Stimulants and Adult ADHD: What You Need to Know
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is the root of many debates ranging from whether it really exists to how to treat it -- if at all. Current public perceptions indicate that ADHD is over-medicated and over-diagnosed, and despite several studies that find the opposite of these beliefs, many people still hold onto these ideas.
Where Does ADHD Come From?
Scientists still aren’t certain what causes ADHD; although, current evidence points toward a genetic cause. Evidence also seems to rule out causes such as watching too much television, eating too much sugar, or instability during childhood. That’s not to say that these factors do not aggravate symptoms of adult ADHD; it only means that they are not likely to cause it.
For the most part, scientists are beginning to view ADHD as a condition that arises from differences in the brain structure development that may or may not be related to chemical differences, particularly a lack of the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine plays a vital role in motor control, attention and focus, motivation, and reward to name just a few. Basically, what we are left with is the idea that ADHD can arise when the brain structure is affected by the lack of dopamine – and symptoms such as problems with attention follow.
Treating Adult ADHD with Stimulants
Understanding why and how ADHD comes about is key to “treating” it or coping with symptoms. Currently, it's treated with ADHD medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. Many people swear by natural remedies and diet restrictions, but studies are limited on their success.
Prescribing medications, particularly stimulants, often leads to controversy.
In my experience, this controversy is fueled by a misunderstanding of the medication’s purpose. Our science has advanced our knowledge and expectations. We now find it harder to fathom that there is nothing we cannot fix without a pill, thus we expect pills to cure us. In reality, medication is merely a tool in our toolbox of health. We run into problems when we misuse the tools or mistake them for the answer to our problems.
Shouldn’t Stimulants “Amp up” Someone With ADHD?
Stimulant medications, such as Adderall, have different effects on the brain of someone diagnosed with ADHD. The medication increases the amount of dopamine available to the brain, which functions in attention and focus. The result is, in effect, an increase in calm and focus. This is the opposite of what one expects to see. However, individuals who already have properly functioning dopamine levels in their brain see the expected effects of hyperactivity, euphoria, and aggression.
Too much dopamine results in psychosis, hearing and seeing things that others cannot, and plays a role in mental disorders such as schizophrenia. That's why someone who takes stimulants, like Adderall, and does not have ADHD (and the presumed lack of dopamine already) can appear to have a mental disorder. Parkinson’s disease is another condition that is associated with a progressive loss of dopamine producing cells in the brain resulting is a chronic lack of dopamine which in turn results in motor dysfunction, depression, and dementia. Interestingly, when it comes to motor coordination, too little and too much dopamine have similar effects, namely, abnormal motor control seen as an inability to move or hold still.
It’s fascinating what simple chemistry means to the brain and how we function. It’s also complicated. My explanation here is bare bones, but I hope it serves to bring some understanding to how stimulant medication helps ADHD symptoms.
Durham, J. (2014, September 17). Stimulants and Adult ADHD: What You Need to Know, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingwithadultadhd/2014/09/what-you-need-to-know-about-stimulants-and-adult-adhd
Author: Jimmy Durham
A minority refuse to see ADHD for what it is and many of them are as condescending, rude and hostile as any group of zealots around. They haven't a clue. They have no idea what they are talking about, I promise.
This has caused my loved one to fall through the cracks and is in dire need of help. The bureaucracy and red tape has caused great stress, with worsening symptoms, he can't organize himself to seek help without catastrophizing the outcome. Do you have any suggestions on how I can help?