How Do Meth Addicts Differ From ADHD Drug Abusers?

Posted on May 16th, 2014
Posted in Drug Addiction

Methamphetamine and stimulant ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall have a number of chemical similarities, and people affected by serious problems stemming from the use of any of these substances may qualify for diagnosis of a condition called stimulant use disorder. However, according to the results of a study scheduled for publication in May 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, people who abuse methamphetamine typically differ in important ways from people who abuse ADHD stimulants. People who abuse both methamphetamine and ADHD stimulants also have their own unique characteristics.

Stimulants get their name because they stimulate the cells in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and make those cells much more active than usual. Many substances have this effect and technically qualify as stimulants. However, some substances have a much more stimulating effect than others and can promote long-term changes in brain function that lead to the formation of physical dependence and (in some cases) the onset of addiction. In addition to the potential for addiction, effects associated with stimulant drugs of abuse include increased sleeplessness, appetite suppression, substantial increases in both heart rate and blood pressure, an unusually alert mental state and the possible development of the symptoms of a debilitating mental state called psychosis.

Methamphetamine vs. ADHD Stimulants

Although it does have some usefulness as a legally manufactured prescription medication, methamphetamine is highly associated with illegal drug manufacturing and illicit/illegal drug use. All stimulant drugs of abuse can create the brain changes that foster physical dependence and addiction; however, compared to other well-known stimulant substances such as amphetamine and cocaine, methamphetamine creates unusually intense forms of these changes. This means that anyone who uses/abuses the drug can develop an addiction relatively rapidly and also develop notably severe forms of addiction. Long-term methamphetamine addicts can undergo severe declines in both their physical and mental health.

ADHD stimulants are designed to curb the impact of the symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a childhood condition that can continue to produce its effects in adulthood. Some of these medications contain the stimulant amphetamine and a closely related substance called dextroamphetamine, while others contain a non-amphetamine-based stimulant called methylphenidate. Current evidence indicates that, when used as intended under a doctor’s supervision, ADHD stimulants don’t typically trigger problems with drug abuse or addiction. However, people who abuse these medications do develop significant abuse and addiction risks. Some abusers use ADHD stimulants as “study drugs” in an attempt to improve their academic performance in high school or college.

Noting the Differences

In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University used information from a nationwide, federally sponsored project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to compare the characteristics of people who only abuse methamphetamine to those of people who only abuse ADHD stimulants and people who abuse both methamphetamine and ADHD stimulants. The information under consideration came from the three-year time period between 2009 and 2011. The researchers used the data gathered from these survey years to identify factors among the three groups such as mental health status, involvement in other forms of substance use and demographic details related to age, gender, racial/ethnic background, socioeconomic standing and place of residence.

The researchers concluded that, in comparison to their age peers who only abuse ADHD stimulants and their peers who abuse both methamphetamine and ADHD stimulants, those teenagers who only abuse methamphetamine tend to be significantly younger, belong to a non-European ethnic/racial group and come from a family in a relatively high income bracket. In addition, in comparison to their age peers who abuse both methamphetamine and ADHD stimulants, teenagers who only abuse ADHD stimulants have a greater chance of being older and male, and having health insurance. Teen methamphetamine-only abusers also use other illicit/illegal drugs more often than teen ADHD stimulant-only abusers.

In comparison to their age peers who abuse only methamphetamine or both methamphetamine and ADHD stimulants, adults who only abuse ADHD stimulants have a greater chance of being younger and female, having health insurance, being married and living in an urban area. In addition, in comparison to their age peers who only abuse methamphetamines, adults who only abuse ADHD stimulants are substantially more likely to use/abuse another prescription medication. Finally, in comparison to adults and teenagers who only abuse ADHD stimulants, adults and teenagers who abuse both methamphetamines and ADHD stimulants have greater risks for other forms of substance use/abuse, mental illness and involvement in criminal or socially unacceptable behavior.

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