Spotlight on ADHD Meds and Their Frightening Meth Connection

When the ADHD meds run out, many users are now turning to illicit drugs like meth.
When the ADHD meds run out, many users are now turning to illicit drugs like meth.

The opioid crisis has been making headlines for years, but there’s another drug epidemic that has been flying under the radar: Abuse of ADHD drugs.

ADHD drugs, such as Adderall and Ritalin, increase levels of the brain chemical dopamine and provide mental stimulation. This, in turn, allows users to become more focused and calm because they no longer need to engage in self-stimulating behavior.

The number of young people abusing ADHD medication has been steadily increasing over the last five years, with almost 9 percent of high school seniors abusing and approximately 35 percent of college students in the same category. And unfortunately, this misuse does have consequences: Over 19,000 people have suffered from complications related to ADHD drugs since 2013.

One of the biggest problems in the spread of stimulant addictions is that doctors are now so quick to diagnose ADHD when other conditions are causing the problems. Interestingly enough, ADHD prescriptions have risen 29.2 percent from 2010 to 2015 and sales of ADHD drugs have risen almost 41.8 percent during the same time.

Making Meth a Substitute?

Perhaps the scariest problem of all is that, when people are hooked on ADHD medications and the supply runs out, they’re rapidly turning to substitutes – like crystal meth.

Though there has been little research into this issue, there is one recent study that compared d-amphetamine (Adderall) with methamphetamine. Using 13 participants who were regular methamphetamine users, each was given a dose of either meth, Adderall or a placebo on separate days under double-blind conditions. This process was repeated over several days, with each participant given multiple doses of each drug.

Surprisingly, meth and Adderall caused similar effects with the participants; so much so that the regular meth users couldn’t distinguish between the two.

According to neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart, these results aren’t surprising, since the two drugs are nearly identical in their chemical structure. In his opinion, the only major difference between crystal meth and Adderall is public perception.

Helping or Harming?

With an allure of gaining energy, a sharpened focus and a sense of euphoria, users can quickly develop an unhealthy tolerance to ADHD drugs, meaning they need more and more to get the same effect. Eventually, taking the simulant pharmaceuticals becomes cost prohibitive and users turn to street versions, such as meth, because they are cheaper, stronger and more accessible.

Image Source: iStock

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