Why Is ADHD Medicine Abused?

Why Is ADHD Medicine Abused?Many people are surprised that ADHD medicine is abused at all. This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what the medication is and how it impacts a person who is not suffering from ADHD. An ADHD medication is a stimulant. For a person properly diagnosed with ADHD, these stimulants provide the brain an ability to slow down or focus more effectively. This allows for better academic and social performance as well as any number of secondary effects such as increased self-esteem.

However, those who abuse these medications do so for two primary reasons—it is readily accessible, and it is very available nowadays. Indeed, it is far simpler to find a person who is diagnosed with ADHD and steal a few pills than it would be to buy some cocaine off the street. After all, both are stimulants. With this in mind, it will be helpful to understand how stimulants work.

What Does a Stimulant Do?

Whether cocaine or an ADHD medicine, all stimulants operate in essentially the same way.[1] All stimulants work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain—dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, movement and attention. The therapeutic effect of stimulants is achieved by slow and steady increases of dopamine, which are similar to the way dopamine is naturally produced in the brain. As a result of this increase in dopamine, a variety of immediate changes occur in an individual including the following:

  • Increased energy (well beyond that of a cup of coffee, of course)
  • Wakefulness
  • Increased confidence
  • Perception (though not a reality) of increased intelligence
  • Appetite suppression
  • Sense of euphoria

It is important to realize that an ADHD medication is a stimulant to the same degree that meth is a stimulant or that cocaine is a stimulant. While it may feel more dignified to be taking a prescription drugs instead of a street drug, there is zero difference in the overall impact, except the strength of addiction or the degree of potential risk.

However, a stimulant is a stimulant, whether it comes from the drug pusher on the corner or the medicine cabinet. Many individuals see taking an ADHD medicine as a normal component of a certain season of life. For example, some might say that an ADHD medication is just part of the package when attending an intense law school program. However, addiction is never normal, and choosing to ingest an unnatural substance to enhance your natural functions is not typical. You may have an addiction.

Look for Common Symptoms of Addiction

Mayo Clinic has identified some of the more common symptoms of addiction. A first step in determining if substance abuse is part of the picture is to consider the following list:

  • Feeling the need to use the drug regularly
  • Intense urges for the drug
  • Needing more of the drug to get the same effect
  • Always having a supply of the drug
  • Spending money on the drug, whether it is affordable or not
  • Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities
  • Doing unethical things to get the drug
  • Driving or doing other risky activities when under the influence of the drug
  • Focusing more and more time and energy the drug
  • Failing in attempts to stop using the drug

How Do Stimulants Impact the Body?

There are a series of predictable risks that a person exposes himself to when he begins to use or abuse a stimulant (again, whether that stimulant is meth or an ADHD medicine). The following are some of the more common ways that a stimulant can negatively impact the body:

  • Psychotic behavior
  • Seizures
  • Accidents due to negligence
  • Erratic sleep and eating schedules resulting in weight confusion

You Intrude Because You Care

Perhaps you are not reading this for yourself but for a friend of loved one. There are a lot of reasons why it can feel so uncomfortable to intrude, and don’t be surprised if all of them are brought up. Sadly, most battling a substance abuse to drugs like Lortab will go to any lengths to protect themselves (or rather their addiction), and this includes wounding those close to them. You have to remember that none of the words coming out really belong to them; it is their addiction speaking.

If your intervention is a success, rehabilitation may be the next step. If your loved one is ready for a change, there is support available. We can help you. We can answer your questions. The admissions counselors at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can help you learn more about your mental health condition. They can help you find your way.


[1] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/stimulant-adhd-medications-methylphenidate-amphetamines, “DrugFacts: Stimulant ADHD Medications: Methylphenidate and Amphetamines,” accessed March 14, 2016

[2] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/basics/symptoms/con-20020970, “Drug Addiction Symptoms,” accessed January 31, 2016