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ADHD meds don’t raise risk of future substance abuse


Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who take medications such as Ritalin and Adderall are at no greater risk of using alcohol, marijuana, nicotine or cocaine later in life than kids with ADHD who do not take such medications, according to a meta-analysis.

As reported May 29 on the website of JAMA Psychiatry, UCLA researchers analyzed 15 long-term studies that followed more than 2,500 children with ADHD from childhood into adolescence and young adulthood.

“We found the children were neither more likely nor less likely to develop alcohol and substance-use disorders as a result of being treated with stimulant medication,” Kathryn Humphreys, MA, EdM, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate in UCLA’s Department of Psychology, said in a news release.

The children assessed in the studies were an average of 8 years old when the studies began and 20 at the most recent follow-up assessment, and came from a broad geographical range including California, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Germany and Canada.

“Saying that all parents need not be concerned about the use of stimulant medication for their children is an overstatement,” Steve S. Lee, PhD, the study’s senior author and a UCLA associate professor of psychology, said in the news release. “Parents should have the conversation with the [prescribing]physician. As with other medications, there are potential side effects, and the patient should be carefully evaluated to, for example, determine the proper dosage.

“For parents whose major concern about Ritalin and Adderall is about the future risk for substance abuse, this study may be helpful to them.”

The UCLA researchers reported in 2011 that children with ADHD are two to three times more likely than children without the disorder to develop serious substance-abuse problems in adolescence and adulthood, including the use of nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs. This study does not challenge that finding but concludes that, on average, children who take stimulant medication for ADHD are not at additional risk for future substance abuse.

ADHD occurs in approximately 5% to 10% of children in the U.S., and figures in many other industrialized countries with compulsory education are comparable, according to Lee. ADHD is about 3- to 3.5-times more prevalent in boys than girls, he said.

Read the study abstract:


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