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Column originally published Oct 31, 2023

ADHD Medications Don’t Cause Addiction

Question: I am thirty-years old. I have had my fair share of drinking and drugs. Fortunately, I have stayed out of jail. I was diagnosed with ADHD in grade 7; I was a class clown, didn’t care about school; it was boring. I saw a paediatrician who prescribed Ritalin and Dexedrine pills. They calmed me down, and for the first time, I was able to pay attention in class. However, I didn’t like to take pills, and my parents thought that I became a zombie. I stopped them after a few months. Not long after, I started drinking and taking drugs with my friends. Somehow, I did graduate high school. I love cars, and worked in garages. I am good with my hands, but get distracted easily and leave things partly finished. At home, I get frustrated easily with the kids. I am lucky to have a supportive wife. She got me off most drugs; I still drink on weekends, and smoke joints in evenings. Her younger brother was recently diagnosed with ADHD. She points out that we are so similar. She is urging me to get assessed for ADHD, may be taking medicine. When I told my parents, they were upset. The said that the ADHD pills was the cause of my addiction. I am not sure what to do.


I am sorry to hear that you have been addicted to drugs and alcohol. However, I would suggest that ADHD medications didn’t cause your addiction. Let me explain why.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects both boys and girls. Many boys (and some girls) are more physically hyperactive when they are young. They have difficulty paying attention and feel bored; they can disrupt the classroom and make it harder for others to learn. As a result, boys with ADHD are easier to recognize and diagnosed at a young age than girls. Most girls with ADHD are hyperactive in their brain, thinking about things and zoning out in classroom, but less disruptive. Most girls with ADHD are not recognized until adulthood.

Because of their disruptive behaviour, many boys don’t do as well in school. They hang out with other “bad kids,” skipping school and taking drugs. Some of their drug-seeking behaviour can be related to their curiosity and impulsiveness; they will try things that they are not supposed to, similar to the mischievous behaviour that many ADHD children have.

Some drugs can calm their brain ever so briefly, others give them high. Once they use them, they are more likely to continue and get addicted. As a result, research has shown that those with ADHD are more likely to develop drug addiction.

However, a research study on children with ADHD that began in 1990s and followed for 25 years into adulthood showed that those given ADHD medications in childhood didn’t cause drug addiction. Other children in the study who have ADHD but were never given ADHD medications were just as likely to have drug addiction.

In my career, I have followed many children with ADHD into adulthood as well. Some were already drinking and using drugs when I started seeing them. They have ADHD; when I treated them with ADHD medications, they were able to reduce drinking and drug use over time. It was a process: they didn’t quit overnight. With support of their family, as well as effective ADHD treatment, they found that they didn’t need drugs and alcohol anymore. They are able to perform better at work, and improve relationship with their family. They lead a more normal life without drugs.

The way that you described yourself when you were in school, as well as now as an adult, suggest that you likely have ADHD that is still affecting you. I agree that you should seek assessment and treatment for ADHD.

Nowadays, we have more effective long-acting ADHD medications that can be taken once a day in the morning. It can help you for almost the whole day. This will benefit you both at work as well as at home with your family. Over time, you can reduce alcohol and weed consumption; less is better, and none is the best. You have a better chance of drug-free life by taking ADHD medication.