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Can Stimulant Medication for ADHD Increase Someone’s Risk for Substance Abuse?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by attention difficulty, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity. Common medications for ADHD include: Adderall, Ritalin, Dexedrine, and more. Stimulant medications work for those with ADHD by increasing dopamine levels in the brain, which helps boost concentration and focus, while reducing hyperactive and impulsive-type of behaviors. Some medications for ADHD are short-term doses, while others are longer-acting ones. Understanding the role of medication in ADHD and its potential for abuse could help you or a loved one seek help before substance dependency becomes a major concern.

Stimulant medications, such as Adderall, have been known to be addictive, with effects similar to that of cocaine. However, younger children using this prescribed medication may potentially find an open door to substance abuse later down the road; thus far, research has shown that substance abuse is more of a concern in the future for adolescents taking medication for ADHD than adults. For example, a 2014 study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors examined 208 youth through adulthood; risk factors for being diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD) in the future were 1) female gender, 2) having a conduct disorder in childhood and 3) older age at the initiation of stimulant medication for ADHD.

Does this mean your child should not be taking stimulant medication for ADHD? Not necessarily; each person is different, and what’s more important is that your child is monitored carefully by a healthcare team over the years. Knowing what’s going on in your child’s life can help you better take preventative measures should concerning behavior arise. Many medications that are used for ADHD have been approved with research confirming their efficacy, making medication an appropriate option for many people with this disorder.

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