Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects

Brain Behav. 2012 Sep;2(5):661-77. doi: 10.1002/brb3.78. Epub 2012 Jul 23.


Prescription stimulants are often used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Drugs like methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), and dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Adderall) help people with ADHD feel more focused. However, misuse of stimulants by ADHD and nonaffected individuals has dramatically increased over recent years based on students' misconceptions or simple lack of knowledge of associated risks. In this review, we discuss recent advances in the use and increasing misuse of prescription stimulants among high school and college students and athletes. Given the widespread belief that stimulants enhance performance, there are in fact only a few studies reporting the cognitive enhancing effects of stimulants in ADHD and nonaffected individuals. Student athletes should be apprised of the very serious consequences that can emerge when stimulants are used to improve sports performance. Moreover, misuse of stimulants is associated with dangers including psychosis, myocardial infarction, cardiomyopathy, and even sudden death. As ADHD medications are prescribed for long-term treatment, there is a need for long-term safety studies and education on the health risks associated with misuse is imperative.

Keywords: Amphetamine; athletes; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; cognition; methylphenidate; misuse; performance; students.