Prescription Drug Abuse in Adults with Misdiagnosed ADHD

Prescription Drug Abuse in Adults with Misdiagnosed ADHDThere is much controversy about the prescription drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall that are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When used as directed and when needed, they can create positive life changes and may actually reduce the likelihood of addiction, as Alicia Potter shares that, “adolescents on ADHD medication were less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol…the symptoms that drive addiction (restlessness, impulsiveness, boredom) may subside with treatment” (“ADHD and Addiction”). However if prescription drugs are administered after a misdiagnosis, if individuals are already addicted or have multiple risk factors for addiction, or if ADHD is left undiagnosed, prescription drug abuse may result.

Misdiagnosed Mental Health Issues and Addiction

Some children and adults are diagnosed with ADHD even though they suffer from a different mental health concern with similar symptoms. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder rather than an attention disorder, but both it and ADHD may result in emotional outbursts and restlessness. Autism spectrum disorders may result in over-excitement in stimulating environments and social development issues that mimic those of ADHD. Sleep disorders may result in trouble following directions, concentrating and forming short-term memories. Taking a prescription medication like Adderall or Ritalin when ADHD is not the problem can lead to substance abuse and addiction. These medications have stimulating effects on individuals without ADHD and can worsen underlying mental health concerns. They are also addictive when not used as intended. Additionally, symptoms of the real mental health disorder will remain, and adults may turn to self-medication to address these symptoms. Incorrect prescription drug use can lead to dependence and addiction. Prescription drug abuse can also worsen or exacerbate symptoms of mental health disorders, leaving individuals feeling worse than before and continuing to turn to prescription drug abuse to mask these feelings.

Undiagnosed ADHD

While some individuals may be diagnosed with ADHD when they have a different disorder or no disorder at all, others who would benefit from treatment remain undiagnosed. Women are likely to be misdiagnosed, as “Diagnosis ADHD in Women” reveals, “women who have ADHD are misdiagnosed and treated for something other than an attention deficit…they’re much more likely to be give a diagnosis of depression instead of ADD” (ADDitude). Receiving the wrong medication can result in abuse of that drug and the quest for another substance or behavior that will mask the continuing symptoms of the real underlying problem. Potter writes that, “people with ADHD face a higher risk for addiction than the general population…the majority of young adults with ADHD who abuse substances do it to alleviate their symptoms. Addictions of any kind…can make you feel more focused, less anxious or wired, and sleepy at night.” Use does not start with a desire to get high or party, it starts as an attempt at self-medicating undiagnosed ADHD symptoms.

Treating Addiction and ADHD

If you or a loved one is struggling with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health concerns, call our toll-free helpline. We are here 24 hours a day to help you get the right diagnosis and real treatment for your addiction and any co-occurring issues.