Teens and ADHD Medication Addiction - How Common is This?
This entry was posted in Ember Recovery Blog on by .

Statistics show that approximately five out of every 100 children in the United States are taking medication for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) [1]. ADHD medication works to help chemicals in the brain perform better to improve attention and focus. While the medications can help teens with ADHD function better, they can cause severe problems when misused. As we look at teens and medication addiction relating to ADHD drugs, we’re going to examine how common of a problem this is, the dangers, and what you can do if you think your child is addicted.

What is ADHD Medication?

There are a variety of ADHD medications available that work to target the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals affect how well a person pays attention and concentrates. [1]

Some of the most common ADHD medications include [2]:

  • Ritalin
  • Adderall
  • Dexedrine
  • Vyvanse

While there is no cure for ADHD, these types of medicines help patients control their symptoms. They can be especially beneficial for teens who have trouble focusing.

Stimulant vs. Non-Stimulant ADHD Medication

When a doctor prescribes an ADHD medication, they may give a stimulant or a non-stimulant drug. Stimulants are the most common type of ADHD medication. Despite their name, these medications don’t work by stimulating the body. Instead, they work by increasing the levels of chemicals in the brain that help you pay attention. Studies show that approximately 80% of children with ADHD have reduced symptoms once they receive the proper stimulant medication and dosage. [3] Since these drugs are controlled substances, they can become highly addictive.

Non-stimulants increase the levels of norepinephrine in the brain but take longer to work than drugs classified as stimulants. They do help to improve attention and focus. While there are still prescription medications, they are not controlled substances like stimulants and are less likely to become addictive.

How Does ADHD Medication Abuse Happen?

ADHD medication abuse may be more common than you think. According to a study published in the journal JAMA Network, as many as one in four middle and high school students have reported abusing ADHD medications. [4]

While ADHD medicines have proven to help teens who need them, they can become highly addictive. Popular ADHD medications like Adderall are amphetamines. This type of “speed” drug can become tempting for teens looking to concentrate better in school and study. It can help them stay awake later to pull all-nighters when cramming for a test. Students who feel pressured to have good grades can become easily addicted to this type of medication. When some students abuse ADHD medication for this reason, they can develop a false sense of self-confidence and perform worse in school.

While some teens may turn to ADHD medications for this reason, others may try it because of the high it gives off. ADHD medication has also been misused to curb appetite and lose weight. [5]

Some teens who become addicted to ADHD medications are prescribed them, while others get them from friends who may take them for their ADHD diagnosis. Either way, taking these types of medicines not as prescribed can become addictive and risky.

Dangers of ADHD Medication Abuse

Teens and medication addiction to ADHD drugs can lead to dangerous consequences. ADHD medication abuse can lead to:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dangerously high body temperature
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Insomnia

Teens abusing ADHD medication can also become paranoid and aggressive and be at risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Signs Your Teen May Be Abusing ADHD Medication

There are several things to look out for that could signal your teen is misusing ADHD medication:

  • They become depressed. Because of the way ADHD alters chemicals in the brain, misuse can lead to feelings of depression. Be aware if your teen suddenly becomes depressed.
  • They experience legal troubles. Teens may get in trouble with the law if they try to get medicine illegally or try to share it illegally.
  • They start using other substances. Research shows that those who misuse ADHD medications are also likely to have multiple substance use disorders. [6]

Any of these scenarios can be red flags that your teen is misusing ADHD medication.

What to Do If You Think Your Teen is Addicted to ADHD Medication

If you think your teen is addicted to ADHD medication, you’ll want to pay close attention to any changes in behavior, even if you believe they are related to their condition. This could signal an underlying problem.

You’ll also want to:

Pay attention to their friends, especially if there are new ones. If your teen starts hanging out with peers who are into drugs, they may tempt your teen down the wrong path.

Keep all medication in a safe place and dispense it to your child. Check that your teen takes the medication as directed and that no pills are missing. This could mean that they are abusing it or giving it to others.

Talk to a Medical Professional. A doctor can examine your child to help determine whether they are misusing ADHD medication.

Seek Help at a Teen Treatment Center. ADHD medication addiction is a serious condition that requires professional help. Seeking addiction treatment is the best way to get your teen the help they need.

Teens and Medication Addiction: Getting Help at Ember Recovery

Ember Recovery works exclusively with teens to help battle their substance abuse disorders. We help teens who are abusing ADHD medication, other prescription drugs, illegal drugs, marijuana, and alcohol. Our team will devise a treatment plan specifically for your teen.

As we mentioned above, many teens who are dealing with ADHD medication addiction are also battling mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Our dual diagnosis treatment plan helps teens with this co-occurring condition by treating them both simultaneously.

To learn more about our various treatment programs and how they can help your teen overcome their substance abuse disorder, contact Ember Recovery today.



[1] https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/newsroom/news-releases/2023/09/adhd-medication-errors-study#

[2] https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/adhd/Pages/Determining-ADHD-Medication-Treatments.aspx

[3] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/11766-adhd-medication

[4] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen

[5] https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=abuse-of-prescription-adhd-medicines-rising-on-college-campuses-1-23617

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3277944/#R1