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BrainPhysics poll: ADHD Meds Commonly Used for Recreation


In response to recent headlines regarding the abuse of ADD/ADHD medication, BrainPhysics.com partnered with OpposingViews.com to poll readers about their own use these drugs.

The poll ran on OpposingViews.com from June 7 to June 20, 2012, asking readers, "Have you ever taken ADD medication recreationally?" There were 1,145 responses - 23.9% of respondents said,"Yes," and 76.1% said, "No."

According to a Northwestern Medicine study published in the March/April issue of Academic Pediatrics, ADD/ADHD diagnoses have risen 66 percent over the past decade. A dramatic increase in the nonmedical use of the drugs prescribed to treat the condition has followed.

Some statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services illustrate the problem:

  • Nearly 90% of the full-time college students who had used Adderall nonmedically in the past year also were past month binge alcohol drinkers and more than half were heavy alcohol users.
  • Students under the legal drinking age who used Adderall were also more likely to be binge drinkers or heavy drinkers than their underage counterparts.
  • In the past year, full-time college students who had used Adderall nonmedically in the past year were 8 times more likely to use tranquilizers nonmedically (24.5% vs. 3%)

Given the rising problem of ADD/ADHD medication abuse, are Adderall and similar drugs appropriate treatments? Dr. Cheryl Lane, who spent several years in conducting therapy with children, adolescents, and adults in an Oregon community mental health clinic, takes a cautious approach to the use of ADD medications:

"It's very unfortunate that some ADD medications, like many prescription drugs, are abused when they end up in the wrong hands. However, these medications can be very beneficial for some individuals. That being said, therapy and other non-pharmaceutical approaches should generally be the primary course of treatment for anyone with ADD or ADHD, as these medications do have side effects and their long-term effectiveness is questionable. Due to their high potential for abuse, they should always be prescribed with caution and kept in a locked medicine cabinet or other secure place."

As Dr. Lane suggests, keeping track of medications is important as the supply chain starts with those who have prescriptions. Students sometimes fake having ADD/ADHD to get a prescription or they simply acquire drugs from someone who has a prescription.

Of course it must be remembered that the use of stimulants to boost concentration is not a new phenomenon. However, the widespread distribution of stimulants for medical treatment is somewhat new, at least in scope, and so is the casual use of drugs like Adderall. Once the domain of bikers and thrill seekers, stimulants now appear to be a college town favorite.

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The statistics that are

The statistics that are quoted with respect to "concurrent" alcohol or tranquilizer use must have been included to give the impression that somehow such un-prescribed Adderall use is associated with increased use of alcohol and tranquilizers. Well, really? Cause and effect? Or, all caused by the same thing, some common denominator to all the above?

Well, yes! The last five years of research, building on the previous eight or so years of research, has clearly shown that the common denominator to all those behaviors, illicit (and even non-illicit) use of ADHD medications, increased alcohol tolerance (leading to relatively unimpeded increased alcohol use), and anxiety disorders, are RELATED TO THE COMMON DENOMINATOR of lower than optimal dopamine and norepinephrine function which not only are the major contributors to low working memory (the central problem of the ADD brain), but such sub-optimal dopamine and norepinephrine function are responsible for alcohol and tobacco capabilities.

Just a hint, if you care to know. Dopamine is responsible for the ill effects of alcohol, you know, feeling ill (nausea, vomiting, hangover) and the similar ill effects of tobacco. Those with optimal dopamine function get "sick" before they get out-of-control drunk. Alcohol level in blood (not dopamine) produces drunkeness (you know, cognitive chaos, imbalance, passing out). Those with suboptimal dopamine function are alcohol-capable (there is rarely an "ill effects aversive signalling" -- what I call a physiological speed bump to slow them down). Notoriously, those who fit the criteria for ADD can drink themselves under the table, sometimes, without even getting a hangover. Similarly with tobacco. A huge percentage of dopamine optimized individuals cannot start smoking without feeling sick. Oh, yah, they can push themselves to smoke in spite of the ill feeling, but once they get rid of the ill feeling, they are hooked -- it is called tolerance. Then, they can't stop smoking without feeling ill (withdrawal). Not so with ADDers (or, you could say low dopaminers).

Hopefully, you get my drift. This whole discussion as presented by this author is so unscientific as to be embarrassingly ignorant of the last decade of hundreds of replicated, solid studies of dopamine and norepinephrine function and the relationship of suboptimal functions of these neurotransmitters to low working memory (the low RAM ADD brain), distractibility, impulse control problems, impatience, chronic dread (fairly constant data overload anxiety), forgetfulness, difficulty reading well, chronic insomnia, AND the upside of the ADD brain -- emergency capability and threat tolerance (threat actually treats the low baseline dopamine function of the ADD brain).

The idea that there are hundreds of thousands of undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, untreated and mistreated ADDers in the Western Hemisphere who are clearly the root of the increased use of Adderall, among other dopamine enhancers, seems to have eluded this column's writer, among many, many others. If this was a law journal, I suppose the legal issue would be important, but, fact is, for the most part, such users of "illegal" or "diverted" medications are medically correct.

As for Adderall, I am NO FAN. But that is another, longer story. Adderall -- the poster child for bad science.


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