In Brief: Stimulant treatment for ADHD may not increase risk of substance abuse

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A study published in March 2008 provides more evidence that children who take stimulants to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are not at increased risk for developing substance abuse problems later on.

Researchers at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital reassessed 112 young men, ages 16 to 27, a decade after they were diagnosed with ADHD. At the time of the reassessment, 73% of the young men said they had been treated with stimulants in the past, and 22% were still on a stimulant medication. The researchers also used standard tools to assess psychiatric symptoms and asked whether the men had ever used alcohol, tobacco, and a variety of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, sedatives, and steroids.

The researchers compared outcomes for men who had ever been treated with stimulants for childhood ADHD with those who had not. They found no relationship between past or current stimulant therapy and use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. The age at which the young men began stimulant treatment also had no effect on using alcohol, tobacco, or drugs of any kind.

However, it's important to point out that the researchers deliberately excluded men with ADHD and co-occurring conduct disorder, as this profile significantly increases the risk of substance abuse later on.

Biederman J, et al. "Stimulant Therapy and Risk for Subsequent Substance Use Disorders in Male Adults with ADHD: A Naturalistic Controlled 10-Year Follow-Up Study," American Journal of Psychiatry (March 3, 2008): Published electronically ahead of print.

Last Annual Review Date: 2008-06-01T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: Copyright Harvard Health Publications