ADHD stimulant medication misuse and considerations for current prescribing practice: a literature review



Stimulant medications have been prescribed to effectively treat childhood Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) since the 1960’s, with improved outcomes observed in the three core symptom domains. Over the course of these decades researchers and clinicians have debated the issue of negative outcomes with regard to later development of substance use disorders (SUD) for these children.


To chronicle the development of medical and scientific opinion on the subject of SUD outcomes in ADHD and to appraise most recently published research in this sphere.


A systematic search of the literature was conducted over 4 databases. Removal of duplicates, application of exclusion criteria and inclusion of publications identified through manual and citation-based search yielded 9 papers.


Prescriptions for stimulant medications are increasing worldwide and in tandem the prevalence of stimulant misuse. Much research focuses on non-medical stimulant misuse as a study aid; however, they are also used as recreational drugs with action on dopaminergic neurotransmitter pathways implicated in addiction disorders. Considering the risks and benefits of stimulant prescribing on later SUD development research in recent decades has produced inconsistent results. Current research supports the hypothesis of improved SUD outcomes for young people treated early and intensely, with poorer outcomes for those with less robust treatment histories.


Consideration of the impact that variable treatment trajectories may have on the risk of later SUD development is recommended, with further research potentially leading to the development of different management pathways based on an individual’s multivariate treatment profile.

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Carolan, D. ADHD stimulant medication misuse and considerations for current prescribing practice: a literature review. Ir J Med Sci (2021).

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  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Hyperkinetic disorder
  • Stimulant medication prescribing
  • Substance-use disorder
  • Outcomes
  • Risk factor
  • Comorbidity