Parents Universal Resource Experts (Sue Scheff) ADHD and Drug Abuse

adhd.jpgBy Connect with Kids 

“In other words, [children with ADD] are no more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs than someone who doesn’t have ADD.”

– William Buchanan, Ph.D., clinical psychologist

As more and more children are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD), millions of parents must decide whether to put their kids on medication. Many worry that taking drugs today may cause children to abuse drugs later in life.

“When you hear the word ADHD you’re instantly alarmed,” says Gina Hagin, mother.

When 9-year-old Graysen first starting taking Ritalin, his mom was worried.

“Just the thought of putting your child on a narcotic for an extensive period of time is very scary,” says Hagin, Graysen’s mother.

Ritalin is actually a stimulant, and starting kids on it at early age is scary for parents for a number of reasons.

“They range from growth type of things [such as] stunted growth, which really is not the case, to things like whether this would lead to drug abuse and dependence,” says Dr. Elaine Mateo, M.D., psychiatrist.

Does it lead to later drug abuse? Doctors at Massachusetts’s General Hospital tracked more than 100 ADHD patients for 10 years. They found that the use of ADHD medicine has no impact on future substance abuse.

“In other words, they’re no more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs than someone who doesn’t have ADD,” says Dr. William Buchanan, Ph.D., clinical psychologist.

Experts caution, however, that if a child already has a substance abuse problem, parents should consult their child’s physician.

“We don’t want to make something more available to them that they can misuse.  But taking the medication itself is not going to lead to a dependence,” says Mateo.

Before Ritalin, Graysen couldn’t concentrate and his grades were terrible.

“It was sometimes frustrating and I’d just want to cry,” says Graysen.

Today, he’s an A student and a happier boy.

“To see in your child’s eyes a yearning and a sadness, and then to go from that to see your child productive and happy — you can’t replace that,” says Hagin.

Experts say it’s important to talk to your kids, even at an early age, about the exact purpose of their medicine and how it should be used

Tips for Parents

  • Some of the medicines for ADHD are stimulants, but instead of stimulating the person or making him or her more jittery, they help control ADHD symptoms. (Nemours Foundation)
  • The medicine usually comes in pills or capsules. The doctor will explain how often the child needs to take the medicine. Parents and children will have to work out a schedule for taking it so it becomes part of the normal routine, like teeth brushing. (Nemours Foundation)
  • Just like with any medicine, the person’s parents and doctors will want to watch for side effects, which are other problems or symptoms that may be caused by the medicine. Common side effects from stimulant drugs include irritability (feeling grouchy), headaches and stomach trouble. (Nemours Foundation)
  • If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, you have several treatment options to consider. The most common treatment is the use of medication. Stimulant drugs, such as Ritalin, Cylert and Dexedrine, when used with medical supervision, are usually considered quite safe and effective. (National Institute of Mental Health)
  • Symptoms can be classified as “inattention” and “hyperactivity-impulsivity.” (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC)
    • “Inattentive” Symptoms (if your child shows six or more of these symptoms for six months, consult your child’s physician):
      • Does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work or other activities
      • Has trouble keeping attention on tasks or play activities
      • Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
      • Often does not follow instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
      • Has trouble organizing activities
      • Avoids, dislikes or does not want to do things that take a lot of mental effort for a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework)
      • Loses items (toys, school assignments, pencils, books, tools, etc) needed for tasks and activities
      • Often easily distracted
      • Often forgetful in daily activities
    • “Hyperactivity-Impulsivity” Symptoms: (if your child shows six or more of these symptoms for at least six months, consult your child’s physician)
      • Fidgets with hands or feet, or squirms in seat
      • Gets up from seat when he/she is expected to stay seated
      • Runs around or climbs when and where it is not appropriate
      • Often has trouble playing or enjoying leisure activities quietly
      • Is often “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”
      • Talks excessively
      • Blurts out answers before questions have been finished
      • Has trouble waiting his or her turn
      • Interrupts or intrudes on others (during conversations or games, for example)


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
  • Nemours Foundation