Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder beginning in childhood which is characterized by hyperactivity, inattention and impulsive actions.
Treatments are available, but involve the use of strong medications which need careful monitoring and oversight. Over the past few years, there has been increasing concern that the medications are being used inappropriately by teenagers in order to improve their academic performance even in the absence of a diagnosis of ADHD.
In its June 11, 2012 edition, the New York Times focused on this problem of increasing concern in an article titled “Risky Rise of the Good Grade Pill."
Concern regarding a possible diagnosis of ADHD may be raised by parents or teachers who notice one or more of the classic symptoms. Hyperactivity is usually observed in the pre-school years and consists of excessive fidgetiness, difficulty staying still, and the need for a child to constantly be running and moving.
By adolescence, these symptoms may no longer be overt or external, but rather be characterized by a mind which is restless and unable to concentrate. Impulsive behavior is seen when children cannot wait their turn, interrupt friends or classmates, or blurt out answers. Inattention may involve poor concentration, underperformance at school, or poor attention to detail.
Any parent who reviews these symptoms is likely to say that their children suffer from one or all three!! In this lies one of the challenges; symptoms need to be persistent and prevalent, and interfere with the child’s functioning and well-being, in order to lead to a diagnosis. The evaluation of a child in whom there is a concern for ADHD is complex, and often requires multiple office visits and specialty referral.
The first medication option is usually from the category of “stimulants”. In the properly selected patient, and with careful physician oversight and titration, the medications can be of great help to children, improving school performance and peer interaction. However, improperly used and without medical supervision, these medications carry a high risk of addiction.
Unfortunately, as the NY Times reported in its story, the word is out among high school and college students that these medications can improve focus, enhance memory and lead to better grades. As many as 15 to 40 percent of high achieving students have reported using these drugs, without regard to their serious and even life threatening side effects.
As parents and community leaders it is important to make sure our children and students know that these medications are not simply “super vitamins”, but are dangerous and addictive if used incorrectly. If there is a concern about ADHD as a diagnosis, or about a connection between behavioral issues and school grades, your child should be seen by his/her pediatrician for a full evaluation.
And, in the pressure filled world in which our children are growing up, they need to understand happiness and fulfillment do not require straight A’s and academic perfection, but rather doing their best and in taking pride in their efforts.