Are Prescription Stimulants Safe for Treating ADHD?

ADHD and Prescription Stimulant Medication

Stimulants are a part of a class of drugs that are meant to enhance brain activity. Prescription stimulants historically were used to treat things like asthma, neurological disorders, obesity, and many other ailments. This was before their potential for abuse and addiction was known. Nowadays, they are prescribed for only a few health conditions. The most common of which is attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. ADHD is a very common neurodevelopmental disorder often diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood.

Those with ADHD may have trouble with paying attention, controlling their impulsive behaviors (acting without thinking), and be overly active or hyperactive (an excessive movement that isn’t fitting with the setting). The most commonly prescribed prescription stimulants for treating ADHD include Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin, Concerta, ProCentra, and Suprenza. When someone with ADHD takes a prescription stimulant, it has a calming effect on the person and promotes focus. Treating ADHD with stimulants helps improve the symptoms of ADHD and helps with their thinking ability, self-esteem, and interactions with other people.

Stimulants for Treating ADHD

When prescription stimulants used for ADHD treatment, they don’t pose any risk when they are taken in the short term and as prescribed. However, some concerns have been brought up that stimulants prescribed to treat a younger person’s ADHD can affect that individual’s vulnerability to developing drug problems later in life. There is also a level of risk involved for anyone with ADHD to get addicted to their prescription stimulant after prolonged use. Any stimulant medication can cause addiction, but it can be combated when monitored by a physician. While a person with ADHD may not get addicted in the same way as someone who does not have a medical need for it, it is still possible. They can still become dependent on it and may notice things like getting moody after it wears off, looking forward to the next dosage, and may even experience anxiety attacks when not taken as prescribed.

Health Risks from Stimulant Misuse

Prescription stimulants also come with some health risks when taken over a long period. Stimulants cause your blood vessels to constrict and raise your blood pressure. This can lead to heart attack, stroke, and increase your chance of developing heart problems. Prescription stimulants also cause weight loss and loss of appetite.

If you are prescribed a stimulant for ADHD, there are some things you can do to help prevent yourself from abusing or becoming addicted to your medication:

  • Follow your doctor’s prescription. It is important to take the drug exactly as prescribed. Taking it too frequently or too much at once can lead to addiction.
  • Occasionally take tolerance breaks. When stimulants are taken over a long period, tolerance will develop. Rather than taking a higher dose, stop taking your medication for a few days so tolerance will go back down.
  • Know the signs of dependence and addiction. When physical dependency happens, it does not automatically mean you are addicted. However, physical dependence is a precursor to addiction. Understanding the signs of addiction is important so you know what to look out for. If you are experiencing any signs, it is important to talk to your doctor, as treatment may be needed. Signs can include:
  1. Feeling like you need to take a stimulant to complete simple tasks or cope with life.
  2. Needing a stimulant to get your day started.
  3. Powerful and uncontrollable cravings.
  4. Withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking or lower your dose.

Prescription stimulants are a very useful thing for treating those with ADHD, but it does not come without its risks. If you want to stop taking your prescription stimulant, you should consult with a doctor first.

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Cayla Clark, BA

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.