Distracted or Anxious: Can ADHD Be Tamed?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has become the diagnosis du jour for adults and college aged students. Medications like Adderall can markedly improve the lives of those with the disorder. However, the tunnel-like focus the medicines provide has led growing numbers of teenagers and young adults to seek the diagnosis to obtain steady prescriptions for highly addictive medications that carry serious psychological dangers.

For some, every symptom requires a medication. For me, every symptom implies an underlying imbalance. Thank goodness II have more tools in my tool kit to identify those imbalances and create an integrative treatment plan.

Young adults are, by far, the fastest-growing segment of people taking ADHD medications. Nearly 14 million monthly prescriptions for the condition were written for Americans ages 20 to 39 in 2011, two and a half times the 5.6 million just four years before. While this rise is generally attributed to the maturing of adolescents who have ADHD into young adults – combined with a greater recognition of adult ADHD in general – many experts caution that others can be erroneously diagnosed and easily obtain stimulant prescriptions from obliging doctors.

The problem of distraction and inattention is broad and vast. Various studies have estimated that 8 to 35% of college students take stimulant pills to enhance school performance. Up to 10% of children ages 5 to 11 are being treated for ADHD. By age 20 up to half of these children has grown out of ADHD. In 2005, the cost of ADHD is estimated to have been between $36 and $52 billion.

The wrong way of using these drugs is to procrastinate, wait till the last minute and then take a pill to study. The wrong way to use these drugs is to use them to multitask beyond your capacity. The wrong way to use these drugs is to take them so that you can compete with fellow workers or students. The wrong way to use these drugs is to attempt to perfect oneself beyond one’s reliable capacity. Over time, dependence arises and it can become difficult to get anything done without the meds.

The consequences of inappropriate use of ADHD medications include loss of appetite, unstable mood, inconsistent sleep, inconsistent temperature regulation, delusions, manic episodes, crashes without medication, aggression, paranoia and even suicide. Keep in mind that even though the medication may enhance attention, that doesn’t mean that the medication is indicated. For those who do not have a true ADHD diagnosis, the medication simply acts as an amphetamine and is extremely prone to addictive abuse.

Often anxiety and its related conditions are misdiagnosed as ADHD. An ADHD diagnosis is very specific. It requires that individuals have six characteristics for more than six months that get in the way of their living (not in the way of their competing). Those characteristics include: failure to pay close attention to details, difficulty paying attention, difficulty organizing tasks and activities, avoiding homework or tasks that require sustained mental effort, fidgeting, excessive talking and impulsivity.

My approach is focused on nutrition, targeted supplementation, executive function training, and acupuncture. I do use medications as a last resort. Toxins such as cigarette smoke, lead, and pesticides have been linked to ADHD. Nutrient deficiencies in B vitamins and essential fatty acids may play a role. Food sensitivities to gluten and casein may be the culprits. High glycemic index foods fuel the fire of attention deficit.

Talk therapy – from reframing to stress management to executive function training – is always essential. Acupuncture can help reduce anxiety and focus the mind.

If you or your child has difficulty with procrastination, deficient attention, anxiety, food addiction, or sleep disturbances, consider coming to our office for a benchmarking evaluation and individual treatment plan that can help set you on a course of enhanced brain health.