Pages Menu

Column originally published Mar 28, 2017

Adults With ADHD Also Need Medications

Question: I read your two columns on ADHD with much interest. I am a grandmother raising a five-year-old grandson. He is very hyperactive and impulsive. The other day, he almost got killed when he ran through the parking lot without looking. I am afraid he will need medicine soon, but we are worried about the side effects. Our daughter was a daydreamer; she struggled in school, and dropped out in grade 10. When she was in grade 4, she was diagnosed with ADHD. We gave her Ritalin. Although it did help her with attention, there were side effects, and she had to take the medicine three times a day. In junior high, she refused to take medicine in school, and said that it didn’t help her. She stopped taking Ritalin in grade 9. Shortly after, she started smoking, drinking, and was hooked on drugs. She is on methadone now, but she can’t stop using other drugs. She has a lot of anxiety; medicine and counselling are not helping her. Does she still need treatment for ADHD?


You are among many grandparents raising grandchildren. I salute all of you! Without you and other grandparents, these children will have to go to foster homes and other institutions. Most of the time, their parents are involved in drugs and criminal activities, not able to raise their own children.

Drug addiction is a complicated problem. Research has shown that many use drugs to cover their pain and loneliness caused by traumatic events in their life. Others use drugs to relieve anxiety. Some use pain-killers after they were being prescribed following injury.

Rarely will you hear about ADHD causing drug addiction. Some believe ADHD medications lead to addiction, because Ritalin and Dexedrine have been abused by drug addicts. The truth is quite the opposite.

Children with ADHD have difficulty paying attention; many don’t do as well as their peers in school. They often have poor self-esteem; many drop out of school and have difficulty finding meaningful work or holding down a job. Getting organized and finishing projects on time is a challenge. Many become anxious because of their life-long experience of failure.

The most common drugs they seek are nicotine and alcohol, both of them are legal. There is a high incidence of smoking in those with ADHD. Drinking excessively and drunk driving are common. Many are addicted to other street drugs and opioids. Part of the reason can be their impulsivity: when they are offered drugs, it is hard to say no. Street drugs can calm their busy brain and make them feel good, at least for a short time. Once they get hooked, it is very hard to quit.

Your grandson will likely need medicine to reduce his hyperactivity and impulsivity, as well as helping him to focus and learn. Long-acting medications can be taken once a day in the morning with very little side effect. Most paediatricians can help you to manage this.

It is very likely that your daughter still has ADHD. You should watch the recent episode of Nature of Things from CBC, which highlighted ADHD in adults. There is a large portion of inmates who have ADHD, many are addicted to drugs and have committed crimes to feed their addiction. Unfortunately, very few doctors are familiar with adult ADHD. Treating anxiety alone will not be sufficient.

I want to caution you here: she should not be given short-acting Ritalin or Dexedrine, they are too easy to be abused. She needs long-acting medications which are difficult, if not impossible, to abuse. She has to see a specialist who is familiar with the problem as well as the medications.