Boys treated with Ritalin, other stimulants significantly less likely to abuse drugs later

Boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who are treated with stimulants such as Ritalin are significantly less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol when they get older, according to a new study funded by two components of the National Institutes of Health -- the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The study, which will appear in the August 2, 1999, issue of Pediatrics, compared three groups of boys - those with ADHD who had been treated with stimulants, those with ADHD who had not been treated with stimulants, and those without ADHD -- and their susceptibility to substance use disorder.

ADHD, which is characterized by difficulties in paying attention, in keeping still, and in suppressing impulsive behaviors, is usually treated with stimulants, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) or dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine, Adderall) because these drugs reduce the behavioral and attentional problems connected to their ADHD. As a result, children with ADHD perform better in school and on the job and relate better to family and friends. Research indicates that between three and five percent of all school-age children have ADHD, and that the disorder is about four times more prevalent among boys than girls.

"While some clinicians have expressed concern about giving stimulants to children with ADHD because they fear it might increase the risk that these children will abuse stimulants and other drugs when they get older, this study shows exactly the opposite," says NIDA Director Alan I. Leshner. "Treating the underlying disorder, even if with stimulants, significantly reduces the probability they will use drugs later on."

In the study, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard School of Public Health, and Harvard Medical School compared the incidence of substance use disorders in 56 boys with ADHD who had been treated with stimulants for an average of about 4 years, in 19 boys with

Contact: Beverly Jackson or Michelle Muth
NIH/National Institute on Drug Abuse

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