Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, has been diagnosed in approximately 11 percent of children in the 4 to 17 age range. That is approximately 6.4 million children. Adults can have ADHD too, with an estimated 4 percent to 5 percent of adults in the United States being affected.
The standard treatment of ADHD is the prescription of stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall . In people with ADHD, stimulants increase the release of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, block how much of these neurotransmitters are reabsorbed, or both. The result is more dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.
When sufficient levels of these neurotransmitters exist in the brain, they can attach securely to receptors in the brain made specifically for them, similarly to how a key fits into a lock. When this happens, electrical impulses in the brain flow better. Dopamine and norepinephrine are especially effective in boosting function of the parts of the brain that deal with attention.
Unmedicated ADHD and Addiction
Many adults with ADHD have never been diagnosed with it, and receive no treatment. Unfortunately, many of these adults attempt to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. People with untreated ADHD are at greater risk for substance abuse and addiction than the general population. Not only are adults with untreated ADHD at greater risk for substance abuse, they are more likely to report psychological issues like anxiety, depression, and relationship problems.
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How Can an Addictive Stimulant Prevent Drug Abuse and Addiction?
Paradoxically, medically supervised treatment of ADHD with stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, which themselves can be addictive, can prevent people with ADHD from developing drug abuse and addiction problems. The key is that ADHD must be managed with the help of a doctor who understands the disorder and how stimulants work.
Unfortunately, the very stimulants that can help someone with ADHD function well are popular as street drugs, and are frequently abused on college campuses by students coping with demanding workloads. In these scenarios, dependency on stimulants can be the result, and it can require help to overcome. In other words, ADHD must be medically managed with care, lest the treatment itself become an addiction.
A Recent American Study
The great news is that people who manage ADHD properly, under medical supervision, are actually less likely to develop a drug abuse and addiction problem. An analysis of healthcare data on 146 million people with employer-based insurance in the United States over a period of 10 years found that, in people who spent periods of time on and off ADHD medications, the chance of them making an emergency room visit due to drug or alcohol use was higher during periods when they were not taking ADHD medications.
In men managing ADHD with mediation, the risk of drug abuse and addiction was 35 percent lower than in men not taking it. Among women, the risk was 31 percent lower. Careful diagnosis and compliance with ADHD treatment can prevent much bigger problems.
A Study of ADHD Medication in Sweden
A similar type of study was conducted in Sweden and published in 2014 with results that were corroborated by the American study. The Swedish study, which used national health registers of 26,249 men and 12,504 women born between 1960 and 1998, found that ADHD medication was not associated with higher risk of substance abuse. Furthermore, the study found that the longer the duration of compliance with ADHD treatment, the lower the rate of drug abuse and addiction.
The stimulants used to treat ADHD can be misused and can lead to drug abuse and addiction problems themselves. However, when they are used as part of a supervised treatment plan and taken as directed, they not only help people cope effectively with ADHD, they may actually reduce their risk of substance abuse. Many adults have ADHD and do not realize it, and when they turn to self-medicating to control their symptoms, they are more likely to slip into drug abuse and addiction. Treating ADHD may involve the use of drugs with potential for abuse, but when the drugs are taken as directed, they may actually offer a protective effect against addiction.
Many choices and paths in life can lead to drug abuse and addiction, regardless of a person’s success, health, or happiness. Drug addiction is a disease and must be managed accordingly. If you believe that you or someone you love is caught up in drug abuse and addiction, we encourage you to contact us at any time to discuss how to begin your path toward recovery.
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