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Why Is ADHD Medicine Abused?

Why Is ADHD Medicine Abused?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is “a common brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.”[1] They symptoms of ADHD, inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity can be so severe or occur so often that it interferes with a child or adult’s ability to function socially or at work or school. Clearly these symptoms can be extremely difficult identify and distinguish in children, as typical childish behavior can consist of hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive behaviors. Therefore it is necessary for individuals to monitor the severity and persistency of their or their child’s symptoms. To receive an ADHD diagnosis, the symptoms must be chronic, impair the person’s functioning, and cause him or her to fall behind normal development for their age.

ADHD is one of those conditions where the term is used loosely. People tend to throw a diagnosis or even self-diagnosis around if they show signs of being easily distracted or lacking the ability to concentrate for periods of time. This is clearly harmful, as it alters people’s perception of the seriousness of this disorder.

ADHD is caused by a combination of factors including genetics, brain injuries and abnormalities or changes in the brain’s chemical balance. As a result, an ADHD diagnosis requires treatment, which can help manage systems and improve one’s overall ability to function. Common treatment options used for ADHD include psychotherapy, education and/or medication.

Commonly Misused or Abused Types of ADHD Medicine

There are a number of different medications used to treat symptoms of ADHD that include the following:

  • Stimulants – drugs that work to increase dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain and stimulate brain activity.[2] Stimulants can include amphetamines like Adderall, methamphetamine, or methylephenidate like Ritalin, or Concerta.
  • Non-stimulants – drugs that act on the brain’s neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, but do not increase dopamine levels.
  • Antidepressants –drugs that also affect the brain’s neurotransmitters that affect mood and emotion.

Oftentimes, stimulants come with side effects that can require additional medication to treat. Antidepressants can reduce resulting symptoms of depression, anxiety, or psychosis.

Why Are People Abusing Prescription ADHD Medication?

Prescription ADHD medicine is a popular drug choice for abuse, where studies show that approximately 900,000 Americans abuse prescription stimulants every month. [3] And as of 2011, 11 percent of people between the ages of 4-17 had been diagnosed with ADHD.[4] That constitutes for a great deal of prescribed medication, and many young adults have and college students have admitted to providing false or exaggerated symptoms in order to obtain ADHD medication. Why?

Individuals with ADHD use prescription medication to find a calming and focusing effect. However, stimulant medication works differently on the brain of a person without ADHD. Prescription stimulants increase the brain’s dopamine levels, which affects things like mood, energy and concentration. So people seek out these medications for a multitude of different reasons related to a desire for an increase in energy levels, wakefulness, focus and attention, and a decrease in appetite. People from all walks of life feel like they can benefit from using these potentially addictive medications: individuals wanting to lose weight, college students wanting to cram for exams, people working long or unusual hours at work, athletes seeking a jolt in energy, and even people looking to waive off tired feelings from other abused substances like alcohol. Yes, many young adults favor abusing ADHD medications so that they can continue partying or experiencing a “high” for hours on end.

Is There Any Harm in Using ADHD Medication?

Prescription stimulants used to treat ADHD are classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act because they have a high potential for abuse and addition. Sadly, this fact alone does not provide enough to punch to alert people to the real dangers and harm in misusing or abusing prescription ADHD medication. People understand that other drugs like alcohol and tobacco can be potentially addictive, but may not know how addictive prescription medications are. Many individuals use prescription stimulants without a second thought—as shown by the many statistics revealing the mass amount of people who are abusing ADHD medications in the U.S. every month.

Prescription stimulants and ADHD medication can seem far less harmful than other stimulants like cocaine, and crystal meth, because they are time-released, meaning they have a cap for how quickly the effects can be experienced. However, with misuse and abuse, prescription stimulants will increase the brain’s dopamine levels so much that the brain will no longer produce normal levels of dopamine on its own. This will fuel the need for a person to continue using stimulants in order to feel even normal. To achieve the heightened symptoms they crave, individuals will need to use large or frequent quantities of stimulants.

When the brain becomes so accustomed to stimulant use that it becomes dependent, a person will experience symptoms of fatigue, depression, and difficulties sleeping. Other symptoms include erratic mood swings, feelings of hostility or paranoia, irritability and restlessness, and even psychosis. Large or frequent doses of ADHD medications can increase body temperature and heart rate to dangerously high levels that cause heart failure or seizures. These potentially fatal effects are far more common when the drug is used or combined with other drugs. In the long run, stimulant abuse increases the risk for mental health disorders like depression and psychosis as well as brain damage. Finally, the misuse and abuse of ADHD medication can absolutely lead to dependence and addiction.

Learn More About Prescription Drug Abuse, Addiction and Your Options for Treatment

If you would like to learn more about prescription drug abuse and addiction, please speak to one of our recovery professionals via our toll-free helpline. Recovery professionals are available around-the-clock to talk to you about prescription drug addiction as well as your options for treatment. Whether you still have questions, are looking for information, or are ready to find treatment options today, we are happy to help. Call and chat with a recovery professional today.


[1] (2016, March). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from

[2] Cherney, Kristeen. (2014, October 29). Treating Attention Deficit. Healthline. Retrieved from

[3] Smith, Kayla. (2016, January 21). Stimulant Addiction and Abuse. Addiction Center. Retrieved from

[4] (2014, January). Drug Facts: Stimulant ADHD Medication: Methylphenidate and Amphetamines. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from