Updated 18 July 2017

Most teens who abuse ADHD meds get them from others

In a survey 54 percent of teens used ADHD meds for non-medicinal purposes.

Abuse of ADHD stimulant drugs such Ritalin or Adderall is on the rise, and a new study finds that most teens who abuse the drugs get them from someone else.

Concern about non-medical use

An expanding market for drugs to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), "coupled with the increasing rates of ADHD diagnosis, provides greater availability of these drugs", study lead author Yanning Wang, from the University of Florida in Gainesville, said in a university news release.

"This raises concerns about the possible non-medical use or abuse of these medications," which include drugs such Adderall, Concerta and Ritalin, she added. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, when these drugs are abused they can boost blood pressure and heart rate, and interfere with sleep and appetite.

Read: Teens abusing ADHD drugs

The new study focused on surveys of more than 11,000 American children and teens conducted between 2008 and 2011. Kids were interviewed at places like shopping malls, arcades and skate parks. The children were between the ages of 10 and 18 and came from 10 different cities, the study said.

Two types of ADHD medication users were included: those who only used the meds for non-medical purposes, and kids who had a prescription for an ADHD medicine, but might also use the drug in a non-medical way.

About 7 percent of the participants said they had used a prescription stimulant drug in the past 30 days, and more than half said their use was non-medical.

Read: Ritalin abuse runs riot in South African schools

Almost 90 percent of the kids who were abusing an ADHD drug said they had used someone else's medication, the study found.

'A circle of risk-taking'

More than a third (39 percent) of non-medical use involved kids taking more pills than they had been prescribed. Children also reported smoking, snorting or sniffing the medication instead of taking it by mouth, researchers found.

Teenagers who only used the drug in an abusive way were at higher risk for "conduct problems" at home, and for other forms of substance abuse, Wang's team found.

Read: How ADHD pills may raise risk for psychotic side effects in kids

They were also more likely to have friends that tried other drugs, something Cottler called a "circle of risk-taking".

"It is so important for physicians and parents to counsel youth who have prescription stimulants to never share their medications," study co-author Linda Cottler, chair of epidemiology at the University of Florida, said in the news release.

The study was published recently in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence

Read more: 

What is ADHD? 

Treating ADHD 

Diagnosing ADHD


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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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