Prevalence rates for ADHD in children and adolescents have increased exponentially in the recent two decades. In parallel, prescriptions for stimulant medications have become commonplace. What are some possible reasons for the increase in diagnosis? What might some of the negative effects of the increased use of stimulants be, including on both the individual and societal levels? Be sure to address effects of stimulants on the brain. When responding to your peers, think about how stimulants may or may not have affected students in your classes while you were growing up.
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Between 1997 and 2016 there were significant increases in ADHD diagnoses. This is not due to over-diagnosing, but stems from a greater professional awareness of the disorder (Bao, 2019). A negative stigma was associated with ADHD about twenty years ago, where now families are more comfortable seeking a diagnosis and getting treatment for their children. These factors may impact the jump in diagnoses, since perhaps more people now are accepting of learning disorders. It is unclear whether the advances in medicine coupled with the decreased stigma is to fault for the increase, or if it is due in part by children’s unprecedented exposure to screens.
With a wider recognition of ADHD comes more diagnoses, and in turn, more prescriptions to manage the disorder. Finding the correct drug for treatment can be difficult. For instance side-effects from ADHD stimulants can include headaches, decreased appetite, dizziness, irritability, increased blood pressure, and sleep problems (McCarthy at el, 2009). Exposure to stimulant drugs could lead to behavioral, functional, and physiological effects on the brain. Adderall is a commonly prescribed drug to manage ADHD. ADHD stimulants increase levels of two neurotransmitters known as dopamine and norepinephrine. It increases dopamine levels in the brain, which is associated with motivation, pleasure, attention, and movement. This allows one to focus more easily and have a better attention span. High-dose stimulants can cause dramatic spikes in neurotransmitter levels in the brain, which can in turn impair attention and heighten the risk of developing addiction down the road (Lakhan & Kirchgessner 2012). With that said, children who were prescribed psychotropic medications can be faced with neurological deficits by relying on the chemicals in the medication to calm their symptoms. ADHD medication affects the prefrontal cortex (and other subcortical structures) in which dopamine plays a role. Other parts of the brain that are effected include those areas that are responsible for appetite regulation and sleep hormones such as melatonin production (Barbaresi et al., 2013).
A generation of medicated kids could lead to a generation of addicted, drug-dependent (both legal prescription and illegal recreational drugs) adults. Even today, I am noticing young adults search for answers in a “magic pill” and think that medicating is the answer for everything. The social impact could be dramatic, and could cause a dependency on pharmaceuticals.
Bao, A. (2019). Is there an Increase in ADHD? Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Accessed from: https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/is-there-an-increase-in-adhd/
Barbaresi W.J., Colligan R. C., Weaver A.L., Voigt R.G., Killian J.M., Katusic S.K. (2013). Mortality, adhd, and psychosocial adversity in adults with childhood adhd: A prospective study. Pediatrics 131(4), 637-644.
McCarthy, S., Cranswick, N., Potts, L., Taylor, E. & Wong, E. (2009). Mortality Associated with AttentionDeficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Drug Treatment.
Lakhan, S. E., & Kirchgessner, A. (2012). Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects. Brain and behavior, 2(5), 661–677. https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.78
Hicks (2013) states the increase of ADHD diagnosis could be a combination of overdiagnosis, the pressure from parents and teachers to find something that will magically help kids perform better in school. Another reason could be that kids are spending more time watching TV, playing video games and on their phones rather than going outside and playing. Sleep deprivation and poor sleep habits could be another cause.
Stimulant medication for ADHD changes the dopamine level in the brain. It is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for attention and focus. The stimulants help increase the dopamine in the brain to the best possible level. The stimulant stops the dopamine transporter, which is what removes the dopamine signals from the neural pathway.
If a child’s personality and behavior could change. The child may feel numb or over-sedated, tearful or irritable; the child may have to try a different medication or treatment. Wang et al. (2013) conducted a study where they compared the brains of children with ADHD before and after years of stimulant medications. The results showed an increase in the intensity of dopamine transporters; suggesting that the stimulant medications may have tricked the brain to produce more dopamine transmitters to clear it away.
Hicks, M. (2013). Why the increase in ADHD? PsychologyToday. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/digital-pandemic/201308/why-the-increase-in-adhd
Wang et al. (2013). Long-term stimulant treatment affects brain dopamine transporter level in patients with attention deficit hyperactive disorder. PLOS ONE. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0063023
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