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Drugs can negatively alter brain cells

January 10, 2013
Dear Jeff and Debra:

My daughter is a high school junior and academic competition is tough. She hopes to be accepted at a top college, possibly Ivy League. Some of her friends have been prescribed Adderall, and my daughter tells me it gives them a real edge in writing papers, studying and taking exams.

Evidently, they go online to research the symptoms of ADHD to prepare for a visit to the doctor. After answering a few questions, they are given a diagnosis and supplied with a prescription for this drug.

My daughter has tried her friends’ pills and says the improvement on her study habits is amazing. My first reaction was, absolutely not. With persistence, however, my daughter has me questioning my hard refusal. She took an online test for ADHD and scored in the range of “ADHD may be likely.”

Am I, as she repeatedly accuses me, keeping her from using a medication that will help her excel?

Not So Sure

Dear Not So Sure:

From what you are telling us, your daughter wants to join the growing number of high school and college-aged young people who are using Adderall (classified as a Schedule II drug by the DEA, meaning it has a high potential for abuse) as an enhancer, not as a medicine to treat ADHD.

It appears that, by taking an online quiz, she is attempting to do to you what she tells you her friends have done to doctors: manufacture a fake disorder to gain access to a drug that would otherwise be illegal.

Culturally, we have a long history with psyco-stimulants, which have been called by many names: uppers, speed, cocaine, meth, white crosses, Dexedrine, Adderall, Ritalin, black beauties, the smart drug. Although we make up only 4 percent of the world’s populations, the United States produces 88 percent of prescription amphetamine, nearly all being used to treat child and adult attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Adderall is the most commonly prescribed, misused and abused trade name prescription drug.

The normalizing of drug misuse should be a concern to all parents. Unless your daughter has a serious disorder that cannot be met by non-drug therapies, stay away from mood-altering medications. These drugs are not benign. Besides risk of addiction, studies show psycho-stimulants can change the shape of brain cells. This is important, because shape is crucial for a neuron’s ability to communicate. When neurons are damaged, there are fewer points of contact between cells.

Adolescent brains have not stabilized and scientific research finds evidence the use of psycho-stimulants affects the ability to learn new things during this period of brain growth.

Much needs to be researched when considering drugs’ effects on the brain, but prudence is key when making decisions about using medications that are mood-altering.

Jeff and Debra Jay are co-authors of “Love First,” and Debra Jay is the author of “No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction.” Both books are available at the Grosse Pointe Public Library. The Grosse Pointe Farms couple, professional interventionists, can be contacted at (313) 882-6921 or at lovefirst.net.

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