Written By:Amber Hollingsworth,LPC

Addiction and ADD seem to be like best friends. A very large number of adults and adolescents we treat for addiction also have ADHD. Sometimes, this has already been diagnosed before they come to us and sometimes we diagnose it after the fact.

I often get asked about medicating children for ADHD because parents are afraid that being on the medication will cause them to develop an addiction to the medication. Actually, the research shows that if a person does have ADHD, then getting proper treatment early can reduce the chance of developing an addiction. There are many reasons for this, but here are just a few of them:

1. ADD and addiction are both disease of inconsistent dopamine regulation in the brain. This means that people with ADHD are prone to “self-medicate” this dopamine problem with certain behaviors (ie: adrenaline seeking) and other chemicals (like alcohol, opiates, and marijuana).

2. Kids with ADHD are more likely to have difficulty socially and as teenagers, they will often be desperate to have friends. Since ADHD kids have difficulty keeping friends (sometimes), they may choose to pick a group of peers that are pretty easy to “fit in with.” You can fit in with kids that use drugs if you use drugs. That is pretty much the only criteria to fit into this social group. You can get instant acceptance!

3.  Individuals with ADHD are more likely to also struggle with depression or anxiety. This compounds the likelihood that they may turn to drugs/alcohol as a solution.

People sometimes ask me, “Why do some people get addicted and not others?” One thing that makes a difference is whether or not the person also has depression, anxiety, or ADHD. If they have these things going on, they are a lot more likely than others to move into addictive cycles.

Often when we identify co-occurring ADHD in our clients, we will refer them to Greenville ADHD. Dr. Shelia Woods and Dr. Heather Brannon are specialists and they do a great job of testing, evaluating options, and treating individuals who are struggling with ADHD.

Dr. Shelia Woods was kind enough to share this with us.  It is a list of the most common questions/answers she gets from parents.

The following was written by Shelia Woods, PA

Should I Treat My Child’s ADHD During Summer Break?

YES. Why? ADHD involves many aspects of a person’s life in addition to the core symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Not all people with ADHD have all core symptoms and many people have additional symptoms. ADHD symptoms are correlated with out-of-balance brain chemistry, and when brain chemistry is more balanced through appropriate medication treatment, your child’s daily functioning is significantly improved. This means better decision making, fewer frustrations and fewer meltdowns, improved and more efficient thinking skills, and better sleep. Yes, poor sleep is also a part of ADHD in children and adults. Overall, appropriate treatment helps your child’s brain. Many children will ask for their ADHD medication on weekends, holidays, and summer breaks because they feel better when their brain feels better.

But I Thought ADHD Was Just A “School Disorder”?

NO. Why not? ADHD is the result of decreased levels of neurotransmitters, the chemicals sending messages through the brain. In addition, different pathways in the brain are affected. For each person, this can mean any combination of core symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity plus poor executive function skills such as time management, planning, prioritizing, decision making, self-regulation, and others. Deficiencies in these skills impact everyday life not just school day life. ADHD treatment can definitely help improve school performance and treatment really helps life performance. ADHD is NOT a “behavior” disorder that can be “whipped” into shape. It is a neurologic disorder. Children, teens, and adults cannot just “control” it any more than a person can just “control” their poor vision when they need glasses. Do you only allow your child to wear glasses during the school year?

Should I Have My Child Evaluated for ADHD Even Though It Is Summer?

YES. Why? The appropriate diagnosis and treatment of ADHD are helpful at any time in a child’s life. Diagnosis needs to be subjective and objective. Subjective assessments include a parent and teacher (can be a tutor, babysitter/nanny, summer camp leader, daycare teacher, Sunday school teacher, and others) answering specific questions about attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Objective assessments include the child’s performance on a 15-20 minute computer-based test that measures motion down to a millimeter and measures attention and impulsivity based on clicking or not clicking a button for a correct/incorrect target. This objective test, Qbtest, is only available in upstate South Carolina at Greenville ADHD Specialists. Once the diagnosis is made, all options for treatment are explained. If medication is appropriate for your child, you and your doctor will work together to adjust the dosage of medication since most ADHD medications are NOT based on weight but are based on improvements in function. Sometimes, different medications are tried before the right one is found for your child. This process can take time, and having your child functioning well during summer and when starting school is essential.

Does untreated ADHD affect my child?

YES. How? As children grow and realize they are unable to function as well as their peers, self-esteem begins to decline. This “unable to function as well as their peers” affects every aspect of the child’s life including the ability to regulate emotions, develop and maintain friendships, to learn different sports and follow instructions of coaches, to show their intelligence in school, and the ability to make good decisions on a day-to-day basis. Some children grow very discouraged thinking they are “inadequate” “stupid” or “lazy.” Some children grow very angry and oppositional. Some children grow very sad and depressed. When middle school age approaches and opinions of peers become more important to your budding teenager, undiagnosed and/or untreated ADHD can often lead to significant emotional distress. Your child/teen does not understand why he/she feels so bad, so angry, and so inadequate compared to friends. It is important to recognize these symptoms and have your child/teen evaluated to prevent further emotional distress. Treating ADHD leads to lower chances of your child dropping out of school or repeating a grade/class, fewer high-risk behaviors including motor vehicle accidents and speeding tickets, and less chance of involvement in the juvenile justice or court systems.

Do ADHD medications lead to substance abuse?

NO. Why? In fact, the opposite is true. Most ADHD people describe the feeling of their brain being “scattered” “racing” “jumping around” “unable to follow a thought.” These feelings lead to searching for ways to bring calm to the brain and often leads to the misuse and abuse of substances such as alcohol, marijuana, and other illegal substances. The risk of substance abuse quadruples in UNTREATED young people with ADHD. Would it be better to diagnose and treat ADHD with monitored dosages of medications OR allow the young person you love to self-medicate with much higher, more harmful, and illegal substances?

Do ADHD medications cause long-term harm?

NO. Why? The majority of ADHD medications are only in the body for a certain number of hours and do NOT accumulate in body tissues, brain tissues, or any organs. In fact, ADHD medications are some of the safest medications because they do leave the body every single day. This also explains why medications should be taken every day since brain chemistry is only balanced while the medication is traveling through the bloodstream.

Do ADHD medications have side effects?

YES. Side effects vary and usually disappear if medication is taken every single day.

If you are interested in working with Dr. Shelia Woods or Dr. Heather Brannon, visit their website.

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