What you should know about stimulant addiction

The answer to this question may surprise you. Dr. Michael O’Leary, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health. Here, he expands on what kind of stimulant addiction is treatable, and explains what could be done to educate the public on how and why to say no.

There are about 3 to 4 times more ADHD and other ADHD similar stimulant stimulators like Ritalin than there are alcohol or illicit drug users. Yet there are about 1 million stimulant stimulant users in the US. Why the difference in treatment?

A person with drug and alcohol addiction has a major control system that aids him in solving problems and decisions in a complex world and that is probably missing in people with drug and alcohol abuse. In terms of stimulant stimulant addiction, what causes the immediate reward and makes people want it is loss of control in the short term, as opposed to addiction to alcohol and illicit drugs, which is constant.

You have a particular difficulty in distinguishing stimulant or addictive. Since, because of that, we often diagnose in children not the nature of the substance but the ultimate addictive process and the risks of exposure or abuse. I would use Ritalin for example. It was originally on the market for ADHD but is known for its other effects like memory and attention.

If stimulant help the development of learning, problem solving and concentration, then you have to ask the question, “What drives the addiction?” The stimulant itself is less than 10 percent of the problem in most cases, 80 percent is the underlying underlying emotional and mental functioning of that child.

If you see that they are impulsive in thinking, they are selective in what they pay attention to and they have trouble discriminating between acceptable and inappropriate behavior, that is the problem. So in general, it’s not about the drug itself but about the emotional dysfunction and thought process of the child and the child’s environment.

The other thing you have to ask is, “If we could reverse or remove the drug, would it have any significant impact?” If someone were addicted to morphine, that drug and the product it causes may be important, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the actual medical need. When you hear the term “addiction,” it’s not just the substance, it’s the biological dysfunction.

The consequences of stimulant abuse are far more profound for adolescents than adults. The use of stimulants increases testosterone and alters the whole physiological and psychological system in the adolescent. That is what causes that internal cascade of addiction. It’s a unique challenge to talk about this among adolescents and their parents in the past that it’s not just the drug, it’s the whole life system.

But part of what makes this more threatening is that it’s also self-medication. Over time, children begin to associate their ADHD symptoms with the sensation of using drugs and especially by taking stimulants. That’s all very worrisome, but now we recognize that a lot of parents are using stimulants to help their children. There is an increased comfort level about taking these drugs.

A mother who took Ritalin when her child got into a fight at school may have been riding on the bandwagon. But really, more than a decade later, they are not facing the repercussions for that. This is another circumstance to talk about what is more dangerous in terms of consequences of the adolescent life systems.

– By Mike Viqueira, CNN

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