Need to Know: The Pros & Cons of ADD/ADHD Meds

You can probably think of at least two people in your life who have been diagnosed with ADHD–attention deficit hyperactivity discover. The truth is, ADD/ADHD is becoming more and more common, especially for young women. While there are many theories as to why, a big discussion lately has centered around the concept of past ADHD research, or rather what that research was missing. For a long time, according to The Guardian, ADD/ADHD research was practiced primarily on hyperactive, young white boys. The problem with that is the symptoms that were now defining what an ADD/ADHD diagnosis were more easily found in boys than in girls. In recent years, further research has shown that symptoms for women and girls suffering from ADD/ADHD can be far different from their male counterparts and it may show up at an older age.

With this newfound knowledge in partnership with a more educated, hyper health conscious generation of parents, more children than ever before are being diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. In fact, now 11% of all school-age children have received an ADHD diagnosis, which is a 16% increase since 2007 (Center of Disease Control). In addition to that, there has been a drastic increase in the amount of women who are high school, college-age, and even middle age who are receiving a similar diagnosis.

You or someone you love may have questioned at one time or another if the ADD/ADHD symptoms you are familiar with were present. While you are going all WebMD, you probably noticed that the common medications have names like Adderall and Ritalin. You've probably heard of these before. After all, ADD/ADHD has become a common diagnosis in the past ten years. But the real question is, if you or someone you love has ADD/ADHD, how will medication like these two affect life as you know it?

Pro: It could help you reach your potential.

Those who suffer from ADD/ADHD often struggle in academic environments. "I started taking ADHD medication in 5th grade, after a couple of years in school where I was under-performing," explained Casey Bailey, a now 20-something educational director in Pennsylvania. "I was understanding the material in class, but getting bad grades because I often misplaced or forgot about homework assignments and projects. My mom took me to see a pediatric neurology team, and I went through a battery of tests before my ADD diagnosis. I went on medication at the end of the school year, and it was a god send. I went from nearly failing out of elementary school to getting great grades and finally felt like the fog in my brain had cleared."

Con: It can have a drastic affect on your mood.

"The longer I was on Adderall, the less I felt like myself," recalled Arizona high school student, Marley. "Yeah, it was helping me focus on my academics and I was thriving resume-wise, but I felt angry and just miserable all the time."

Casey had a similar memory. "Once I was in high school, and the hormones in my body started changing, the medication that I was on turned me into a raging monster. I took my medicine every morning before school, and until at least lunchtime, I was the most irritable jerk you could ever meet. Anything that anyone said set me off, and I felt like the whole world was out to get me."

Pro: There are ADD/ADHD medications that are short-term energy and focus boosters.

Hannah, a recent college graduate in New York City, called this her "magic pill." It was essentially a medication she could take at her leisure during times where she needed to intensely focus on a task at hand. The medication gave her three to four hours of energized focus, which she found hugely beneficial. Plus, because it was not a daily ritual or a strong dosage, her body did not rely on it, nor did it drastically affect her as far as side affects were concerned.

Con: It can change your perspective on drugs.

As with all medicine, it is important to keep it in perspective. Medication like Adderall and Ritalin can look like, as Casey thought in middle school, "a god send." But you can run into a sticky situation if your perception shifts to drugs as the gateway to solving all of your problems. As Ashley from CFC Loud N Clear Foundation–a non-profit that provides free services to families suffering from addiction–explained, "We have found that nearly 85% of the addicts we deal with were put on ADD medication as children. At a very young age they were taught that a drug is the answer to their problems."

Pro: There are other forms of treatment other than traditional medicine.

"When I decided to move away from my hometown and my doctors," said Casey, "I decided I wanted to take a break from being on the medication for a while and see how it went. I became the Assistant Educational Director at a mathematics learning center in Manhattan, and I loved my job. I definitely needed to use some of the techniques for focus that I learned from the Occupational Therapist years ago, and some tasks took a little longer than they might have if I was on the meds, but all in all I felt good about living a stimulant free existence."

During this past summer, Marley, too, decided to take a break from the stimulants. "I was working in a restaurant and while I needed to focus on the task in front of me, the environment matched how I am naturally and I was able to channel what I learned from my ADHD coach so that I could succeed in my job without the need for medicine."

Sydney S., a college student from Oregon tried a different angle. "I found that daily yoga and meditation was all I needed to stay in sync."

Con: It can affect your weight.

The reason Hannah said she liked taking shorter term, infrequent ADD/ADHD stimulants was because it wouldn't affect her weight. While on a medication like Adderall or Ritalin, the user may notice a decrease in their weight, but once off the medication, their weight could shoot up quickly.

Casey had a similar experience. "There were some unexpected side effects though, mainly in the weight department. After years of stimulant medication suppressing my appetite and super-charging my metabolism, my body did not react well when I went off the medication completely. I gained a lot of weight, and it's been pretty hard to get it off. This has been a challenge for me physically and emotionally, but I really don't feel good about going back on the medication just for the weight loss."

 

Like with all medication, there's a lot to consider before picking up your first prescription. While the upside can seem fantastic, don't be blinded of the risks. Ask questions. Do your research. Get a second opinion.

If you or someone you love is determining whether or not to take medication for ADD/ADHD, check out these great resources right from the comfort of your laptop: Addmirablewomen.com (a support community for women with ADHD), ADD Journeys (a site created by Sari Solden, author of Women With Attention Deficit Disorder), and ADDitude Magazine (strategies and support for ADHD and LD).