Other medications

Is ADHD medication addictive?

Understand the different types of medications used to treat ADHD, their risks, and the potential for addiction.

Ophelia team
ADHD medications + addiction
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Fact checked by
Arthur Robin Williams, MD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental disorders in children, with 6 million kids ages 3-17 years diagnosed from 2016-2019. As kids with ADHD get older, their condition may continue into adulthood about 20% of the time. In other cases, individuals with ADHD may not be diagnosed until adulthood. People with ADHD tend to experience difficulty focusing, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. Most people know that ADHD can lead to poor school and work performance. When you have problems paying attention, organizing your thoughts, and committing things to memory, it can be hard to study or work. 

Many individuals use medications to treat symptoms and lead more productive lives. However, you should understand the different types of ADHD medication and their risks before seeking treatment. Below, we’ll explain the various treatments for ADHD and the potential for addiction.

Is there a connection between ADHD + addiction?

Before we get into the addictive potential of medication, it’s essential to discuss the link between ADHD and addiction. People with ADHD are already at a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD) than the general population. This might be due to several factors, such as impulsivity and poor judgment that stem from ADHD, frustrations with school and work performance, or attempts to self-medicate with psychoactive drugs. Whatever the reason, parents of children with ADHD and adults with ADHD should be aware of the risk.

Remember that just because you are at a greater risk of addiction, it doesn’t mean substance use is guaranteed or unavoidable. With early detection, diagnosis, and professional treatment, individuals with ADHD can manage their symptoms and get the necessary care and support. 

How is ADHD treated?

Depending on the individual’s symptoms, ADHD may be treated with therapy, behavioral interventions, prescription medication, or a combination. The most common medications used for treatment are the stimulants Adderall and Ritalin. Stimulants are usually the first suggested treatment for ADHD, but non-stimulant options are available.

What’s the difference between stimulant + non-stimulant medication?

Prescription stimulants increase levels of certain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) in the brain, like dopamine and norepinephrine. This produces a calming effect and can help reduce symptoms of ADHD. For example, taking stimulants may increase your attention span if you have trouble paying attention. Likewise, it can lead to better impulse control in someone who struggles with impulsive behaviors.

Non-stimulants are generally recommended when stimulants are ineffective or have adverse side effects. Many non-stimulant options are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat ADHD, including Strattera, tricyclic antidepressants, and certain high blood pressure medications. 

What makes stimulants and non-stimulants different? For one, stimulants are faster-acting but more short-lived, meaning patients must take them more often. The effects of non-stimulants on ADHD symptoms are slower, but they are also longer lasting. You usually only need to take them once per day.

When it comes to stimulants, there are also some concerns about addiction. Some doctors may prescribe non-stimulants to individuals with SUDs.

Can people experiencing addiction safely take ADHD meds?

Is it unsafe for patients with substance use disorder to take stimulants for ADHD? Opinions seem to be mixed on the issue. While it is generally accepted that people with ADHD are at a higher risk of SUD, there’s debate over whether ADHD meds can contribute to that risk. 

A UCLA analysis of 15 long-term studies found that children with ADHD taking stimulants were no more or less likely to develop an alcohol or substance use disorder later in life. This suggests that the problem is with ADHD itself, not the treatment. However, because prescription stimulants can result in feelings of euphoria, ADHD medication can be misused. Patients may incorrectly believe that taking more than directed can further improve their concentration.

Large doses of ADHD meds might make you more impulsive and hyperactive. On the extreme end, it can lead to seizures, psychosis, heart attack, and stroke. It’s crucial to always follow your doctor’s recommended dosage.

Now, the question remains: Is it safe for people struggling with substance use to take ADHD meds? Unfortunately, research hasn’t entirely caught up. Long-term studies still need to be done to find the most effective medications for people with ADHD and SUDs. Doctors may prescribe non-stimulants or extended-release stimulants that take longer to kick in. Or they may recommend medications for addiction treatment (MAT) to reduce dependency before introducing therapy or ADHD medication.

Comprehensive care + evidence-based support with Ophelia

If you’re struggling with ADHD and opioid use disorder (OUD), you don’t have to go through it alone. Ophelia is here to get you the support you need. We offer an evidence-based approach to OUD, providing comprehensive care and treatments that work. Along with a customized treatment plan and a dedicated clinical care team, you’ll have access to compassionate ADHD treatment that considers your SUD and personal needs. All you need to do is answer a few quick questions and set up a 15-minute welcome call to see if we’re a good fit for you.


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