Addiction Issues With ADHD Medications

One concern that frequently arises around prescribing ADHD medication is that stimulant use will lead to substance abuse. The federal government agrees that stimulants have a high abuse potential and has labeled them accordingly (i.e., classifying them as Schedule II medications). Yet, research examining the behaviors of adults and adolescents with ADHD does not show an increased risk of substance abuse with medication usage. In fact, data suggests that the opposite is true: individuals with ADHD who use stimulant medication to control their symptoms are less likely to become addicts than are individuals with ADHD who are not on medication. In addition, research shows that treating ADHD with stimulant medication appears to reduce the risk of later substance abuse problems by half.

The dramatic positive impact that medication can have on the lives of individuals with ADHD cannot be overstated. Individuals with ADHD who take medication usually experience consistency across their days, something that they may never have experienced before. Most patients learn to manage their medication and have little need to increase the dose once an effective level has been reached. Neither tolerance (medication effects that decrease over time with the same dose) nor withdrawal (physiological or bodily dependence on medication) appears to be an issue for individuals with ADHD. Some adults may actually find that they respond to lower doses of medication and reduce their dosages over time. In addition, stimulant medication may actually provide a protective effect for some individuals with ADHD and decrease the likelihood of needing to use other substances to control their symptoms.

High profile articles about people who are abusing stimulant medications (e.g., Ritalin, Adderall, or Dexedrine) frequently appear in the media. Unfortunately, the media often presents inaccurate information regarding these cases. While it is true that these medications can be abused and that a young person can become addicted, the use of stimulant medication to treat ADHD does not automatically lead to drug addiction. Adolescents and adults who are not being treated for ADHD make up the bulk of these media cases. Adderall and Dexedrine are popular because they produce a high similar to speed in people who do not have ADHD. Ritalin is typically used as a last resort because it does not produce the euphoria that is so desirable to drug abusers.

If you notice that your child seems to experience a reduction with regard to medication-related symptom improvement, do not automatically assume that they are addicted or have developed a tolerance to their medication. Consult with the medication prescriber and consider the following questions:

  • Are the new symptoms attention-seeking? Ritalin will not control an upsurge in oppositional or aggressive behavior.
  • Is the person taking the medication as prescribed?
  • Are there new environmental factors (tension in the home, fighting at school, etc.) that may be causing a behavior change?
  • Has the child outgrown the dose? An increase in a child's body weight may require a higher amount.
  • Matthew

    I am a freshman in college with ADHD. I have always wondered to myself if it was the right decision to use Adderall XR to treat my ADHD. So mow i get to my point, could you please give me a little citation, because without it it make me question your creditability. Thanks.

    Editor's Note: Inline citations such as footnotes or endnotes are generally included in articles intended for a scholarly audience. Other audiences can find such notes offputting, however as they tend to make articles less readable. This article was intentionally written without inline citations as the website is aimed primarily at being a resource for lay people, not scholars. You can send specific questions to me, via editor at centersite dot net and I will help answer them within limits (e.g., we are not going to write your report for you - grin!).

  • Anonymous-1

    I agree with the abobe/bellow reader. No citations and this article, while it sounds more like and Ad created to clean up the image of ADHD medications. It would be interesting to see a study, statstics or some -factual- information about the thruth of addiction and dependency.

  • Kylie

    While I do agree with some of what you said, it's hard to respect what you are trying to say because you are clearly not educated in what you are talking about... 1. Adderall and dexedrine ARE speed, they are amphetamines (Which is speed) and actually ritalin is by far, a more euphoric drug than dexedrine/adderall. I have done both many times. Ritalin is VERY much like cocaine, almost identifcal in effects. You get an intense euphoria for about 45 minutes - sometimes comparable to even ecstasy, and definitely the same effect, even more powerful then cocaine sometimes. Adderall and dexedrine are not quite as rushingly euphoric as ritalin. But the high/peak lasts longer and the comedown is much smoother. Make no mistake - ritalin is an intensely euphoric drug and actually, most ppl who abuse adhd meds prefer ritalin, it isn't a last resort. For me, I couldn't handle the short intense highs followed by intense crashes, so even tho I prefer ritalin over dexedrine, dexedrine is more smooth and easier on me.

    I use these drugs recreationally and as you said above, like most ppl who are adhd med addicts or abusers, am NOT being treated for adhd. I think its a complicated issue, yes putting children on drugs (and lets face it, thats what they are...amphetamine (speed!) and something nearly identical in effect and pharmacologically to cocaine (can even show up as cocaine on a drug test sometimes!) we are getting children high to change their behaviour) and that can totally easily make way to drug abuse and what not, but also, NOT medicating adhd kids can lead them on the path of drug abuse too. A lot, if not majority of meth addicts are ADHD and I think many of them start using it bc it makes them feel and behave normally, and they think its their only choice to better themselves because theyve gone their lives dealing with their ADHD. I think best thing would be to work harder on other approaches that dont involve drugs right off the bat, these meds are highly over prescribed. I think a lot of ADHD kids just need to learn in a different environment, a more hands on approach.

  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

    Hi Kylie,

    Thank you for your interest in this very important topic. However, the information presented is not erroneous. If you read more carefully, the authors state that ADHD drugs have a very high potential for abuse and are abused by people who want to get high. However, and at the same time, it is not true that having ADHD and being prescribed this class of stimulants will cause the patient to turn to drug abuse. Yes, anyone can abuse drugs but it does not mean that someone who is precribed a drug will ipso facto become a drug abuser.

    And, yes, there are behavioral training methods that can help people control their ADHD symptoms. The problem is that there are many times where the medications are needed because children are too impulsive to settle down to learning those methods.

    Dr. Schwartz