Whether you have ADHD yourself or know someone who does, the thought of help from a stimulant seems counter-intuitive. How could an upper help someone who’s already restless, impulsive and stymied by distraction? Interestingly, the revved-up symptoms of ADHD are actually the result of decreased brain activity from a neurotransmitter deficiency, which is why this condition is often treated with stimulant medication. For those with the condition, these medications serve their purpose. Unfortunately, stimulants are also the most commonly misused and shared substance.

How Stimulant Medication Works

Your brain works by sending electrical impulses from one nerve to the next. Gaps, or synapses, between nerves are bridged by neurotransmitters such as dopamine and epinephrine, which help the electrical signals cross those gaps. If you have ADHD, you have a deficit in this neurotransmitter activity. Stimulants boost the levels of neurotransmitters. This enables the electrical impulses to travel more efficiently, making executive function skills like attention, impulse control and task perseverance all easier and as a result calms the debilitating symptoms of ADHD.

ADHD Medication – Misuse versus Abuse

ADHD PrescriptionIf you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, you’ve likely been prescribed a stimulant medication such as Adderall, Dextrostat, Vyvanse, Dexedrine, or Ritalin. You’ll likely experience the increased wakefulness and focus that it provides, but use of any substance over time results in your body developing a tolerance to it. Research has shown that individuals tend to abuse these stimulatory ADHD medications because they are amphetamine-based. Amphetamines can cause alertness, a confident sense of well-being, and motivation. These positive feelings are often chased in the forms of misusing and abusing the medication.

The right dosage for those who need it can help regulate attention deficiency and increase productivity. But misuse is common among those who are prescribed, as well as those who are not.

The term misuse specifically refers to the action of using more than the prescribed dose or using the prescribed dose more often than indicated. Abuse refers to the use of a substance that interferes with normal behavior, leading to dependency and compulsivity. If someone with ADHD is using their medication for any reason other than to relieve their own symptoms, it classifies as misuse. Misuse is often the gateway to abuse, and can lead to a full blown addiction if it isn’t managed in its early stages.

Forms of Misuse

There are several manners in which ADHD medication can be misused:

  1. Sharing – If you have been prescribed ADHD medication, taking it yourself and following proper instructions poses no harm or risk for addiction. The situation is not the same for those that have not been diagnosed with the disorder. The effects of the medication are particularly desirable for those that need a mental boost while working or studying. Stimulant medication helps with focus, and many college kids find themselves seeking this type of drug when their workload is overwhelming, or finals are right around the corner. Because you haven’t been medically evaluated, using someone else’s dosage can be extremely dangerous. Especially if you’ve never taken the medication before, your body’s response to a new substance can never be completely predicted.
  2. Method – Whether or not you’re prescribed the medication, taking it in any form other than the one recommended is classified as misuse. Crushing and snorting stimulant medications allows their effects to hit you much faster and much harder, producing a cocaine-like high. Doing such a thing could indicate that you are leaning toward using your prescription for a stronger high, signaling that this could be the start of a problem.
  3. Frequency – You’ve been prescribed a stimulant medication, and you’re taking the correct dosage, but more often than you should be. Maybe you think this is okay because you’re doing as you were told by your doctor, just taking shorter breaks in-between. This frequency could indicate that you are developing a physical desire to keep the drug in your system, and points toward more abusive habits.
  4. Recreational Use – It goes without saying that you should not take any medication for reasons other than prescribed. As of late, ADHD medication has been used recreationally to stay awake and alert during parties. Stimulant medication increases your alertness, allowing users to stay out longer than they normally would without the boost. This elevated state can also lead to consuming high amounts of alcohol without fully realizing it.

Stimulant medications are extremely beneficial for those who need it. ADHD has been successfully treated with these medications and pose no real threat to users when taken properly. Conversely, stimulant medications can be very easy to misuse and abuse. Because they are prescribed, they may seem harmless in comparison to more dangerous forms of amphetamine such as meth and speed. But drugs are drugs, and abusing any substance at all can lead to serious addiction.

Don’t wait to reach out. If you feel you are developing a dependency to your stimulant medication, call us today. You don’t have to hit rock bottom to get help, and catching a drug dependency in its early stages has the most potential for full recovery. Scottsdale Recovery Center offers several counselors, therapies, treatments, and programs that can assist in all facets of your condition.


Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.