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ADHD Medication Misuse

Ask the Experts by Ghada Abdallah, RPh


Q: I’ve been hearing, recently, that ADHD medications can be used as stimulants for people without ADHD. If this is true, why would these types of meds be abused and how dangerous is it?


A: Yes, it is true that ADHD meds are often misused for something other than prescribed. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the three classes of medication most commonly misused are:

  • opioids – usually prescribed to treat pain;

  • central nervous system (CNS) depressants (including tranquilizers, sedatives and hypnotics) – used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders; and

  • stimulants – most often prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)


Stimulants increase alertness, attention, energy, and elevate blood pressure, heart rate and respiration. They are prescribed to treat ADHD, narcolepsy and occasionally treatment-resistant depression. 


These medications increase wakefulness, motivation and aspects of cognition, learning and memory. Abuse can occur when taken in an absence of medical need to enhance mental performance. Given that stimulant prescriptions have increased dramatically over the last 2 decades, availability and increased risk for diversion and nonmedical use has also increased.


If prescribed and used properly, these medications can greatly enhance a patient’s quality of life. Used improperly, however, it is possible for people to become dependent on or addicted to stimulants. Repeated misuse (sometimes within a short period) can lead to feelings of hostility, paranoia or even psychosis. Taking high doses of a stimulant may result in dangerously high body temperature and an irregular heartbeat. Cardiovascular failure and even seizures may occur. 


As with all medications, keep them secure in your home and do not allow access to individuals without medical need for them. Medications used improperly pose significant health risks. Contact your local pharmacist for information on disposing of unused prescriptions properly. 


Ghada Abdallah, RPh, earned her Bachelors of Science degree in pharmacy from Wayne State University in 2002. Abdallah is a former member of The Family Center’s Association of Professionals and serves on The Family Center Board of Directors.


A website to help families with a child who has been diagnosed with ADHD:


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