Treatment for ADHD appears to reduce risk of substance abuse

Boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (AHDH) who are treated with medications - usually stimulant drugs like Ritalin - are one-third as likely to develop substance abuse or dependence as are boys with ADHD who receive no treatment, according to a study from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). The report in the August issue of Pediatrics contradicts a common fear that stimulant treatment could open the door to future drug abuse.

"Because the mainstay of ADHD treatment has been potentially addictive, stimulant drugs, there has been a mythology that the use of these medications could 'prime' children to become addicts in future or could develop a 'culture of drug taking'," says Joseph Biederman, MD, director of the MGH Pediatric Psychopharmacology Unit and lead author of the study. "We have found that the opposite is the case - children who are medically treated for ADHD have a smaller risk of drug abuse than do those who are not treated."

The current report is based on analysis of data from an earlier study that followed a group of more than 500 children for four years. The children and their mothers were inter-viewed on three occasions - when they first entered the study, one year later, and four years after enrollment - regarding symptoms of a variety of psychological and behavior problems. The children were categorized into three groups: those who met criteria for ADHD and reported having been treated with medication for the disorder, those meeting ADHD criteria who had received no treatment, and children not meeting criteria for ADHD.

In order that the three groups be as similar as possible, data was analyzed only from males who were 15 or older when entering the study, resulting in a study group of 56 medicated participants with ADHD, 19 non-medicated participants with ADHD, and 137 participants without ADHD. Results of the interviews were analyzed to determine whether participants met criteria for abuse of or dependenc

Contact: Susan McGreevey
Massachusetts General Hospital

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