While cocaine can mimic some effects of certain ADHD medications, it also causes dangerous side effects and carries a risk of dependence.

Cocaine, sometimes called crack or coke, is a powerful stimulant drug derived from the coca plant. In 2021 alone, 4.8 million U.S. adults reported using cocaine, according to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

How does this connect to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? People with ADHD may have a higher risk of developing substance use disorders. ADHD medication shortages may also increase the chances of someone using cocaine for self-medication.

But there are risks to cocaine use, including possibly severe side effects.

Below, we’ll explore the effects of cocaine on people with ADHD, including treatment options for anyone living with both ADHD and cocaine use disorder.

Stimulants are substances that increase the activity of the central nervous system. When someone takes a stimulant, they may experience increased mental clarity, improved physical performance, and decreased fatigue, among other effects.

ADHD medications include both stimulant and non-stimulant options. Some of the most commonly prescribed stimulant medications for ADHD include:

Some researchers believe that people with ADHD have alternative levels and a dysregulation of dopamine in the brain, which can affect things like memory, focus, and motivation.

Because stimulants increase levels of dopamine in the brain, when used at low doses, they are especially effective at managing ADHD symptoms. For this same reason, cocaine may also counteract the symptoms of impulsivity, inattentiveness, and restlessness in people with ADHD.

But cocaine is not the same as the pharmaceutical stimulants used to treat conditions like ADHD. When taken in high doses, cocaine can lead to a variety of serious side effects, including:

Severe side effects of cocaine use can also include cardiac arrest, seizures, strokes, and even death. Because of this, it’s important to find ways to manage ADHD through safe, tested medication options.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), roughly 8.7% of adolescents and 4.4% of adults live with ADHD.

Research suggests that both adolescents and adults with ADHD have an increased risk of developing substance use disorders.

A 2017 research review found that roughly 23.1% of patients with substance use disorder also had ADHD. While some of the disorders included in this review were related to cocaine misuse, the authors did note the misuse of a variety of different substances.

More recent research on the relationship between substance use disorder and ADHD supports this. According to a 2023 study, the estimated rate of ADHD in adults with substance use disorders was 18% for opioid use disorder, 19% for cocaine use disorder, and 25% for alcohol use disorder.

Another 2023 study explored the relationship between ADHD treatment with medications and stimulant misuse in adolescents.

Results suggest that adolescents had higher rates of stimulant misuse, including cocaine misuse, than the general population. This prevalence was even higher in adolescents who had a history of both stimulant and non-stimulant treatment for ADHD.

When someone has both ADHD and cocaine use disorder, it’s important to consider how having both conditions can affect treatment options.

Some research suggests that treating the symptoms of ADHD can actually help address substance use disorder. For example, one small study from 2019 found that an improvement in ADHD symptoms — from both stimulant and non-stimulant medications — was associated with reduced cocaine use.

There are also treatment options for ADHD that don’t involve taking stimulant medications, including non-stimulants, therapy specialized for ADHD, and lifestyle changes.

Many of these same options can also help treat substance use disorder, as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about the available treatment options for these conditions, here are a few resources to get you started:

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that can produce effects similar to ADHD medications in people with ADHD. However, cocaine has a high risk of dependence and side effects and can potentially be dangerous when used as a self-medication option for ADHD.

If you or a loved one is living with both ADHD and cocaine use disorder, you’re not alone — and treatment can help. Consider reaching out to a doctor or mental health professional to discuss the treatment options available to you.