It’s Halloween here in Philadelphia and as many of you know we are celebrating the Phillies winning the World Series this week. There was a huge parade downtown for our champions and it’s the most excited I’ve seen this city in a long time. Because so many streets were blocked off and congested with celebrators, I had to use the subway tunnels to cross the street to get to work!
This perfect storm of celebration in Philly – Halloween plus the Phillies winning the World Series - also means there was a lot of drinking going on in our fair city, and, unfortunately, probably a lot of drug use. This is one of the top concerns parents have about starting their children on stimulant medication for ADHD- will it make them more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol? Research has shown that this is not the case, in fact many studies show that treating ADHD actually reduces the likelihood that a child will go on to have drug or alcohol issues. New research has just been published that also shows that while treating ADHD with stimulants reduces the risk of drug or alcohol use in adolescents, it also reduces the risk of developing one of the single most preventable causes of death and disease in this country, cigarette use.
In a 5 year study of adolescent girls published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, participants who had been treated with stimulant medications for ADHD had more than a 50% decrease in smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs or alcohol compared to girls with ADHD who were not treated with stimulants. This adds to research that shows that people who were untreated for ADHD have double the risk of developing a substance abuse disorder over the course of their lifetime, but adds something else. Many adults smokers began when they were teenagers, fell into a habit, became dependent on nicotine, then struggle with trying to quit after years of smoking cigarettes, and go on to develop serious medical problems. This research gives evidence that if a child has ADHD and is treated, they can avoid this situation. Often as children with ADHD become adolescents, they appear less hyperactive, but remain distractible and impulsive. Sometimes parents take this to mean that the ADHD has been cured, but this isn’t usually the case. These teenagers still suffer with problems concentrating, blurting out comments in class, and taking much longer to complete their homework than their peers. These teens sometimes turn to cigarettes to try and relieve the anxiety this situation causes. It is usually much better for these teenagers with ADHD to stay on medication, not only to improve their symptoms, but also so they don’t have to turn to more unhealthy practices to feel better.