Neurobiologist David Anderson is alarmed by the idea of drugging children to treat the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorderâespecially during adolescence, when changing levels of sex hormones and growth hormones are already having a dramatic impact on a teenagerâs brain.
He questions the long-term use of a drug that promotes a system like dopamine or serotonin. As he puts it: âYou canât take the kid off the drug after puberty and say, âWhoops, letâs go back and do puberty without the drug.ââ Read on to learn how drugs like Adderall affect the brainâand why Anderson says that drug treatments should be a last resort in children with ADHD.
One in 10 American children isÂ diagnosed with ADHDÂ â but we still donât understand the disorder.Â âThereâs this traditional view that common brain disorders like ADHD, anxiety, and depression are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, as if the brain were some kind of chemical soup that just needed a little more salt,â says Anderson (TEDxCaltech talk:Â Your brain is more than a bag of chemicals).
Then thereâs the emerging view, which is that ADHD and other common brain disorders are âactually disturbances in the neural circuits that mediate emotion, mood, and affect.â This distinction matters most when parents, doctors, and teachers are evaluating the pros and cons of behavioral, environmental, and medical treatment options for a growing child, since current drug treatment options act by globally changing brain chemistry.
âMany of the drugs that are taken for conditions like these were discovered by accident, not through an understanding of the underlying physiology of the disorder,â says Anderson. âIt was just discovered that they work, and we donât know how they work really or why they work.â
For children with ADHD, medication should be a last resort.Â The ADHD drug Adderall is a good example to consider. âAdderall is basically amphetamines, and it works by increasing the amount of dopamine that is released into the brain,â says Anderson.
The problem is, dopamine doesnât have a single function, so to say that dopamine is involved in ADHD isnât saying very much. âThere are dopamine fibers in many regions of the brain, and around 10 different kinds of dopamine neurons in the brain, and most of those neurons will be affected by amphetamine, and those neurons may be doing many different things.â Thatâs why a medication like Adderall can have so many side effects.
Read more at Ideas.Ted.com.