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Why is ADHD Medicine Abused?

Why is ADHD Medicine Abused?

Stimulant medications – such as those to treat ADHD – can be extremely habit-forming and lead to addiction

Stimulant medications, including amphetamines (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta) are typically prescribed to help treat those who were diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. These medications can be prescribed to children, adolescents or adults to help treat their symptoms. Although ADHD diagnoses are increasing, people’s symptoms tend to improve during adolescence or as they grow older. Research conducted by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found that as of 2011, 11% of children and young adults between the ages of four and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. [1]

Addiction to stimulants should be a real consideration for anyone talking them without a prescription or medical supervision. When taken in large doses, prescription stimulants increase the brain’s dopamine levels in both a rapid and highly amplified manner, similar to other drugs such as methamphetamine. Although the user may initially find its effects gratifying, as the effects wear off, he may find himself continuously chasing the high.

Why are ADHD Medications Abused?

All stimulants, such as those to help treat ADHD, work by increasing an individual’s dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, movement, as well as attention. When taken and used properly, the therapeutic effect of these medications is achieved slowly, which is similar to how dopamine is naturally produced in the brain. However, when abused or used in large amounts, it can disrupt normal communication between specific brain cells, producing euphoria and ultimately increasing the individual’s risk of addiction. Included in the following are some examples of why those who abuse ADHD medications continue to do so, even after experiencing negative consequences:

  • Suppress appetite
  • Increase wakefulness
  • Performance enhancement
  • Increase in focus and attention
  • Euphoria

When taken in large doses or higher quantities than prescribed, the individual abusing the stimulant medication is at an elevated risk of developing an addiction to the medications. This is often because the stimulants help suppress appetite, increase wakefulness, along with increase an individual’s focus and attention. Additionally, they are commonly abused for purposes such as weight loss or performance enhancement, such as a study-aid to boost grades or even concentration to accomplish job duties more effectively. Because these drugs produce euphoria, they are frequently abused for recreational purposes.

Stimulants can create euphoric effects when abused, and also increase blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature. When they are abused, they can lead to malnutrition and poor health. Repeated or chronic abuse of stimulants can lead to feelings of hostility, aggression and paranoia. At elevated doses, stimulant abuse can lead to serious cardiovascular complications, including stroke.

The positive impact that ADHD medication has on the lives of those suffering with ADHD is tremendous. Individuals who properly take the stimulant medications and are medically supervised are able to experience consistency with their daily lives, which may be something many with ADHD have never experienced before. Most individuals learn how to manage their medication and have little to no need to increase their dose once they have reached an effective level. Neither tolerance nor withdrawal symptoms appear to be an issue for individuals who are properly taking their ADHD medications. Some adults actually find that they not only respond to lower doses of the stimulant medications more effectively but that they are able to reduce their dosages over a length of time. Additionally, these stimulant medications may also provide an almost protective effect for some with ADHD because it can decrease the likelihood of them needing to use other substances to control their symptoms. [2]

Although when taken improperly and at large doses ADHD stimulant medications can lead to addiction, the benefits for those who have been diagnosed with ADHD and are under medical supervision while taking the medications have been proven extremely beneficial. If an individual, parent or loved one is worried about the side effects or addiction risks of the medication, seek medical advice and ask about alternative medications to help treat ADHD.

Drug Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you know and love is struggling with an addiction to a prescription medication, please call our toll-free helpline today. Our highly trained and professional counselors are available 24 hours a day to answer your addiction questions as well as help you find the best treatment available. It only takes one call to save your life, so call us today!


[1], DrugFacts: Stimulant ADHD Medications: Methylphenidate and Amphetamines, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 03/08/2016, 01/2014.

[2], Addiction Issues with ADHD Medications, Margaret Austin, Ph.D., Natalie Statts Reiss, Ph.D., and Laura Burgdorf, Ph.D., 03/08/2016, 11/05/2007.