ADHD Meds Won’t Increase Risk of Drug Abuse in Kids Study

ADHD Meds Won't Increase Risk of Drug Abuse in Kids Study

New Research Shows Stimulant Medications for ADHD are Not Linked to Substance Abuse

ADHD is a commonly diagnosed condition in children and affects about 10% of kids in the United States. It is characterized by symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, which can have a significant impact on a child’s social, academic, and home life. To manage these symptoms, stimulant medications like Ritalin and Adderall are often prescribed alongside counseling and parent training. However, there have been concerns that these medications may increase the risk of substance abuse later in life. A recent study has now provided reassurance by showing that children who take prescription stimulants for ADHD are not more likely to develop substance use disorders in their teenage and young adult years.

“The concern was whether or not [stimulant medications] would train the brains and behaviors of children to use substances to deal with their problems,” explained Brooke Molina, a professor of psychiatry, psychology, and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “That’s why we launched into this, to see if, in fact, there was a connection.”

The study, conducted over 16 years with the participation of 547 children at multiple sites in the United States and Canada, followed the participants from an average age of 8 to a mean age of 25. The researchers interviewed the patients and their parents multiple times and collected data from schools to consider various factors that might influence any correlation between stimulant medication use and substance abuse.

The findings of the study were clear: stimulant use for ADHD treatment was neither associated with a higher likelihood of developing substance use issues nor protective against future disorders. However, it is important to note that there are both environmental and genetic factors involved in the increased risk of substance abuse among individuals with ADHD.

While some study participants self-reported an increase in heavy drinking, marijuana use, daily cigarette smoking, and other substance use over time, the association with age was a more significant factor than stimulant treatment. Older participants were less likely to continue taking medication. Overall, the study did not find evidence that prolonged stimulant use was linked to an increased risk of substance abuse.

The implications of this research are crucial for parents and healthcare professionals involved in ADHD treatment decisions. It is common for families to express concerns about future drug use in connection with stimulant medication. However, Carey Heller, a Maryland psychologist who works with children with ADHD, highlights the importance of considering all available treatment options while weighing the potential benefits and drawbacks of each. Stimulant medication can improve focus, reduce impulsivity, and help with hyperactivity to some degree, but it does not provide the underlying executive function or self-regulation skills that behavioral therapy can offer.

Heller points out that concerns about future substance use should not be the sole reason for avoiding stimulant medication. Each individual’s situation is unique, and it is essential to discuss any concerns, such as a family history of substance abuse, with the prescribing physician.

The research findings, which were published in JAMA Psychiatry and supported by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, provide valuable insights into the long-term effects of stimulant medications for ADHD treatment. They reassure parents that using these medications does not predispose their children to substance use disorders later in life. The study underscores the importance of making informed decisions about treatment options and engaging in open discussions with healthcare providers to address any concerns.

In conclusion, stimulant medications are a first-line treatment for ADHD and have been proven effective in managing the symptoms of the condition. This recent research debunks the fears that these medications may lead to substance abuse problems later in life. While stimulant use doesn’t protect against future substance use disorders, it also doesn’t increase the likelihood of developing them. With this knowledge, families can make informed choices about their child’s ADHD treatment, considering both stimulant medication and other therapy options available.