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Drugs & Health Blog

Prescription Stimulants Affect People With ADHD Differently

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.

From this positron emission tomography (PET) scan, you can see how natural dopamine levels are different in people with and without ADHD. The scan on the left shows the brain of someone without ADHD, and the scan on the right shows the brain of someone with ADHD. The greater concentration of yellow, orange, and red in the nucleus accumbens in the scan on the left reflects a higher amount of dopamine.

Sara Bellum

There’ve been lots of headlines lately about the dangers of prescription drug abuse—like taking a friend’s.

BUT—for people who do not have ADHD, stimulants flood the brain with dopamine, causing a dopamine overload. So instead of having a calming effect as they would on people with ADHD, stimulants taken without a medical reason can disrupt brain communication and cause euphoria. It might feel good at first, but repeated abuse of stimulants can:

  • Increase blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature.
  • Decrease appetite and sleep.
  • Cause feelings of hostility and paranoia.
  • Increase a person’s risk for addiction.

Doctors take many factors into account when prescribing a drug for a person who needs it: dose size, the person’s weight and height, how long the drug should be taken, and much more. The bottom line is that drugs affect everyone differently.

Want to see how abusing Adderall could affect you physically and academically? Choose Your Path.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Is there any research that points to the use of stem cells and cord blood to help with ADHD? [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) - another NIH institute - supports ADHD research. They would be the best ones to answer your question. Visit

Thank you, Loads of information!. Seriously lots of great advice!
Do we have a pharmacological basis for ADHD that actually directly correlates catecholaminergic activity with the disorder? Depression is an illness that often involves decreased production of catecholamines, yet the only catecholaminergic antidepressant is bupropion, which has pretty nasty side effects and is extraordinarily inefficient at binding to the catecholamine reuptake transporters. So why are amphetamine salts and methylphenidate only available off-label for depression?

@R. Neogi

There is strong data showing the benefits of stimulant medication for the treatment of depression in several patient populations. However, despite all the favorable data, larger double-blind, placebo-controlled trials are still needed to confirm their efficacy, to determine exactly what their side-effects are, and to determine optimal dosing regimens. This is why they are still only prescribed off-label for depression.

Thank you, Loads of information!.
Why doesn't the site require the author of this article to use his/her real name? Sarah Bellum?? Really???

Hi Cere Brum (we see what you did there...), we hear you and stopped using the name Sara Bellum a few months ago.  In order to be more transparent, we're using the name "NIDA Blog Team."  You can see who's on the team and their read their bios here.

thank god for this simple and straight foward explanation. I just read over an entire, complicated "scientific" "study" which told me NOTHING. This makes alot more sense. thank you
hi can you give me the source of PET scan image? thank you
Hi David, here is some more information on the image:
hi can you give me the reference of this article?, specially the source of PET scan image thank you