Ok, Universe. I can take a hint. Twice in the past week I’ve found myself talking to concerned adults (one parent, one teacher) about the connection between marijuana use by teenagers and young adults and ADHD.
This tells me that there’s still not enough out there on this topic, so I’m devoting today’s blog post to the subject. I’ve written about ADHD and self-medicating in previous posts (Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Part II: Drugs), but obviously it’s important to keep talking about it.
One concern that’s expressed time and time again by parents of ADHDers is that if they put their ADHD kids on medication, especially stimulant medications, before long, the kid’ll be smoking dope, snorting coke, and chomping on ‘shrooms. The fear is that legit ADHD drugs will act as a gateway drug, a one-way ticket to la-la land.
Fear not, Mom and Dad, your ADHD angel can be kept away from angel dust
I know it’s counter-intuitive Mom and Dad, but putting a kid on an ADHD medication when they need it is actually one of the best things you can do to keep them off street drugs and prevent them from self-medicating.
There’s a reason your son or daughter would be using marijuana in the first place. Here’s an analogy: we need to eat, right? Let’s say for some reason, they couldn’t get healthy food. If left to their own devices, they’ll grab whatever’s easily grabbable, whatever makes them feel good. They’ll eat crap. Chips, pop, fries, pizzas, you name it. Heck, if they’re smoking dope, they’ll be eating twice as much of it. They still gotta eat, right? (I admit, not all teens will do this, but a lot will. I’m just trying to illustrate a point, so cut me some slack here.)
Balancing the brain
If your kid’s got an ADHD brain, by definition, there’s something biochemically out of whack. So they’re going to (consciously or subconsciously) do whatever they can to get their brain back into whack.
Research backs me up on this. Dr. Kenny Handelman, a psychiatrist who specializes in adults and adolescents with ADHD, says a lot of teens with ADHD use marijuana to self-medicate for hyperactivity and agitation. Handelman also says that research clearly shows that marijuana lowers thinking abilities and memory, but that teens “… may feel like they can concentrate [better], because they are less hyperactive and restless.” (from Attention Difference Disorder, How to Turn Your ADHD Child or Teen’s Differences into Strengths in 7 Simple Steps, Dr. Kenny Handelman, 2011, p. 201)
Think of it this way: there’s a reason ADHD is in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM IV.) It’s a condition that causes a lot of trouble for those who have it. We’re beginning to amass more and more evidence that our brains are not only chemically, but also structurally different. It makes sense that kids grasp at whatever they can to try and alleviate some of the symptoms they’re feeling, whether it’s hyperactivity, anxiety, overwhelm, social isolation, whatever. On the other hand, if you as the parent nip it in the bud (if you’ll pardon the expression) by getting your son or daughter appropriate diagnosis and treatment, which often includes an ADHD medication, their symptoms will be addressed and they’ll no longer feel a compelling, even desperate need to make themselves feel better.
Here’s some tough love for parents
It goes deeper than chemistry. Think about it: if your kid is untreated, especially if they’re a girl, research shows that their ADHD-ness has a strong chance of messing up their social lives, leaving them feeling like a lonely loser. This can spiral into depression, which will eventually sabotage their grades, leading to low self-esteem, and finally, the need to escape from these compounded crappy feelings.
Now you’ve got yourself a kid who’s not only hooked on illegal drugs, but a junior alcoholic, making bad choices, getting into trouble, contracting STDs, and (if they’re a girl) with an unwanted pregnancy.
Ok, I’ve deliberately painted an extreme picture. But it’s by no means over-the-top or exaggerated. I was one of those undiagnosed girls, I should know (don’t read too much into that; you’ll have to wait for my book for the full scoop.)
The good news
Now, here’s the good news: with the right treatment, including not only medication (if that works for your child, and there are about 10% for whom it won’t be effective), but also appropriate help with academics, counseling if necessary (preferably including some sessions with the whole family), lots of support and encouragement, diagnosis of any learning disabilities or other co-existing conditions (depression, anxiety, bi-polar and other conditions often accompany ADHD), and whatever else your child might need to successfully manage their ADHD symptoms, that beautiful, creative, wacky, one-of-a-kind kid of yours can flourish.
And you might even keep him out of jail while you’re at it.
Still not convinced? Here’s more information:
- ADHD and Marijuana, Psych Central
- Addiction and ADHD Adults, ADDitude Magazine
- Marijuana for ADHD? by Dr. Kenny Handelman
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Last reviewed: 28 Nov 2011