Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is an increasingly common diagnosis that is disproportionately recognized in children. Whether this is due to the fact that parents and teachers are more primed than ever to look out for symptoms or an actual uptick in incidence, the statistics are staggering. As of 2016, 6.1 million children between the ages of 2 and 17 had been diagnosed with ADHD in the United States.
Of that number, more than 60% were taking some sort of medication to treat the syndrome. Less than half had received behavioral treatment in the previous year, and nearly a quarter of children were receiving no treatment at all for their ADHD. All of this speaks to a general sense of confusion when it comes to effectively treating ADHD, particularly in children.
As the rate of ADHD incidence climbs and the modern understanding of ADHD evolves, it’s important to become educated on both ADHD medications and other forms of treatment.
What Causes ADHD?
The nature vs. nurture debate rages on when it comes to most behaviors and predilections, but when it comes to ADHD, it appears that genetics is a major deciding factor. This is because ADHD often occurs due to a deficiency in norepinephrine. Just as a heart condition or immune system disease might be passed from parent to child, this deficiency can likewise be transmitted through generations.
For parents who have received an ADHD diagnosis, this means that there’s a fair chance their children will exhibit the same symptoms, and they should keep an eye out as early as possible.
There is anecdotal evidence from a few studies that suggest outside factors may also play a role. Exposure to pesticides, lead, excessive sugar, and other such substances might play some role in the occurrence of ADHD in children, but this has yet to be confirmed by the scientific community.
That said, parents whose children exhibit signs of ADHD need not beat themselves up wondering if they’ve made some misstep that caused the disorder. In all likelihood, the child would have developed ADHD regardless of the environment, so the true work lies in managing the syndrome.
ADHD Medications and The Risk of Addiction
Since ADHD symptoms are due to a deficiency in neurotransmitters, it stands to reason that some of the most well-known ADHD medications aim to stimulate the parts of the brain that produce those neurotransmitters. This is why Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, and other popular ADHD medications are known as stimulants.
The problem is, many of these stimulants are amphetamines or tangentially related substances. Because of that, they can be addictive, particularly when used improperly. That is to say, if a person takes more than their prescribed dose of a stimulant like Adderall, or if someone who has not been diagnosed with ADHD begins taking the medication, then it can be a habit-forming drug.
Of course, this risk doesn’t diminish the efficacy of Adderall (and other medications like it). The vast majority of those diagnosed with ADHD see a practically immediate improvement in their symptoms when they begin taking stimulants.
There is another medication option, though. Non-stimulant ADHD medications aren’t that common, but one of the most popular is Strattera. Strattera is a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), meaning that it works to conserve the same neurotransmitter that other ADHD medications work to stimulate. Aside from Strattera, a few antidepressants and blood pressure medications are sometimes prescribed to help manage ADHD.
So far, these non-stimulants have shown no signs of abuse, and they aren’t classified as controlled substances; unlike amphetamines like Adderall. If a person shows a sharp decrease in appetite, an uptick in sociability, has trouble sleeping, and generally appears to be in a state of unnatural euphoria, there’s a chance that they have begun abusing Adderall or another addictive ADHD medication.
Potentially just as dangerous as an addiction to ADHD medication is the possibility of self-medicating. Those suffering from ADHD are especially prone to self-medicating due to the fact that they are often belittled for their symptoms. Constant lateness, disorganization, and a scattered brain open them up to ridicule, which causes self-esteem to plummet.
In an attempt to soothe these wounds, ADHD sufferers might try to self soothe with substances like drugs and alcohol. These methods do nothing to improve ADHD symptoms and simply slap a bandaid on something that needs more comprehensive treatment.
Given the potential for abusing ADHD medication, many parents and ADHD sufferers themselves prefer to seek more holistic treatment methods.
Comprehensive Approaches to ADHD Treatment
Just as each individual is different, each case of ADHD is different. For this reason, medication alone is sometimes ineffective, just as therapeutic treatments might not offer relief on their own.
For adults and children over six years old, a combination of medication and therapy may be the best course of action for managing ADHD. Family therapy sessions aimed at educating parents and arming children with methods for handling their symptoms can be instrumental in developing effective treatments. Plus, a therapist can work with someone who has ADHD to rebuild their self-confidence, thus minimizing their risk for self-medication or prescription dependency. Quality therapists can also help teach the person effective behavioral therapies that can reduce symptoms.
It’s also important to note that medications haven’t been sufficiently studied for children under six. Because it’s difficult to know precisely what the long-term effects of ADHD medications are on young minds, starting out with therapy and school intervention programs as early as possible can be a parent’s greatest line of defense in curbing ADHD symptoms.
Though it’s an incredibly common diagnosis, many people don’t get the help they need. Mission Harbor behavioral health is here to help—contact us to begin the journey toward a life that’s not dictated by ADHD.
The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.
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