Is stimulant medication for ADHD addictive?

NYC ADHD specialist child psychiatrist, Roey Pasternak, MD responds to the New York Times.

A New York Times Article, “Drowned in a Stream of Prescriptions” shares a very sad and chilling story about a college graduate whose abuse of stimulant medication eventually cost him his life. His doctors were aware that he was going through his prescriptions in half the time allotted, but they continued to prescribe it.




You can easily read this article and come away thinking stimulants are extremely dangerous and something to steer clear of.

But what articles like this leave out is that stimulants do not prescribe themselves. It takes a physician to write the prescription and allow this terrible spiral of events to occur.

Many prescribers don’t spend enough time with their patients to find out what’s really going on. As an child, adolescent, and adult ADHD specialist, I feel it’s essential to spend at least 30 minutes with a patient even for a “routine” medication follow up. Get to know your patients well, and you won’t get fooled as often.

Patients in New York State who are worried about addiction can also take some comfort in that fact that New York State has now put in place the I-STOP program, requiring that every time a physician writes a prescription for Ritalin, Adderall, or any other controlled substance, he or she must perform a search on the New York State Department of Health website to make sure no other prescriber has been refilling that medication.

With the advent of this new mandatory monitoring program, it’s become a lot more difficult for patients to abuse medications.

Yes, it’s true that stimulants can themselves be addictive. But as I wrote in aprevious article, young people with ADHD are more likely to become drug-dependent when they’re NOT treated with stimulant medication.

Let’s remember that stimulant medications don’t prescribe themselves. If you have ADHD (remember to get a good assessment to find out), and are seeing a well-trained ADHD specialist, go ahead and ask your doctor about the relative risks of taking vs not-taking stimulant medications.

The answer may surprise you.

© Copyright Roey Pasternak, MD 2014