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Pilot Study Finds ‘Smart Drug’ Adderall Has Limited Benefits for Healthy Students and May Harm Working Memory

Prescription stimulants commonly used to address a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have become a fad drug for students who believe it helps their academic performance. But, if you’re taking these drugs for that purpose, Research Digest reports that the short-term boost you’re getting has a downside: It worsens working memory such as recall of a string of digits. It also has negative effects on your perceptions of past cognitive and self-regulation functions.

Even though the dangers of ADHD drugs like Adderall and Ritalin have been under scrutiny for quite a while, statistics show that prescription rates for the drugs have risen by as much as 700 percent in the last couple decades. Millennials in particular are prone to be taking them — and they may be paying a price they’re not counting on, in the form of becoming addicted to the amphetamine in them.

What’s worse, although college students and adults in the workplace believe psychostimulants improve their cognitive abilities, empirical literature demonstrates very little support for this in the long run. What you get instead are adverse effects you’re most likely not going to be told about when you fill that prescription — effects that can include liver, heart and blood vessel damage, heart attack, stroke, permanent brain damage, depression, suicidal thoughts and even sudden death.

Additionally, sleep problems also can occur when the stimulants fail to wear off in time for bed, thus undermining whatever perceived benefits you may be getting from ADHD drugs. And that leads to a merry-go-around that sometimes never ends, as lack of sleep can make ADHD worse. When you think that 1 in every 5 children diagnosed with ADHD may actually not have ADHD at all, this is especially concerning.

This is why I always recommend looking at other ways to address behavioral problems before resorting to drugs. If your child struggles with attention problems, begin by removing sugar from their diet. Evidence also suggests that gluten sensitivity may be at the root of some psychiatric problems, so it would be good to check that, too. Making sure that your child eats fermented foods (for a healthy gut) and plenty of animal-sourced omega-3 foods can help as well, as can eliminating any foods with food additives in them.
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