ADHD medication can hold promise, for those times when life becomes too difficult or when we don’t know what to do to release the pressure. But before welcoming these mind-altering visitors into our system, it seems prudent to give them a thorough check up. After all, you wouldn’t let a perfect stranger waltz into your home and make himself comfortable, would you?
How does ADHD medication work?
Medication for ADHD increases the availability of certain neurotransmitters to the brain and nervous system. Neurotransmitters are chemical ‘messengers’ used by the body to communicate information along the nervous system’s myriad pathways. When these messengers are released between two cells, they transfer information – as impulses – from one cell to the next. This action is referred to as a chemical synapse.
Information can be transferred between two nerve cells (neurons) as well as between nerve cells and other non-neuronal cells such as muscle or gland cells. Once the message has been passed along, there is a neurotransmitter ‘residue’ that remains stuck between the cells that requires reabsorption into the system; this is called ‘re-uptake.’
When we take medication like Ritalin or Concerta , it quickly gets absorbed into the bloodstream. It finds its way into the nervous system and immediately starts rearranging our biochemistry. it does this by blocking the re-uptake of neurotransmitters from the space (synaptic cleft) between two communicating cells, flooding it with more neurotransmitters in the process.
The primary neurotransmitters boosted by ADHD medications are:
dopamine: governs motivation and reward
serotonin: creates a sense of well being and happiness
norepinephrine: stimulates attention and responsivenes
More motivation? A sense of well-being? A longer attention span? Great! All these things sound pretty appealing to any ADHD-er. Short term side effects notwithstanding, drugs can definitely help you cope with difficult situations as they arise. But what about the long term side effects?
The Basic Building Blocks of ADHD Medication
ADHD medications are powerful stimulants loosely comparable to mild doses of cocaine and speed. It is known that even casual use of these chemicals can impair the brain and cause irreversible damage to the central nervous system as well as the liver, intestines, heart and lungs. Besides the euphoric feeling it delivers, cocaine also increases the chance of heart attack, stroke and a myriad of other physical problems.
So what are the side-effects of ADHD medication considering the fact that we take them in lower doses but for a longer period of time? A variety of recent studies hint that stimulants could alter the structure and function of the brain in ways that depress mood, boost anxiety and – in sharp contrast to their short-term effects – lead to cognitive deficits.
How does our brain adapt to ADHD medications?
Initially, medication for ADHD artificially increases the amount of dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the ADHD brain, but over time the brain adapts to this increase. As a result, it slows down its own dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine production.
This is why taking medication for ADHD often doesn’t provide the same effects over time, and why we can really feel down coming off of them. Essentially, the body has compromised its own chemical production as an adaptive strategy in the presence of the medications’ re-uptake inhibitors.
In time, this not only effects mood and productivity, it affects our nervous system on every level: basic functions like hydration, the renewal and nutrition of our cells, respiration and much more are compromised. All the cells in the body are interconnected so we cannot alter one group without affecting the rest. In essence, the process of the body adapting ADHD meds may cause slow but very real damage to the entire nervous system.
There’s no doubt that health care professionals are doing their utmost to help people with ADHD. They are simply employing the knowledge at their disposal. However, more and more research is revealing the potential dangers of long-term use of ADHD medication. Therefore, we may need to exercise caution, especially in the case of children. Consider this info before taking medication for ADHD or administering it to your child.
There are alternatives for those who wish to take another route. As research broadens, alternative means of achieving a more integrated, healthy and happy lifestyle without the use of medication become apparent. Although these alternatives are not a quick fix – like taking a pill – they may prove to be healthier and more effective considering the long haul.