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ADHD Drugs and PTSD

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November marks the beginning of the holiday season with Thanksgiving but a week away. It is also the month that we honor our country’s servicemen and women with Veteran’s Day. Sadly, many soldiers come back from war changed, often suffering from chronic pain (due to injuries sustained in combat) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Veterans will often self-medicate to combat both the physical and emotional pain, a slippery slope that (if left untreated) can result in suicide.

New research suggests that some of the drugs soldiers are given to stay awake while on long patrols, may increase their risk of developing PTSD, The Los Angeles Times reports. The findings come from Defense Department researchers who analyzed almost 26,000 service members.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Drugs

When people think of ADHD, children who have trouble focusing typically come to mind. An ADHD diagnosis usually results in the prescribing of a stimulant, such as Ritalin or Adderall. Prescription stimulants help people who have trouble staying on task. However, if the drugs are used off label, they give the user increased energy and focus – allowing them to function for extended periods of time.

The United States military has a long history of giving soldiers drugs to help them stay alert, dating back to World War II. The new Defense Department research indicates that service members with prescriptions stimulants were five times more likely to have PTSD, according to the article.

“When you take a stimulant, you enhance learning,” said Dr. Richard Friedman, a psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. “PTSD is form of learning. Traumatic experiences hijack circuits in the brain.”

Bad Memories

Prescription stimulants work by raising norepinephrine levels in the brain. Norepinephrine is a neurochemical which mobilizes the brain and body for action. Norepinephrine, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, increases:

  • Arousal and Alertness
  • Promotes Vigilance
  • Enhances Memory Formation and Retrieval
  • Focuses Attention

Researchers have shown that heightened norepinephrine levels “result in more vivid and persistent memories of emotionally charged situations”.

The findings were published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

If you are or a loved one is struggling with prescription drug abuse, please contact Design for Change to begin the journey of recovery.

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