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Attention! Medication is not the only answer

Ben Westscott, Staff Writer

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“Just take a pill. It will solve your problems.” Perpetual modernization in science and technology allows us as a society to understand, develop and treat mental disorders more prominently than ever before. The most common mental disorders, including depression and anxiety disorders, can be most effectively treated using both psychotherapy and medication. More recently, increased diagnosis of attention deficit disorders especially in children and teens, has led to the research, development and distribution of medication for its treatment. Although medication, especially in dire circumstances, can help to drastically improve one’s mental state, using them as a sole treatment may cause more problems than they solve.

As cases of attention deficit disorders rise in the United States each year, it is becoming more of a problem in children and teens aged four to seventeen. In 2016, about one in ten children in the United States are born with or have developed an attention deficit disorder. Like most other mental disorders, ADD and ADHD are primarily caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters. Decreased amounts of norepinephrine and dopamine, both linked to thinking and cognition, seem to be the main cause of attention deficit disorders. As of now, the most popular family of ADD and ADHD drugs are stimulants that work to boost levels of neurotransmitter production and activity within the brain, especially dopamine. Stimulants boost dopamine levels which in turn rewards the user with  a higher “pay out” for their actions. Adderall, one of the most widely used ADD and ADHD medication is classified as an amphetamine salt which acts similarly on the brain as methamphetamine. Although Adderall is extremely effective in mitigating attention deficit symptoms, there is a increasing popularity for its recreational use and has a high addiction risk.

As a high school student with attention deficit disorder, I have learned the advantages and disadvantages of taking stimulants to slake my wandering mind. Taking adderall daily definitely displays its effects when I’m on it and also when I’m not. Adderall is known to cause changes in emotion, an increased heart rate, and weight loss which is attributed to a lack of appetite over long periods of use. When I ask myself if I should have been medicated in the first place, I find it hard to answer. Looking in the short term, medication has drastically improved my grades and willingness to complete more attention demanding tasks. When I consider my future, I do not want to be relying on a medication through college and beyond because my problem will never actually be solved, just masked by unnatural means. Medicating a problem without fixing it is like a dirty bedroom. It gets dirtier and smellier but instead of fixing the problem, you just push all your crap under your bed and spray Febreeze to make your mom happy. Eventually, you’re going to run into a problem where this no longer works. In terms of medication, especially stimulants, it’s in the form of a tolerance.

The first time you take a drug like Adderall, you immediately build a tolerance to it. After taking it habitually day after day, you notice a significant drop in its effects. Instead of breaking the tolerance, you may decide to start taking more than what’s prescribed to you. After continually increasing your dose, you realize you’ve run out a month before a scheduled refill. Now that you don’t have any left, you notice that it is very hard to be the slightest bit functional without it. At this point, you might have the strength to fight through the addiction, or you don’t. Instead, you may consider looking for illicit means of getting your medication. This means that your own addiction has outweighed your sense of right and wrong. You’re thinking “It doesn’t matter the risk, I need this to be able to function.” You might have a friend thats willing sell you medication, or you find an illegitimate seller that could be cutting your medication with dangerous substances to make a higher profit.

In terms of ADD and ADHD medication, situations like these do not usually get this extreme. Although non addictive forms of attention deficit medication do exist, they prove to be less effective than addictive ones because stimulants are much more effective in treating ADD and ADHD than non-stimulants. Other than attention deficit medication, situations like these can be very common. For example, some anxiety disorders are treated with benzodiazepines like Alprazolam, commonly known as Xanax, which is highly addictive. Its favorable calming effect is highly effective in treating anxiety disorders and has a large influence among recreational drug users.

So when I question whether medication was worth it, I like to answer in two parts. First, Adderall has allowed me to feel as if I actually went to school and learned something. I take away much more from my day than simply being able to reflect on what I had at lunch. Second, I would say Adderall has provided me with an outlet to forget about my problem and go about my life as if it did not exist. This worked for a while until I began to notice that Adderall was doing absolutely nothing to actually solve my problem. This is where I noticed the most impactful side effect of my medication. After about five hours, when the drug’s effect had worn off, I would lose all the motivation I had even before I had ever taken the drug in the first place. This lack of motivation lasts until the next morning when I take another pill. I only got a handful of hours in the day where I was actually motivated to get my work done. Fortunately, I was able to break this cycle by getting more sleep and reducing the amount of time that I spend on a screen.

When your parent says “those screens aren’t good for you,” she might be right. Although there is not a direct cause effect relationship between too much screen time, especially in kids and developing teens and the development of attention deficit disorders, it seems highly plausible. The majority of pleasure that kids and teens get from screens is in the form of fast paced content that requires minute levels of focus. For example, most people can scroll through and process at least twenty different Instagram posts in the span of a minute. This could be causing chemical imbalances within the brain than that favors this type of content over much more focus intensive content like reading a book.

All in all, I believe that medication should be used to treat attention deficit disorders. That being said, one must understand the potential risks involved in frequently taking medication. They also must understand that ADD and ADHD drugs aren’t going to indefinitely solve the problem. It is up to the individual themselves to recognize and take consistent steps towards improving their condition.

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Attention! Medication is not the only answer