ADHD and Drug Addiction – Why Medications Must Not Be Abused

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder. The major characteristics of ADHD are hyperactivity and inattentiveness, as suggested by the name itself. Those might sound like they are a regular part of a child’s growing-up process.

However, children with ADHD don’t simply grow out of these characteristics. In fact, as the child grows older, the intensity of these symptoms grows and becomes more severe if left untreated well into adulthood.

These symptoms seriously affect the day-to-day life and functioning of children and adults suffering from ADHD.

Causes and Medical Treatment of ADHD

Treatment of ADHD relies on the management of symptoms as the root cause of ADHD does not have an identifiable cure as of yet. The major symptoms of ADHD in children are as follows:

  • Short attention span
  • Daydreaming
  • Squirm or fidget when seated
  • Forgetfulness
  • Can’t sit still for more than a few minutes
  • Talking a lot and very fast

There are three types of ADHD and treatment is provided according to the type of symptoms the child or adult exhibits.

  • Predominantly Inattentive
  • Predominantly Hyperactive
  • Combined/Mixed

The treatment of ADHD includes a combination of medicines, parental training, and behavioral therapy. Since there is no singular and definitive test to pinpoint an ADHD diagnosis, it is made largely on the patient’s history, asking questions from their parents or guardians, and medical assessments.

Medication is a big part of ADHD treatment and not everyone with ADHD has been prescribed drugs to treat their symptoms. The diagnosis largely depends on the severity of symptoms and the condition of the patient. When it comes to medication, drugs are prescribed mostly in combination and the specific doses are decided after assessment and trial. Stimulants (amphetamines and methylphenidates), non-stimulants (clonidine), and antidepressants (Bupropion) are mostly used in combination.

ADHD and Drug Addiction

People with ADHD who remain undiagnosed often turn to self-medication. Self-medication may be done by using illegally acquired prescription drugs such as amphetamines, or recreational drugs. These drugs take off the edge and help people with ADHD to focus and concentrate on their tasks as well as control their hyperactivity, as well as some executive functions if there are obstructions in this field.

People with ADHD are more prone to developing physical and psychological dependence on these drugs as their dosage is unregulated and with time, they require higher doses to cope with their symptoms. This ends with a drug dependence resulting in moderate to severe addiction. The medicines that are mostly abused by patients are stimulants.

Symptoms of ADHD Medication Abuse

Other than unprescribed medication, people who are prescribed drugs by their doctors also fall into the cycle of abusing their medication. This happens mostly in students who wish to increase their focus while studying for exams, or by sharing their medication with others who have not prescribed medication of their own.

This intake of extra dosage without medical supervision throws off the amphetamine levels in the blood and leads to a cycle of drug abuse.

‘When it comes to prescribed medications, drug abuse is when you are using them in ways which were not listed under the prescription,’ says URP California’s CEO Bryan Alzate.

Signs of amphetamine (stimulant) dependence include:

  • Mood swings
  • Weight loss
  • Fine tremors
  • Confusional state
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia

People who have a dual diagnosis of ADHD with any other mental health disorders, like depression, anxiety, personality disorders, mood disorders, etc. are at a higher risk of falling into a cycle of drug misuse and abuse disorders.

It is important for guardians to maintain an environment of open communication and gentleness while monitoring their loved ones who are taking ADHD medication to ensure they have all the support they need.

Prevention Of Drug Misuse

It always helps to take steps to prevent drug misuse than to treat it. Statistics show that recovery is a long-term process that sometimes remains incomplete. There is also the chance of relapsing.

Studies show that if children are placed on ADHD medication prescriptions earlier in their life, they have a much no added risk of falling into drug use disorders in their adolescence and adult life.

Treatment for ADHD has a growing success rate and it is possible to drastically improve lifestyle when the correct combination of therapy and medication is used.

Patient and guardian counseling is of utmost importance to ensure that the child does not fall into prescription drug misuse. Monitoring and counting the intake of pills and conveying the message that the prescription will not be renewed before the assigned date of renewal.

Instilling healthy habits paired with adequate therapy support early on helps to prevent the development of substance use disorders later in life.

Addiction Treatment for People With ADHD

Statistics show that around 20% of the people being treated for alcohol and substance use disorders including prescription medication abuse have ADHD. A large percentage of these are children to develop drug dependence and misuse in their teen years.

Help is available for people who wish to seek treatment and recovery from substance use disorders. If a person had a dual diagnosis of substance abuse and ADHD, they will be treated for both their ADHD and will be provided adequate rehabilitation services for their substance use disorders.

Private rehabilitation facilities provide the best round-the-clock treatment. There is no shame in seeking treatment because oftentimes people with ADHD are at a higher risk of falling into substance use disorders than those who do not have this condition.


There are five main lessons we could learn from the facts around ADHD and drug addiction shown above:

  1. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that mostly displays symptoms in early childhood. These symptoms don’t resolve with time and become worse as the person progresses into adulthood if left untreated.
  2. Medication used to treat ADHD includes amphetamines, clonidine, and bupropion.
  3. People with ADHD are more prone to falling into substance use disorders including misuse of their prescribed medications.
  4. Prevention of substance use disorders in those with ADHD is possible with adequate parental and behavioral therapy and counseling along with monitoring of medicine intake.
  5. Rehabilitation and recovery options are available for those who end up falling into medication abuse.

What matters the most, however, is to seek help and support. Be it from loved ones and relatives or from professionals, make sure to share your worries with someone, bottling it in will only cause additional harm.

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