Are ADHD Medications Addictive?

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There are many people – especially children – who are diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the U.S. every year. These patients are often prescribed medication to help them manage the symptoms of the disorder. While the medications can be very effective for the treatment of ADHD, they can also pose the risk of addiction when they are not used properly.

One way that ADHD medications are used improperly, which is considered abuse, is when people who do not have the disorder use the medications as a way to increase concentration or focus. More and more students are using ADHD medications to enhance their study time and to help give them an edge academically. Unfortunately, this can lead to addiction.

What are ADHD Medications?

The medication that is most commonly prescribed for the treatment of ADHD is a stimulant, typically a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It is used to increase attention, concentration, and focus, and to control behavior by balancing the neurotransmitters in the brain. It is considered effective for the treatment of ADHD and many people suffering from the disorder are helped greatly with this type of medication.  

However, ADHD medication is often abused. In fact, studies show that the number of people for whom it is prescribed for the treatment of ADHD is smaller than the number of people who take it for its effects. Abuse is highest amongst students who take the drug to focus and increase productivity while studying. It is also sometimes abused as a way to lose weight or as a party drug due to its stimulant effects – it allows an individual to drink more alcohol without becoming tired.

ADHD medication can be habit-forming, and a person can become physically dependent on the drug. Physical dependence is a precursor to addiction, which is a difficult thing to overcome no matter what the addictive substance is.

What is Considered Abuse?

Anytime that a person takes prescription medication outside of the prescribed instructions it is considered abuse. Obtaining or administering ADHD medication (or any other medication) in any of the following ways is abuse:

  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Taking doses more frequently than prescribed
  • Taking medication in ways other than prescribed (crushing, chewing, or snorting)
  • Taking medication for reasons other than what it was prescribed or (to stay awake, to be more alert, to lose weight, etc.)
  • Taking medication that was not prescribed for you
  • Taking medication that you have bought from someone for recreational use

Many high school and college students don’t feel that experimenting with ADHD medication is abuse. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. When you use ADHD medication to enhance your performance, lose weight, or to get high, it is in fact, abuse. Additionally, when you obtain or take a controlled substance without a valid prescription (of your own), it is illegal, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and can lead to legal problems as well as addiction problems.

There truly is no safe way to abuse ADHD medication. While the medication may produce the feelings you are looking for, it can be at the risk of your physical and mental health.

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD Medication Abuse and Addiction

If you or someone you know is using ADHD medication in ways other than prescribed, there are some signs and symptoms that you can look for to determine if the abuse has crossed the line to addiction.

Physical Signs of ADHD Medication Addiction
  • Vision problems
  • Nausea, diarrhea, or constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Shaking of hands or feet
  • Fidgeting or being unable to stop moving
Psychological Signs of ADHD Medication Addiction
  • Angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Excessive talking
  • Nervousness or paranoia
  • Restlessness
  • Being more secretive than usual
  • Problems sleeping
  • Hallucinations
  • Unusually excitable

If you identify some of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, don’t ignore them. It may mean that your ADHD medication use has become a problem. The sooner you get help, the better your odds are of getting clean and avoiding the long-term effects of ADHD medication abuse and addiction.

Effects of ADHD Medication Addiction

The continued use of ADHD medication in non-prescribed ways can lead to serious side effects – both physical and otherwise.

Physical Effects of ADHD Medication Addiction
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Fatigue
  • Anger or hostility
  • Sleep problems
  • Psychosis
  • Dangerous weight loss
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Injury to nasal cavity (if snorted)
Other Life-Changing Effects
  • Co-occurring abuse or addiction of other drugs or alcohol
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems
  • Damaged interpersonal relationships with family and friends
  • Problems at school or work

Treatment for ADHD Medication Addiction

As with any drug addiction, there is good news – treatment for ADHD medication abuse and addiction is available. If you believe that you or a loved one is addicted to an ADHD medication, you may need the care that is provided in a drug addiction treatment facility. The first step is detoxification. While the detox from ADHD medication is not typically life-threatening, it is not pleasurable. Attending a medical detox facility can make it much less uncomfortable. You will be medically supervised, may receive medication to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms, and receive the support you need to get clean.

It may be recommended that you attend further treatment after you have detoxed, in either an inpatient or outpatient program. The important thing to remember about ADHD medication use is that while it may seem like a harmless solution to issues with studying or weight loss, it can quickly turn into abuse or addiction. Not even beginning to abuse the drug is, of course, the best way to prevent addiction. But if you find yourself already there, you can find help and healing from ADHD medication addiction at Serenity at Summit addiction treatment center. We offer detox, outpatient, and inpatient treatment for teens and adults who are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol. Contact us today for help.