Prescription Drug Abuse in Adults with Misdiagnosed ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral condition involving inappropriate hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. It differs from basic immaturity in that it causes functional impairment in normal daily activities.

ADHD usually begins in childhood and often continues into adulthood, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it is the most commonly diagnosed neurobehavioral disorder among children. Many people in the medical community believe that rampant misdiagnosis occurs due to the similarities between ADHD symptoms and many common childhood behaviors.

ADHD is commonly treated with Ritalin, Adderall and other prescription amphetamines, which are all addictive substances. This makes it possible for a misdiagnosed ADHD patient to develop an amphetamine addiction.

ADHD Statistics

The incredible rate at which children are now said to have ADHD has caused concern about over-diagnosis. Several statistics highlight the rise including the following:

  • Eleven percent of children age 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD according to Time Magazine in 2013.
  • The CDC noted a 21.8% increase in diagnosis between 2003 and 2007 while Time cited a 16% increase since 2007.
  • Another 2013 Time article noted that diagnosis rates are highest for wealthier white children who traditionally fare best on most health measurements.
  • Michigan State University study published in 2010 suggested that nearly a million children are potentially misdiagnosed with ADHD.

Several factors can play a role in misdiagnosis. Simply being the youngest student in a classroom can make a child seem hyperactive and inattentive while zeal to see a child succeed at school can motivate parents to pressure a doctor to prescribe prescription stimulants. More than one in 10 school children have an ADHD diagnosis, and among those who were misdiagnosed, taking prescription drugs involves unnecessary health and addiction risks.

Amphetamine Use Risks

Prescription amphetamines are often taken illicitly by people seeking to gain an academic or athletic advantage, to lose weight, or simply to get high. Whether taken for recreational and medical reasons, amphetamine use can result in numerous health risks including the following:

  • University of Buffalo researchers published findings in 2001 that suggest Ritalin can cause long-term neural changes.
  • A 2003 Harvard Gazette article argued that childhood Ritalin use may lead to depression in adults.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted in 2007 that prescription stimulants can cause paranoia, mania and schizophrenic symptoms.
  • Potential side effects for amphetamine abuse include insomnia, seizures, anxiety, heart palpitations, eyesight changes and overdose.

Highlighting the potential risks the government classified prescription stimulants as a Schedule II controlled substance, a designation shared with cocaine, crystal meth, opium, oxycodone and bath salts. Per the government’s Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report, prescription stimulants accounted for nearly four percent of all drug-related medical emergencies in 2011.

Adult Prescription Amphetamine Abuse

According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, prescription stimulants have the youngest average initiation age for nonmedical use out of all psychotherapeutic drugs. Stimulant abuse starts on average at age 22.1, while the average age is 22.3 for pain relievers and 26.2 for sedatives.

Several factors may play a role in initiating nonmedical drug use including the following:

  • Taking stimulants for ADHD often marks a child’s first use of potentially addictive drugs.
  • The abundance of diagnosis and prescriptions contribute to greater stimulant availability.
  • Stimulant-related dopamine spikes in young minds can impact neural development.

Furthermore stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall are chemically similar to illicit drugs like cocaine and crystal meth, and misdiagnosed healthy children may develop a psychological and neurobiological taste for amphetamines.

Comprehensive Rehabilitation Treatment

Childhood amphetamine use can lead to mental health and addiction problems during adulthood, but treatment centers can help. Comprehensive care includes several potential treatments including the following:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to identify and treat maladaptive thought patterns
  • Relapse-prevention tools to avoid and neutralize cues that trigger drug cravings
  • Motivational interviewing (MI) to help apathetic patients find personal reasons to change
  • Individual and group therapies to share experiences, emotions and support
  • Psychotherapies to address unresolved trauma and deeper emotional issues
  • Life skills therapies to improve coping mechanisms and conflict resolution
  • Holistic options to promote overall wellness, attitude and health

While there may be significant misdiagnosis, some people do suffer serious ADHD problems. Moreover, according to Harvard Medical School in 2004, studies suggest that 65 percent of ADHD-afflicted individuals also suffer from other psychiatric issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar and conduct disorders. Since addressing all co-occurring disorders is important for a lasting recovery, rehabilitation centers also provide integrated treatment for ADHD and all other mental illness.

Recovery Help

Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day if you or loved one struggles with substance abuse or mental health issues. Our admissions coordinators can answer any questions, explain the treatment process and recommend facilities. We can also check health insurance policies for specific rehabilitation benefits. Help is available, so please call 678-251-3189 now.

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