ADHD & the Risk of Substance Use Disorder

If your child has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, you might be one of the many parents in the world today that are concerned with the medications that have been prescribed for your child. While there have been studies on the long term effects of medications prescribed for ADD or ADHD, such as Adderall or Ritalin, the conclusions from these studies have been conflicting.

In the past (before 2007), studies have suggested that these medications actually decrease a child’s chance for abusing drugs when they get to be adolescents. However, a study reported by Harvard researchers in March of 2008 shows that by adulthood, these individuals are neither more nor less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol than their non ADHD/ADD peers. The study also reports that children taking these medications are not likely to become addicted to the stimulants, which help them ease their restless brains. To sum it all up, these children are not supposed to be any more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol than those who haven’t taken these medications.

Not everyone would agree. Some would argue that individuals with ADHD often end up turning to addictive substances as they get older, in order to self-medicate and try to feel normal. Often ADHD sufferers experience restlessness, difficulty with organization, and shame over their condition. Sometimes their medications seem to lose their effectiveness over time. Sometimes drugs and alcohol help ease their symptoms at first, but then become addicting and binding.

As far as the addicting qualities of ADHD medications go, it is known that amphetamines (Adderall) may pose a risk for abuse if used for prolonged periods of time. However, many of the cases of addiction to ADHD medications seem to be the result of improper use or lack of education. If a child sees their doctor increasing the dose of their Adderall in order to make the child feel better, the child may then learn to self medicate and increase the dose by themselves in the future.

Don’t Wait

One thing that most experts do agree on is that the sooner a child is treated for ADHD, the better. Children suffering from ADHD that go untreated over time will be more likely to feel depressed, restless, and suicidal. The research is clear that medications such as Adderall and Ritalin are usually effective in treating the symptoms of ADHD. By successfully treating the symptoms, a child will be made to feel more normal, and the less likely they will need to self-medicate.

The best thing parents can do if their child has been diagnosed with ADHD or ADD is to follow the doctor’s advice and give the medication as directed. However, it is important for parents to be aware of the risks the treatment may pose. By watching their children for signs of depression, self-medicating, or substance abuse, parents can help their children avoid any harmful consequences, while easing their restless brain and helping them gain control of their lives.

Richardson, Wendy ADHD and Addiction adders.org

Coker, Matt Adderall Treats ADHD But Can Lead to Addiction. One Clinic Tries to Help OC Kick ‘College Crack’ August 28, 2008 OC Weekly News

Shulman, Matthew Ritalin and the Risk of Substance Abuse U.S. News and World Report March 3, 2008