Do ADHD Drugs Create Cocaine Addiction?

ADHD drugs and cocaine are in the same drug class: stimulants.

Adderall, Ritalin, and cocaine, plus caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine (better known in the version of crystal meth), all increase activity in the brain, making users feel they have more energy.

With more energy comes more alertness and awareness, and an increased mood, which is why stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin are given to those diagnosed with ADHD, or Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Transfer of Addiction

When a person has been abusing an addictive drug for a while, and physical and psychological dependence has developed, a person is said to be addicted to that drug, or class of drugs.

For Example

When someone has been prescribed a painkiller, like Vicodin, after an injury in a car accident or after surgery, appropriate use often escalates to abuse, which then progresses to addiction. When a Vicodin refill is not available, and the individual cannot find Vicodin any where on the streets, he or she may turn to heroin, since the drug is in the same class as Vicodin (opiates) and provides the same effects.

ADHD Medications

The same can happen to a person who has been appropriately taking Adderall or Ritalin for ADHD. The drug may seem to be solely treating the symptoms of ADHD, but the person may not realize that he or she is also getting high from the prescription stimulant.

In one scenario, like the Vicodin case, someone taking Adderall may no longer be deemed medically necessary, so the prescription ends. If this individual misses the effects of the prescription stimulant, he or she may then use cocaine, the easiest to get and quickest form of stimulant, just to feel calm and “normal” again.

In another scenario, someone taking Adderall or Ritalin starts taking more than the prescribed daily dose of the drug. In this case, the person, who needs a smaller amount of an ADHD drug, is abusing the substance to get high. From there, he or she may seek a more exhilarating high in the form of cocaine.

Cocaine Addiction

The Drug Itself

Cocaine is most often snorted in an effort to feel the euphoria created by the drug’s effect on the brain’s dopamine supply. Since the drug is short-acting, with the euphoria only lasting 20 or 30 minutes, when the first use of cocaine wears off, the user wants more right away. Subsequently the progression to cocaine dependence and addiction can happen very fast, especially in those who were taking Adderall or Ritalin for an extended period of time.


The link between ADHD medications and cocaine addiction is one of impulsivity as well. People diagnosed with ADHD are found to be more impulse than adults who do not have ADHD, so the use of cocaine can be happening in a moment of wanting to feel better.

Untreated Mental Illness

ADHD may also be co-occurring with a mental illness, like depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. When left untreated, a mental illness can lead a person to self-medication. Anxiety and ADHD is often self-medicated with cocaine, which does not offer any constructive form of help.

Treatment for any drug addiction is needed to stop the cycle. Stimulant addiction will not stop itself.

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Jared Friedman is the quality improvement manager at Sovereign Health specializing in their brain wellness program.