It’s Red Ribbon Week at all Marion County schools this week. Red Ribbon Week is about helping kids say no to drugs and alcohol. It’s a great idea (although due to budget cuts, there are no actual red ribbons anymore in Marion County), but it’s important that parents do their part.
If your child has ADHD, you likely already know that being impulsive is a major component to ADHD. If your child takes medication, you are also probably aware that there is a chance of addiction to these medications.
ADHD is treated with stimulant medications. Stimulant medications, when used improperly or by those who don’t need them, can be very addictive. While this is a big concern when parents are trying to decide how best to treat their child’s ADHD, it’s also important to consider the implications if it goes untreated.
If a child’s ADHD goes untreated, it’s very likely they will try to self medicate at some point in their life. They may do it in their teens, or it may not happen until they are an adult, when their hyperactivity has settled but their brain still goes a mile a minute and they look for something to calm it down.
As teens, it might happen somewhat unintentionally. A friend might offer them a drug at a party, or they might grab a beer, and discover that it seems to make them feel better. The impulsiveness may lead them to try it, or they might give in to peer pressure. Since it makes them feel better, they keep doing it – and keep doing it until they end up addicted and unable to stop even if they were able to realize that it’s doing more harm than good.
As an adult, they may discover that on an ordinary day, they are scattered and unfocused, but that after a night out having a few drinks with friends, they can come home and study for college courses, finish that report for work, or clean the house from top to bottom in no time.
This is why it’s imperative that your child be diagnosed and treated if they have ADHD. Treatment may not need to be medication, and even if it is, that is far better than the self medication alternative.
But there’s another side to all this. Maybe your are getting your child treated. Maybe they’re on Focalin XR or Vyvanse or Adderall or one of the other medications approved to treat ADHD. And maybe you’re noticing that there are some days when the pills just don’t seem to be working at all. Or you’ve noticed that your child seems to be running out of meds before they should.
It’s possible that the medication dosage isn’t quite right. Or that you’re just so busy that you’re not remembering accurately when you last filled the prescription. But it’s also possible that your child has discovered that they can sell their medication.
Stimulant medications used to treat ADHD increase focus and concentration in a person with ADHD. Under the careful supervision of caring parents and attentive physician, these drugs have a beneficial effect. Physicians use a specific formula to determine an appropriate dose that will give your child the relief he or she needs without the dose being large enough to cause addiction.
For someone without ADHD, these drugs give a rush, eliminate tiredness and cause the person to stay awake much longer than they would otherwise, and decrease appetite. Since they don’t have ADHD, they can’t get a prescription from a doctor. But they might want to lose weight, or get one of the other affects of these drugs. They might be too scared to purchase an illegal stimulant drug, or just find it easier and faster to buy some prescription pills off a buddy.
Your child may find that they can make quite a bit this way, and may convince themselves that they don’t need their medication. It’s important that you take steps to make sure this doesn’t happen.
As children get older, we try to relax the reins a bit and let them have more freedom and independence. We don’t necessarily hold on to the Children’s Motrin and dole it out when our 16 year old has a headache – we trust them to take some Advil on their own. We let them keep Pepto Bismol or cough drops in their bathroom, trusting that they will use it responsibly and when they need it.
You should reconsider this stance when it comes to your child’s ADHD medication. Keep it where you can check it regularly (preferably daily). Though they may balk, you should even consider giving them their pill every day or being there to watch them take it. This gives you the peace of mind of knowing that they are taking their medication, and knowing that they aren’t taking it to school and selling it.
But you should also talk to your child about their medication. Explain to them the importance of taking it every day, as instructed, and what happens if they don’t. Explain to them, as well, why they should never give any of their medication to another person, both from the safety standpoint (it’s dangerous to take drugs not prescribed for you) and the legal standpoint (if they are caught, they can be arrested and convicted of selling drugs, and depending on age, this can follow them permanently). Don’t limit this to just one conversation. This should be discussed often, in depth. Encourage your child to ask questions.
If you’re opting to try non-medication methods to treat your child’s ADHD, sit down with them and discuss the effects drugs and alcohol might have, and why they should not rely on drugs and alcohol to treat their condition. Ensure that they know they can talk to you, and listen to them if they tell you they feel the methods being used to treat their ADHD aren’t working. Though you may think you see results from outside, only your child can truly tell you how they feel inside – and it’s what they feel inside that’s going to lead them to try self medicating.
Don’t limit your discussions to just information about their ADHD and drug or alcohol use. Talk to them in general terms about drugs and alcohol as well, as you would any child. Though they may be somewhat more susceptible due to their ADHD, the fact is they are still a child or teen who is trying to fit in with friends and classmates and could be swayed merely based on wanting to fit in. If you are too focused on making sure they understand that they could fall because the drugs make them feel better, you might overlook the signs that they are in fact falling because they want to fit in.
Be there for your child. Listen to them, let them ask you questions, ask questions of your own. Keep the lines of communication open, and don’t discount anything your child tells you.