Medications for ADHD: Dangers of Addiction, Misuse and Abuse


Medications for ADHD: Dangers of Addiction, Misuse and Abuse

Many readers have recently asked what happens when a child or adult who is not ADHD takes a drug for ADHD.  Most were concerned about the stimulant ADHD drugs such as methamphetamine or mixed salts amphetamines.

It’s easy to understand their concern as many news print and broadcast articles have discussed the current epidemic of ADHD stimulant medication misuse and overuse.

In fact, many cities have a big problem with women and men who use drugs like Adderall to lose weight or provide bursts of energy and stay awake for many hours at a time and college and high school students who use the same or a similar drug to help study for exams and improver grades. In some of these cities, users actually pay to attend parties or lectures where they learn how to fake the symptoms of ADHD in order to legally obtain ADHD drugs or how to buy or swap them with those who students who really have ADHD..

However, it seems the majority of these questions came about as a result of parents or spouses discovering their child or other loved one was taking a drug for ADHD without their knowledge or they were worried their child previously diagnosed with ADHD, really did not have ADHD at all and may have been misdiagnosed as ADHD.

The answer to the question of course is not all that simple. What I tell my parents of ADHD children is that all medications used to treat ADHD can have minor-bothersome side effects or serious life-threatening side effects and everything in between.

The extent of any drug’s side effect depends upon several factors:

  • The dose of the medication-how many milligrams
  • How frequently the ADHD medication is taken-once, twice or more per day
  • How long the drug has been taken-days, months or years
  • How persistently or regularly the ADHD drug has been taken
  • Whether the drug is taken with food, with other drugs (both legal and illegal) or with alcohol
  • And whether a drug allergy to the drug existed before or developed while taking the drug
  • The health of the individual before they took the drug or drugs or ADHD.

These factors are all important when it comes to “predicting side-effects or dangers” of taking ADHD medications. They become even more important when a child, teen or adult is taking an ADHD medication when they are not ADHD, as they are much more likely to develop severe side effects of the misused or abused ADHD drug.

Some of the more significant side effects and signs of misusing or abusing drugs used to treat ADHD include:

  • Insomnia that can last for days at a time
  • Extreme restlessness, uncontrollable racing thoughts
  • An increase in impulsive behavior-speeding, use of drugs, abuse of cell phone and video games, unprotected sex, use of illegal drugs, abuse of legal drugs such as cigarettes and alcohol, engaging in other risky behaviors that might cause disability or death
  • Bipolar type behavior with extreme mood swings and mania-followed by deep depression
  • Use of sleep medications and alcohol in a desperate move to force sleep (this sets up a dangerous cycle where the sleep medication makes the ADHD stimulant seem to stop working, resulting in the person taking more and more amphetamine or methamphetamine  to stay focused and hyper-alert during the day)
  • Psychotic behavior-seeing things, feeling things or hearing things that aren’t there
  • Extreme elevation of blood pressure exposing the person abusing the ADHD stimulant to heart, brain, and kidney damage
  • Irregular heart rate (cardiac arrhythmia) – which may lead to death
  • Increased risk of death by suicide
  • Increased risk of addiction to the ADHD medication, other illegally obtained drugs, alcohol, and illegal drugs such as cocaine, meth, and pot.

You might discover many more subtle signs of ADHD drug abuse and misuse in your pre-teen child, teenager, sibling or spouse if you just pay close attention to their behavior, the way they dress, the way they interact with family and friends and their physical condition.

Please… If you have experienced a loved one who has been wrongfully diagnosed as ADHD and suffered harm from taking drugs to treat ADHD or was found abusing illegally obtained ADHD medication, please drop me an email and share your story with other concerned parents, siblings, and spouses. We all learn from each other.

If you suspect your loved one is abusing ADHD medications and is not ADHD, try talking to them about your concerns without finger-pointing and blaming. Offer to get professional help for them-do not expect them to do it on their own as these drugs can be terribly addicting and usually affects the person’s decision making abilities.

Frank Barnhill. MD


P.S. thought you might be interested in these previous articles about misuse and abuse of ADHD drugs.

ADHD Drug Abuse in High School Students

College Student ADHD Drug Abuse a Serious Problem

Are women using ADHD drugs just to lose weight?

Faking ADHD can cause ADHD Misdiagnosis in Children and Teens

College Student Abuse of ADHD Drugs Causes ADHD Misdiagnosis 

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