ADD Medications Reduce Drug Addiction Rates

image via Flickr, Alan Cleaver

image via Flickr, Alan Cleaver

Can the use of ADD/ADHD medications lead to drug addiction?

ADD medications, with the exception of Strattera, are controlled substances that can potentially be abused. This can be a source of concern because we use them in ADD individuals who are at a significantly higher risk for the development of alcoholism and drug addiction.

Interestingly, research now shows that when individuals with ADD are properly diagnosed and treated with these medications, their risk for substance use disorders is reduced to that of the general population.

I have never had a patient become addicted to one of the stimulants nor am I aware of any reports in the medical literature of someone developing addiction to a medication prescribed therapeutically for ADD.

I have had a rare patient who abused his medication, sold his medication, or was intimidated into giving his medication to a friend who wanted to crush and snort it. I would have to say that I am somewhat skeptical about what kind of “high” someone really gets from what turns out to be relatively mild stimulants.

Furthermore, when used properly, individuals do not develop a tolerance for the medications that require them to take ever-increasing dosages in order to obtain the same beneficial effects.

In fact, once the optimal dose is determined, there are only a few conditions under which a dose may need to be increased:

  • When substantial weight gain occurs in a growing child or adult, an increased dose may be necessary.
  • Similarly, refined feedback from significant others, over time, may indicate the need for further fine-tuning of the dosage level.
  • Finally, if there is a significant jump in expectations necessitating a further degree of refined attention, then a dosage increase might be necessary.

Can people with addictive disorders take these medications safely?

image via Flickr, Blake Danger Bentley

image via Flickr, Blake Danger Bentley

Interestingly enough, I have taken care of many adolescent and adult alcoholics and drug addicts who have ADD and who might not have “hit bottom” had they been involved in comprehensive treatment that included ADD medication and strategies to improve self-awareness, self-control, and problem-solving at an earlier age.

I currently use all of these medications in treating ADD individuals who have co-morbid addictive disorders, provided they participate in frequent follow-up visits to monitor their medication use.

I also insist that they are involved in counseling and a 12-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous. This careful approach has been very successful in addressing a key component to the addictive disorders of my patients. For some of them, medication use seems to be a critical factor in their success in establishing and maintaining sobriety.

Stattera does not have any abuse potential. For this reason, since it has become available, I preferentially select it as the first line of treatment in ADD patients struggling with substance use disorders.

I would not, however, hesitate to switch to one of the stimulants if I was not achieving therapeutic efficacy with Strattera.

I have learned that when they are managed properly, stimulants can be effectively and safely used in patients with addictive disorders.


Want more insights you can trust on effective ADD/ADHD treatment?  Dr. Liden shares a deeper, more clinical examination of proper use and administration of ADD/ADHD Drugs in ADD Basics 301: Rationale for Clinically Necessary Off-Label Use of Stimulant Medications in the Treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD).  Currently available as a free download ebook!

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About cblmd

medical director of the being well center, ADHD expert, speaker, and author

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