DrugsAdjust your chemistry
“I am 100 percent in favor of the intelligent use of drugs, and 1,000 percent against the thoughtless use of them, whether caffeine or LSD. And drugs are not central to my life.”
― Timothy Leary
One of the most important things to remember when it comes to drugs and ADHD is that the medical field is still evolving in its most basic understanding of the brain, let alone the field’s understanding of your individual brain. Treatments that seemed great just a few years ago come into doubt, and new approaches are emerging all the time. Of all of the different topics covered by Bag-it and Tag-it, this one is perhaps the most murky. I am neither a psychiatrist nor a neurologist, nor can I possibly keep up with how all drugs react with all the different emerging types of ADHD. And, of course, each of us has our own neurobiology and environment.
What I can offer is an unbiased perspective on drugs and ADHD, and importantly, give you a chance to share your own experiences.
So read with a mind that is simultaneously open, skeptical and ready to share.
Why they help
If you think of the ADHD brain as a Ferrari with bicycle brakes, there a couple ways to consider the general drug classes commonly used to treat ADHD. Stimulants, such as Ritalin, Adderallor Vyvansesimply help keep the engine running at a regular clip, keeping your acceleration and speed more manageable. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Straterra, help users regulate mood swings commonly associated with ADHD by keeping more “feel good” chemicals in your brain.
How they work
Stimulants vary considerably in their effectiveness and side effects patient by patient. There’s a certain paradox with stimulants – some people with ADHD exhibit hyperactivity and inability to focus because their brains crave dopamine, another feel good state. Stimulants help provide more dopamine to the brain, helping calm an otherwise thrill-seeking mind. But whether stimulants are the right approach for your particular brain requires some serious consideration. If you’ve been on stimulants since you were a child, for example, it’s possible that you may benefit from letting your own brain do some development, rather than relying on drugs that may have made you easier to manage in a classroom without actually helping you learn.
Serotonin reuptake inhibitors provide a more nuanced approach, giving your own brain chemistry a better chance to self-regulate without adding additional stimulation. This animation helps explain some of the chemistry at work.
What to do
First, you should find a reputablepsychiatrist who focuses on ADHD in your region. Your primary care physician may be well meaning, and psychiatrists may have some greater knowledge, but the emerging research on ADHD is difficult to keep up with. Although I am not a doctor, I also highly recommend starting whatever dosage you take low. I can tell you from personal experience that many of my fellow ADHDers, particularly those diagnosed and medicated young, end up with such high dosages later in life that they are, for all practical purposes, non-functional without. And pay close attention to how you feel across a spectrum.
Ultimately, you may find, as I did, that drugs provide a benchmark for the focus and happiness you’ve been lacking and a pathway to a nutrition-and-exercise approach.