There are many paths to substance use disorder (SUD). Some become addicted to opioids after taking them for a legitimate medical condition; some find it impossible to sleep and rely on sleeping pills or benzodiazepines to the point of extremes; some start using cocaine or stimulants because they think it will enhance their professional and social lives; and some simply start taking drugs because of trauma, mental illness, or just dysfunctional curiosity.
There also exists a contingent of SUD sufferers who start taking these drugs in an effort to help their focus and concentration, whether it’s for work, school, or in everyday life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 11 percent of children and a growing number of adults suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and that many of these individuals will end up using drugs to self-medicate.
The Growing Need for Concentration and Focus Aids
There is a constant war for our attention in today’s incredibly fast-paced society. There are only twenty-four hours in the day, and if we let it happen, every one of them will be filled with some kind of obligation or multiple obligations. Americans scarcely have the luxury of boredom and are consistently overwhelmed. Research cited in Psychology Today indicates that interruptions occur about every twelve minutes in the workplace and every three minutes in university settings.
The problem is increasingly compounded by the entrenched and irrevocable presence of screened devices that have become fixtures in our everyday lives. A recent report discussed in the New York Times and on 60 Minutes indicates that the constant engagement with laptops, smartphones, and tablets is fundamentally changing children’s brain development and decreasing their ability to concentrate for prolonged periods of time on other tasks. This inability to concentrate follows many into adulthood and can wind up having serious and life-changing repercussions on their ability to focus in school, thrive at work, and develop healthy relationships.
What Drugs Do People Take to Improve Concentration?
Many have historically turned to stimulants like Ritalin and Concerta (methylphenidate) and Adderall (dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine) to improve concentration; others have used cocaine to improve energy and productivity levels at their jobs. Still, others have turned to what are called nootropics, colloquially referred to as “smart drugs,” to improve concentration and enhance their academic and professional performance. These are synthetic substances that can be taken to improve mental performance in healthy people but can also wind up causing abuse or long-term dependency issues.
Some of the most common types of smart drugs include:
- Caffeine – Stimulant found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and other consumables to help users stay awake and stay alert. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain, making users feel less tired.
- Creatine – Moderate use of creatine is linked to improved memory, cognitive reasoning, and stress reduction. It is also used by bodybuilders to improve muscle development. Research shows that five milligrams poses no risk to long-term mental health.
- Rhodiola Rosea – This herb is said to decrease stress, improve mood, and diminish mental fatigue in individuals experiencing high levels of stress, such as college students or overworked professionals.
- Ginkgo Biloba – Found to decrease stress, reduce blood pressure, improve memory and mental processing, and increase blood flow to the brain
- Nicotine – Lethal and addictive in high doses, moderate use of nicotine is found to increase mental alertness, lengthen attention span, and increase concentration.
- Modafinil (Provigil) – Prescription drug that can reduce drowsiness and improve brain function in healthy adults, particularly those who are sleep deprived
Each one of these medications should be used in strict moderation and taken only when prescribed. The reality is that many of these drugs can be addictive and ultimately wind up doing more harm than good. Ritalin and other stimulants tend to be the most commonly abused and addictive of drugs that are used to increase concentration. The CDC reports that there were more than ten thousand deaths from stimulants in 2017, representing a 33 percent increase from the previous year. These stimulants include prescription and illicit substances; however they do not include figures for cocaine, which, while a stimulant, is counted separately.
Potential Effects of Stimulant Abuse
Once stimulant use has risen to the level of abuse, users can experience a wide range of psychical and psychological effects.
Symptoms are including but not limited to:
- Extreme anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
- Accelerated heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Fast breathing
- Weight loss
- Inability to focus
- Lingering withdrawal symptoms
Individuals who find themselves suffering from these or any other serious medical or psychological issues related to their stimulant abuse, whether it’s cocaine or certain prescription medications, should consult their physician and seek treatment right away to ensure the problem doesn’t get any worse.
Treatment for Smart Drug Abuse
Treatment for the abuse of stimulants and other types of smart drugs should include a combination of detox and rehab. Detox helps to address any medical issues associated with prolonged drug use, while rehab can help patients address the root causes of their behavior, as well as the inability to focus that, may have precipitated it. Rehab generally includes group therapy, individual counseling, and supplemental therapies. While formal treatment is not always needed for mild to moderate stimulant abuse, it can be a critically helpful resource in serious situations of chronic abuse and long-term dependency.
There Are Other Ways to Increase Your Focus and Concentration.
You or your loved one don’t have to rely on external substances to increase your concentration and perform more effectively at work or in school. There are multiple everyday techniques and occupational therapies of which you can avail yourself, including meditation, mindfulness, and more. Therapy and counseling can help to address the root causes of your inability to concentrate and explore what’s behind it, whether it’s an underlying mental disorder or an identifiable neurobiological factor. If you or someone you care about is struggling with smart drug addiction, get the help you need today to get your literal and figurative peace of mind.