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Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Dispelling Myths is Good Medicine. Karen J. Kraus, M.D. UCSF Fresno Psychiatry Residency Program. Introduction.

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attention deficit hyperactivity disorder dispelling myths is good medicine

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity DisorderDispelling Myths is Good Medicine

Karen J. Kraus, M.D.

UCSF Fresno Psychiatry Residency Program

  • ADHD is a complex disorder of higher brain functioning, characterized by inattention, motor over-activity and difficulty inhibiting impulsive behaviors
  • ADHD is one of the most prevalent disorders in childhood and adolescence, affecting an estimated 3-9% of school-age children
  • Symptoms occur at an early age, occur in most areas of a child’s life, and persist over time, frequently into adulthood
  • The precise constellation of symptoms changes as children grow and develop
  • ADHD is often inherited
  • Imaging, electrophysiological and neuropsychological tests, and now, genetic analysis, all point to disturbances in specific neurotransmitter systems, affecting specific areas of the brain
  • ADHD is frequently associated with other psychiatric and learning problems, which complicate diagnosis, treatment and prognosis
  • ADHD is a heterogeneous disorder with many known causes, all of which mediate similar or identical effects on brain functioning
myth 1
Myth #1
  • Psychiatric disorders do not occur in children.
myth 2
Myth #2
  • ADHD is nothing more than applying a diagnostic label to normal childhood behavior.
myth 3
Myth #3
  • If ADHD really existed, wouldn’t it be obvious?

Efficacy and dosing guidelines have not been established for children

Use of these medications may actually exacerbate the underlying disorder

Associated with high rates of significant side effects such as irritability, restlessness,lethargy, hallucinations, hypertension & severe muscle stiffness, even death

In one study, more than 50% of mothers interviewed had administered this medication within the past month

During an investigative hearing, one congressman made the comment, “The sad fact is, much of the billion dollar medication industry is based more on hype then health care.”


According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers:

    • These medications are the frequent targets of unintentional ingestions in young children
    • They rank #2 for intentional ingestions
    • In 1988, they accounted for 58,000 exposures & 77% of all ingestions
    • In 1990, they accounted for 73,680 exposures (calls to poison control centers
  • In the case of one medicine, tracking mechanisms reported a 60% annual increase in use, abuse and medical contacts for toxicity
  • More than 200 randomized and/or placebo controlled studies demonstrate that stimulants are effective in reducing the core symptoms of ADHD
  • Approximately 70% of children with ADHD demonstrate a robust response to stimulants
medication effects
 fidgetiness


