Are My Children’s Mental Health Medications Addictive?

Being that I am in a Mental Health private practice children sometimes need medication in addition to behavioral therapy or counseling. A question that I am frequently asked is: Can my child become addicted to the medication? The short answer is “No”. Most frequently children needing medications fall into three categories. Children diagnosed with ADHD are often prescribed psychostimulant medications such as Concerta or Adderall. Children with depression are sometimes prescribed antidepressant medications such as Welbutrin or Prozac. Finally, children with more severe mood issues (such as Bipolar Disorder), those who have a Psychotic Disorder (auditory or visual hallucinations),and/or those who have relatively severe behavioral problems are often prescribed Atypical Antipsychotic medications such as Abilify or Risperdal.

The first category, Psychostimulants, have no addiction potential when used as prescribed. Psychostimulants are, however, “controlled substances” meaning that if used improperly, in very high doses, can be addictive. For this reason they can only be prescribed in 30 day supplies.The second and third categories mentioned above (Antidepressants and Atypical Antipsychotics) have no addiction potential at all.

The two things that characterize an addictive substance are Tolerance and Withdrawal. Tolerance means one must use greater and greater quantities in order to produce the desired effect. Withdrawal means the body reacts strongly (headache, lightheadedness, sweating, shivers etc) when taken off the substance. Tolerance and Withdrawal occur because one has developed a physical or mental dependence on the substance. The medications prescribed to children mentioned above are not addictive because children do not become physically or mentally dependent upon them and there is no tolerance or withdrawal to any of them.

Lawrence Ross Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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