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ADHD in Children Health Center

For Young People With ADHD, Drug Therapy Does Not Lead to Drug Abuse

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The researchers compared the risk of drug abuse between 1) the treated vs. the untreated ADHD boys and 2) the untreated ADHD vs. the untreated non-ADHD boys. They found that the treated ADHD boys had a significantly reduced risk of drug abuse (alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogen, cocaine/stimulant) compared with untreated AHDH boys -- who in turn had a significantly greater drug abuse risk than the untreated non-ADHD boys.

"The findings are important for many reasons," says Biederman. "But the main one has to do with the idea that parents are frequently concerned about medicating their children because of the potential for enhancing risk of substance abuse, since the treatment for ADHD includes stimulant drugs that are potential drugs of abuse. So the fact that children who are treated pharmacologically with [these] medicines have a significantly [reduced] risk for substance abuse is enormously reassuring in its own right.

"The second component is that the treatment and diagnosis of ADHD has been beleaguered [by] the same concerns, so the evidence refuting these assumptions is very encouraging, scientifically and from the public health perspective as well," Biederman says.

"[It] has been very common practice in the treatment of ADHD to interrupt treatment during adolescence, [but] adolescence is the period of heightened risk for substance abuse," Biederman points out. "So interrupting treatment may be a very bad move, because of the [increased] risk for substance abuse and [the fact that it] can be [avoided] by appropriate clinical care. ADHD is a condition that lends itself to risky behavior and self-medication."

The researchers acknowledge that this study doesn't allow for making "definitive conclusions regarding the risks associated with [drug] therapy of ADHD [in people] beyond the age of our current sample, in females, or in nonwhite subjects." Biederman says that the next step is to follow the study subjects into their young adult years.

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