New Study Shows ADHD Meds Do Not Raise Risk of Substance Abuse

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • Deciding to medicate your ADHD child is never an easy decision for parents. Hearing rants from anti-drug groups claiming that stimulants used for treating ADHD are comparable to taking cocaine, or "kiddie crack" as they call it, only makes parents' pulses pound harder.


    A new study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, and published in this month's issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, will hopefully lay these anxieties to rest.


    The 10 year study, led by Joseph Biederman, M.D. and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital, showed that stimulant medication used to treat childhood ADHD does not appear to increase their risk of substance abuse (alcohol, drug or nicotine) in young adulthood.

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    In the 10 year follow up analysis, 112 patients, average age 22, were studied. Within this group, 73% received stimulant treatment at some point in their lives and 22% were currently taking stimulants at the 10 year assessment. Half of those who did use medications in the past had taken them between the ages of six and 10 (average age: 8.8 years) and continued taking the medication for an average of six years.


    The researchers found that the risk of substance abuse in early adulthood neither increased nor decreased in those who had been treated with stimulants.


    Other findings showed:

    • The risk of substance abuse did not increase regardless of the age the child began being treated with stimulants.
    • The length of time children were on stimulants did not increase the risk of later substance abuse


    Though the study showed that stimulants used in ADHD children did not increase the risk for future substance abuse, it also suggested that stimulant treatment in childhood did not protect one from future substance abuse. In other words, though there was no increase in substance abuse, the findings did not claim that treatment prevented the behavior in young adulthood.


    The study continues with a 15 year follow up that is currently in analysis which researchers hope will shed even more light on this issue. They added that this study is the first that used the most rigorous method of assessment in any study of stimulants used in ADHD and the risk of substance abuse. They did caution, however, that since the subjects were all young adult males, the findings could not generalize to children with ADHD, to non-whites, other ethnic groups or female patients.


    Bottom line? According to Dr. Jon A. Shaw, director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of Miami: "There is sufficient evidence that parents should be reassured that the use of psychostimulant medication for the treatment of ADHD in children and adolescents does not increase the risk for substance abuse in later life and remains the most effective treatment for this condition."

Published On: March 04, 2008