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What does ADD/ADHD Medicine Do?

Updated on May 30, 2012

Everyone seems to know at least one person who has been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Aside from depression, what other mental condition can compare with such rampancy? A few decades ago, ADD had not been discovered (or some would say – ‘invented’). Has ADHD become a modern-day epidemic caused by too much TV or environmental pollutants? Or does the problem lie in our society and school system? Is it our failure to recognize different forms of intelligence?

Notice that there is no section here on What Causes ADD/ADHD. That’s because the jury is still out. Research has not concluded whether the disorder is genetic or environmentally caused or a combination of the two.

What is the Difference Between ADD and ADHD?

What is the difference between ADD and ADHD? ADD is one of three types of ADHD, and is the form that does not include hyperactivity as a symptom.

What is ADD/ADHD?

Attention Deficity (Hyperactivity) Disorder.

It is usually classified as an inability to concentrate, but actually can be diagnosed from one of these symptoms: Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Though doctors have been observing a disorder related to inattention and hyperactivity since the 1700s, what we consider the modern day diagnosed ADD/ADHD was not written in the books until 1968 – though Ritalin had been used since the 1950s for extreme cases.

What is a neurotransmitter?

A neurotransmitter carries and moderates signals between neurons. A neuron is the main building block of the nervous system – they are the main holders of information.

What Does ADHD medicine do?

Though there is no consensus on what causes ADD/ADHD, those diagnosed do seem to see vast improvements in their personal, academic and work life when taking medication. Amongst my friends and family, I’ve seen ADD medication mean the difference between acing and failing a semester of college.

So what is it that the medication ‘solves’? Biochemically, ADD medicine stimulates the flow of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine.

What does Dopamine do?

Dopamine plays a role on our mood, sleep, attention, and learning. People with ADHD are posited to have weaker dopamine brain signals. The increase of dopamine in the brain helps to transmit messages through the brain between nerves. Other drugs like nicotine and cocaine also increase dopamine levels in the brain temporarily. This may explain why ADD-diagnosed people are more likely to become addicted to recreational drugs.

By increasing the flow of dopamine in the brain, ADD medicine has a stimulating effect. Some ADD/ADHD medications are also used to treat narcolepsy.

What is the best ADD/ADHD medication?

People are all biochemically different, and therefore will respond better to slightly different drugs and dosages. ADD medications can last in the short term (some forms of Ritalin only last a few hours), intermediate term, and long term (Concerta or Adderall XR last 10-12 hours).

Possible Side Effects and Drug Abuse

There seems to be medical and public in-consensus on whether the medication is habit forming. Some say the low doses found in ADD medicine are not enough to make one addicted, though sudden stoppage of the medication can lead to depression. It has been well documented that many students use ADD/ADHD medicine recreationally or as a study aid.

Other negative side effects include weight loss, loss of appetite, insomnia, and anxiety. In young children, it can cause a slowing of growth.

Changing Education Paradigms, by Sir Ken Robinson

Is Attention Disorder or our Schools the Problem?

This video is an engaging adaptation from a speech by Sir Ken Robinson, a world renowned education expert. In it he reveals the biases of our schools toward one type of learning, and exposes the inconsistency of ADD/ADHD diagnoses across the country.


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      5 years ago

      Your articles are solon than wow!

    • Doc Sonic profile image

      Glen Nunes 

      6 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Interesting hub, Tara. So many people are misinformed about ADD medications. They talk about kids with ADD being "sedated" with drugs. Most of them don't believe me when I tell them that the drugs used to treat ADD are actually stimulants.


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