Abuse and Diversion of Stimulants

Excerpted from an article in titled "ADHD and Substance Use: The Importance of Integrated Treatment" written by Adelaide Robb, M.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, Children's National Medical Center

Abuse and Diversion of Stimulants

Another area of concern related to ADHD treatment and the use of stimulants exists when teens use their ADHD medication to get high (abuse) and when they divert their medication by selling or trading it with friends and classmates (diversion). Stimulants are Schedule II medications, meaning they have the potential to cause dependence. In a review of twenty-one (21) studies of over 113,000 youth, Dr. Timothy Wilens, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, examined rates of abuse, misuse, and diversion of stimulant medications and the risk factors that predisposed youth with ADHD to these acts.

Rates of non-prescribed stimulant use in grade school and high school students are 5 to 9%. Studies show that 16 to 29% of teenagers and young adults with ADHD are approached to give, sell, or trade their ADHD medications. Youth with conduct disorder, or SUD in combination with ADHD, are the most likely to divert or misuse their stimulant medications. Hispanic and Caucasian youth have rates of stimulant misuse three times the rate seen in African American youth and two times the rate seen in Asian American youth. Medications that are rapidly delivered to the body and last several hours (immediate release) were more likely to be misused and diverted than medications that are delivered to the body over a longer time period (extended release) or non-stimulant treatments.


Teens with ADHD are at higher risk of developing SUD than teens without the disorder. They may consider misusing their medications or be approached by classmates to sell or trade their prescriptions. Parents and physicians should be aware of risk factors, such as conduct disorder, that put teenagers with ADHD at higher risk for the development of SUD.