ADHD Medications: Are ADHD Drugs Addictive?

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, is it better to rely on behavioral techniques, natural supplements or ADHD drugs?

Should You Being Giving ADHD Medications To Your Child?

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, is it better to rely on behavioral techniques, natural supplements or ADHD drugs?With all the controversy surrounding ADHD medications, it is difficult for a parent to make an informed decision for their child. Some experts claim that ADHD drugs are addictive, while others insist they aren't.

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, is it better to rely on behavioral techniques, natural supplements or drugs? While behavioral techniques can be helpful alone or in conjunction with ADHD drugs and some children can improve their symptoms with supplements, in this article, we will focus on the facts about ADHD medications so you can make the most informed decision for your child.

The current ADHD medications are Dexedrine, Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta and Strattera. (Strattera is the newest of the five and is not considered a stimulant because it works in conjunction with the neurotransmitter, dopamine.)

As mentioned before, the big concern of parents is that ADHD medications are addictive. This concern can be addressed by comparing ADHD drugs to illegal stimulants that are known to be addictive. In this case, we will compare Ritalin to Cocaine. The difference between Ritalin and Cocaine is in the way the drugs are metabolized. While Ritalin is metabolized slowly, the effect of Cocaine is almost immediate. To the immediate-gratification pleasure-seeker, this makes all the difference in the world because it is the rapidly diminishing high that causes the addict to crave more drugs. Based on this difference, researchers have concluded that ADHD medications metabolize too slowly to be habit-forming.

Since Ritalin has been used in treatment since the 1940's, we can turn to medical case histories to determine whether long-term use of ADHD drugs leads to addiction later in life. According to these histories, less than 1 percent of those who took ADHD medications became addicted to other substances (illegal or otherwise) as adults. In support of this, at a National Institutes of Health conference, Dr. Wilens reported that kids who take Ritalin to manage ADHD have a 68% lower chance of developing drug problems later on.

On the other side of the debate, mental health professionals and parents argue that if a child becomes accustomed to using ADHD medications to manage his problems, he will turn to legal or street drugs to cope with problems later on.

Perhaps what the research indicates is that there is a difference in addiction rates when dealing with a physical versus a psychic (or emotional) problem. Those who meet the diagnosis criteria for ADHD have a real physical problem--a disorder that is characterized by striking differences in brain development. Perhaps the difference parallels what has long been known about those who suffer from chronic physical pain--such individuals do not become addicted to painkillers. By contrast, those who take drugs to escape emotional pain do develop addictions.

The Center for Disease Control lists ADHD as one of the four major health crises in the United States today. (The crises are in order: anorexia, anxiety, depression and ADHD.) Although it is estimated that 17 million people in the U.S. meet ADHD diagnostic criteria, only one in eight are being treated.

This leads us to ask about the implications of those left untreated. According to statistics, 55% of those with untreated ADHD abuse drugs and alcohol, 35% never finish high school, 19% smoke cigarettes (compared to ten percent of the total population), 50% of prison inmates have ADHD and 43% of untreated hyperactive boys are arrested for a felony by age sixteen. Perhaps the problems associated with coping with ADHD symptoms without assistance become too much to bear.

Although this article was intended to give parents more information about ADHD medications, please do not consider this an endorsement. (I have published a variety of articles that offer natural and behavioral means for managing ADHD symptoms.) The choice to put your child on ADHD drugs should be an informed decision that is made by considering all the research out there, the particulars of your child's situation and consultations with your family, physician and qualified mental health professionals.

About the author: Laura Ramirez has a degree in psychology, is the mother of two young boys and author of the award-winning book, Keepers of the Children: Native American Wisdom and Parenting.

Recommended Reading: The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child by Thom Hartmann. This book advocates techniques, rather than drugs to help parents teach coping skills and learning strategies to their ADHD child. To find out more, click on the book graphic below.

next: Benefits and Risks of ADHD Medications
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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 12). ADHD Medications: Are ADHD Drugs Addictive?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: February 14, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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