig too deeply. Further complicating matters is parental readiness to over-correct even minor problems so that their child can be guaranteed success.
Today, a questionnaire is the primary assessment tool for diagnosing ADHD. Neurologists writing on the subject suggest that doctors start using more than a simple set of questions to guard against abuse. There needs to be more patient-doctor conversation and more input from teachers, parents and even friends. Adderall and other ADHD drugs are a blessing to people who truly have the condition, but healthy teens and adults should not be taking them.