physical aggressiveness

antisocial behavior


peer acceptance


on-task behavior


short term memory


parent-child interactions

performance of motor tasks

Medication Effects
  • The MTA study demonstrated the superior efficacy of medications over other kinds of treatment in school age children.
  • There is less evidence to support the long term use of stimulants (>14 months), or their use with preschool children, adolescents, and adults.
myth 4
Myth #4
  • The medications used to treat ADHD are very dangerous
myth 5
Myth #5
  • The medications used to treat ADHD are addictive
substance abuse adhd
Substance Abuse & ADHD
  • A individual with ADHD persisting into adulthood is at increased risk to develop a substance abuse disorder; that risk increases substantially in the presence of concurrent Conduct Disorder
  • ADHD is associated with earlier onset of substance abuse disorders, and a shortened time from use to frank abuse
substance abuse adhd1
Substance Abuse & ADHD
  • Substance abuse disorders in individuals withADHD persisting into adulthood appear to be more chronic with lower rates of remission
  • Overall, there is a 2-fold increased risk of developing a substance abuse disorder
substance abuse adhd2
Substance Abuse & ADHD
  • The core rate of substance abuse in adolescents with ADHD is 10-15%
  • Teens who were medicated with stimulants showed no increased risk as compared to “normal” teens
  • Teens with ADHD who were not medicated have a 3-4 fold increased risk, as compared with affected teens who were treated
abuse of stimulants
Abuse of Stimulants
  • There are only 5 case reports of stimulant abuse in the literature
  • Epidemiological studies involving adolescents have found rates of non-prescription use of Methylphenidate ranging from a low of .1% in 1992, to a peak of 2.8% in 1997 & 1998, to a rate of 2.2% in 2000.
abuse of stimulants1
Abuse of Stimulants
  • A survey of 6000 students in Mass. reported that 13% of high school students and 4% of junior high school students had used Methylphenidate without a prescription
  • A 1999 report on drug-abuse related visits to EDs revealed 1,478 notations of Methylphenidate abuse, down from 1,728 in 1998
abuse of stimulants2
Abuse of Stimulants
  • A 7 year study of incidents involving Methylphenidate called into poison control centers revealed:
    • Out of 11,149 cases involving MPH, 1,244 (11.2%) were related to intentional abuse.
    • The data indicated an increasing rate of abuse, with 17 cases in 1993 and 158 cases in 1998
    • Most were boys between the ages of 14-15
abuse of stimulants3
Abuse of Stimulants
  • Continued:
    • 70% involved MPH only; the remainder involved the co-consumption of 1-2 additional drugs.
    • Use was coded “acute” in over 87% of cases, meaning there was no ongoing use of the stimulant either illicitly or therapeutically,
    • Use in a “chronic” context was more likely to occur in older adolescents
    • The most common route was ingestion.
  • Difficulty initiating and sustaining attention, characterized by:
    • difficulty persisting in tasks, especially if they are uninteresting, tedious, sedentary or demanding
    • switching from one unfinished task to another
    • failure to complete tasks, chores, schoolwork, etc.
  • Difficulty initiating and sustaining attention, characterized by:
    • difficulty following through with directions
    • “daydreaming”, or appearing as if one isn’t listening or is unable to hear
  • Avoidance of, or aversion to, tasks that require sustained attention, such as:
    • tasks that require perseverance or sustained, intense mental effort
    • tasks that tax limited organizational skills
  • Distractibility, characterized by:
    • sensory distractibility, described as the inability to filter out unimportant, extraneous stimuli from important, relevant stimuli
    • motor distractibility, described as the inability to inhibit responses to stimulus or, the inability to control the allocation of attention.
  • Distractibility, characterized by:
    • difficulty shifting attention from one task or activity to another
    • difficulty attending to more than one task at a time
    • sometimes manifest as an extraordinary awareness of detail, however irrelevant
  • Difficulty with organization and prioritization (impaired executive functions), characterized by:
        • loses or misplaces belongings or necessary things such as homework, school materials, toys, etc.
        • difficulty prioritizing tasks in terms of importance or planning objectives
        • procrastination
        • forgetfulness, e.g., misses appointments, fails to remember gym clothes, etc.
        • poor awareness of time, with similarly poor time management skills
  • Difficulty with organization and prioritization (impaired executive functions), characterized by:
    • deficits in working memory - the ability to keep certain information “in mind” over short periods of time in the absence of environmental stimuli – manifested by:
          • difficulty recalling complex instructions, such as game rules
          • forgetting information that has just been read
          • difficulty transferring information
          • difficulty with math functions such as transposing numbers or computational errors.
  • Excessive motor activity, described as:
    • constantly moving or “on the go”
    • fidgety or restless
    • difficulty remaining seated when required to do so
  • Subjective sense of motor restlessness
    • A subtle finding more common in girls, and frequently found in adolescents and adults
  • Over-talkativeness, described as:
    • excessive, continuous talking (“blabbermouth”)
    • poor modulation of speech, with loud speech
    • verbosity
    • blurts out answers, interrupts conversation
  • Poor motor control, characterized by:
    • difficulty engaging in leisure activities quietly
    • work, particularly handwriting, is often messy
    • poor physical boundaries, with socially inappropriate, intrusive behavior
    • aggressiveness or clumsiness, related to poor modulation of motor activities (e.g., breaks toys, hurts others unintentionally)
  • Difficulty inhibiting responses (“Ready, fire, aim!), manifested by:
    • intrusiveness
    • impatience, manifested by:
          • difficulty with turn taking in games
          • similarly manifest in conversation, with interruption and comments out of turn
    • inappropriate behavior
  • Risk taking/Novelty-seeking behavior
    • engagement in physically dangerous activities without consideration of potential consequences
    • often described as “ accident prone”, with a history of injuries
    • tendency to become easily bored and seek external stimulation
  • Altered responsiveness to behavioral rewards, consequences and contingencies
    • resistance to conditioning effects of reward or punishment
    • failure to apply past experiences to current situations, resulting in repetitive mistakes
    • neurophysiological basis
associated features
Associated Features
  • Altered response to social reinforcement
    • Because of inattentiveness, negativism, or resistance to the conditioning effects of reward or punishment, many ADHD children are difficult to socialize. They are described as obstinate, impervious, stubborn or negativistic, although they are not necessarily “conduct disordered”
associated features1
Associated Features
  • Altered emotional responsiveness
    • Children with ADHD are easily excited and easily upset, and tend to react to situations in an exaggerated, disproportionate way, with dramatic (albeit usually short-lived) shifts in emotions
    • They also tend to exhibit poor frustration tolerance (a “short fuse”), particularly with delay/denial of gratification, developmental challenges or interpersonal conflicts
associated features2
Associated Features
  • Differences in interpersonal relationships
    • Children with ADHD tend to be intense, controlling, socially imperceptive and intolerant.
    • They are often described as immature and in fact, often exhibit delayed social development.
    • Chronically antagonistic interpersonal interactions can lead to social isolation, and later on, to depression and angry defiance.
associated features3
Associated Features
  • Behavioral dyscontrol
    • Problematic behavior may signal the presence of a co-morbid psychiatric disorder, but may also stem from the core neuropsychiatric deficits seen in ADHD.
    • The gap between the normal developmental aspirations of children with ADHD and their maturity and judgement further complicates the picture .
associated features4
Associated Features
  • Behavioral dyscontrol
    • Examples include:
      • lying and stealing may be indicative underlying impulsivity
      • aggressive behavior may be an expression of poorly regulated physical force
      • temper tantrums are often seen in the context of sensory or affective over-stimulation
associated features5
Associated Features
  • Demoralization
    • The “curious dissociation between knowing and doing” often frustrates children with ADHD. Despite talent and skills, and often despite prodigious effort, children with ADHD chronically fall short of expectations
    • As a result their inefficient cognitive styles, children with ADHD must often work harder and longer than their peers to obtain the same outcome.
    • Over time children with ADHD fatigue, and in the context of repeated failures, become demoralized, lose motivation and develop a posture of defensive defiance