Nonmedical Use of Prescription ADHD Stimulants and Preexisting Patterns of Drug Abuse

J Addict Dis. 2013;32(1):1-10. doi: 10.1080/10550887.2012.759858.


Multidrug use is well documented among nonmedical users of prescription stimulants. We sought to provide insight into the drug use patterns of those reporting nonmedical use of prescription attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) stimulants in an attempt to discern whether such use is a first step in a pattern of drug-abusing behavior or, conversely, is a later development accompanied or preceded by a history of drug abuse. A cross-sectional, population-based survey of the U.S. civilian, non-institutionalized population aged 12 years and older was analyzed for lifetime nonmedical use of prescription ADHD stimulants, lifetime nonmedical use of another prescription drug, illicit drug use, and drug use initiation patterns. This included 443,041 respondents from the 2002-2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Lifetime nonmedical use of prescription ADHD stimulants was reported by 3.4% of those aged 12 years and older. Of these, 95.3% also reported use of an illicit drug (i.e., marijuana, cocaine/crack, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants) or nonmedical use of another prescription drug (i.e., tranquilizers, pain relievers, or sedatives), and such use preceded nonmedical use of prescription ADHD stimulants in 77.6% of cases. On average, 2.40 drugs were used prior to the first nonmedical use of prescription ADHD stimulants. These data suggest that nonmedical use of prescription ADHD stimulants is not commonly an initiating factor leading to the nonmedical use of other prescription medications or abuse of illicit drugs. Rather, nonmedical use of prescription ADHD stimulants appears to be adopted by individuals already engaged in broader patterns of drug abuse and misuse.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / drug therapy
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / administration & dosage*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs*
  • Male
  • Prescription Drug Misuse*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Illicit Drugs