Children with ADHD typically squirm and cannot sit still, have trouble playing quietly, have difficulty managing their time, talk all the time, fail to focus on the details of their school lessons, and are easily distracted. The disorder usually appears before age seven, but it lingers in most cases into the teenage years and about half the time into adulthood.

Adolescents who take medication for ADHD cut their risk for subsequent alcohol use by two-thirds.

In the brain of a child with ADHD, the lack of development of the prefrontal cortex causes the brain to process information in other, less efficient regions. Some neuroscientists hypothesize that a fully functioning prefrontal cortex may act as a damper, preventing the rapid choice of an inappropriate action before it can happen.

Lacking the ability to focus on lessons, children with ADHD often fall behind in school and may experience a decline in their grades. As a result, their self-image may suffer, and they become more at risk for substance abuse. Some may try to self-medicate by turning to drugs to help them focus or relieve their depression or anxiety.


RITALIN IS THE best known medication for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Apparently it works by binding to dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine molecules cannot link up with their docking sites because Ritalin got there first, so they linger in the spaces between neurons Doctors first prescribed the drug in the 1950s as a treatment for narcolepsy, an illness in which patients suddenly fall asleep during the day. A rise in available dopamine stimulates the brain like high-octane fuel in an engine, thus warding off sleep. A decade later doctors began prescribing Ritalin for attention disorders because the increased stimulation it provided appeared to help patients focus their thoughts.

The action of Ritalin in the prefrontal lobes and an underlying region known as the striatum acts to brake sudden impulses. Properly administered, Ritalin helps people with ADHD to slow their thoughts, consider their actions, and live more productive lives. But it can be overused and abused. Pressure from parents, from teachers, and from society to improve children’s behavior and boost their grades may be behind the phenomenon of perhaps 10 percent of American children being prescribed Ritalin at one time or another. And that’s not counting the many college students who buy the drug illicitly online and use it to help them pull all-nighters as they study for tests they say it helps them concentrate without the buzz and crash effects of caffeine.


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