Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a life-long genetic condition that involves difficulty with attention and tendency for hyperactivity and impulsivity. Diagnosing ADHD can be challenging for clinicians. Children with ADHD are often wrongly labeled as troublemakers or problem children due to the undisciplined behaviors they display, and sometimes diagnosis doesn’t take place until the teens or even 20s.
ADHD shares components with various other disorders including bipolar, eating and substance use disorders – many of which have been addressed in previous blogs.
The inattentive aspect of this disease refers to behaviors that involve overlooking or missing details that lead to careless mistakes in schoolwork and may involve procrastinating, roving off task and an inability to maintain focus for extended periods of time. The inattentive facet often is misinterpreted for defiance, lack of intelligence, or inability to comprehend certain subjects at school.
This feature of attention deficit involves constant movement, fidgeting, tapping or noise making that occurs in situations or environments where it is inappropriate. Behaviors in school often present as an inability to sit down, talking non-stop, squirming, or interrupting others during conversations, games or activities.
Impulsiveness involves hasty decision-making on a whim, and includes behaviors that can be characterized by little or no forethought, reflection or regard for the consequences. An impulsive person may be socially intrusive or make important decisions without considering the long-term consequences. These actions stem from the desire for instant gratification and an inability to make choices that can potentially result in delayed rewards or gratification.
Three times as many males suffer from ADHD than females, with the average onset at just 7 years old. However, researchers believe that the signs of ADHD are more prominent in males, so their parents may be more likely to have them clinically assessed, which in turns leads to more documented diagnoses. That’s not to say adults are not affected – 5% of all adults over 18 receive ADHD treatment, many of whom are prescribed powerful medications classified as amphetamines.
What are amphetamines?
You’ve probably heard of Adderall, an amphetamine that stimulates the central nervous system which helps individuals focus by altering the biochemistry of the brain. This is the most commonly prescribed medication for ADHD. Amphetamines are effective in managing the symptoms of ADHD with a 59% success rate among patients. However, there are many dangers and side effects associated with the drug, including loss of appetite (and subsequent weight loss), headache, irregular heartbeat, panic attacks, psychosis and even acute coronary events.
Adderall is a controlled substance that has the potential to induce an altered mental status, making it attractive for recreational use by individuals who seek a drug-induced dopamine high. When patients discontinue Adderall they often experience a rebound of symptoms that were present before induction. Other examples of medications that can treat ADHD include Concerta and Vyvanse.
A diagnosis of ADHD requires a thorough clinical evaluation by an accredited healthcare provider. After diagnosis the patient can work with the clinician to make a multi-factorial plan to manage symptoms and get the patient back to a productive lifestyle.