Over 6.4 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD. The number of kids on ADHD drugs continues to rise, along with the number of young adultsand adults who now take prescription drugs like Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta for the condition.
“Prescriptions for these stimulants are on the rise, meaning millions of people now have easy access to these medications, either via their own prescriptions or those of friends and family,” says addiction treatment specialist and drug expert Koorosh Rassekh, MMFT.
Sadly, research has shown that ‘drug-sharing’ among young people is common, especially on college campuses where drugs like Ritalin are used as a study aid.
Now, a new study has found that abuse of these drugs can lead to permanent structural changes in the brain.
“Researchers discovered that chronic abuse of stimulants like Ritalin and Vyvanse can lead to potentially permanent inflammation in the brain,” says Rassekh, who is the founder of Evo Health and Wellness, a mental health recovery center in Venice, California. “Areas of the brain which are responsible for motivation were discovered to be structurally impacted even after students ceased taking the drug. In other words, abusing these so-called ‘study drugs’ can harm young people long into the future.”
The results, which were published in the current issue of Journal of Neural Transmission, speak to a larger issue about drug abuse in this country.
“It’s important for parents to be aware of the growing risks which can be associated with these drugs,” says Rassekh. “Even if your child is not prescribed ADHD medication, they more than likely will know several children who have. They will probably attend parties or live on college campuses where abuse of Ritalin and other such drugs is common. And yet, when we talk about drug abuse with our kids, we focus on things like street drugs, rather than the very real threat right in front of them.”
Rasskeh says parents need to help kids understand that abusing such medication can lead to long-term side-effects as demonstrated by this study. He also points to previous research which has shown that abusing ADHD medication is actually not useful as a study aid.
“Not only can abusing these stimulants have a long-term impact on their brain, but studies have shown that if you don’t have ADHD, then these medications are actually not useful in helping your ability to study or perform at school,” says the addiction expert.
“In fact,” says the founder of Evo Health and Wellness, “It may do just the opposite. Abusing these drugs can actually impair your brain’s ability to function and your ability to memorize and retain information.”
All in all, Koorosh Rassekh, MFMT, says “These drugs are seriously powerful and yet due to the ever-growing number of kids who are being prescribed these stimulants, we have a generation of children who are taking a completely casual attitude towards these prescriptions. They see them as a harmless way to improve grades or as a party drug, rather than as a drug which can change the way their brain works forever. As medical professionals, parents and educators, we need to do better in educating our kids to make smart choices.”