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ADHD in Children Health Center

Treating ADHD: Drugs or Therapy Work

Study Shows Improvement in ADHD Symptoms With Medication or Behavior Therapy
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ADHD and Risk-Taking Behavior

Another report found that children with ADHD have an increased risk of delinquent behavior, such as stealing or starting fights at school, as well as substance use, such as experimenting with tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs. "I don't want people to think these kids are addicts by middle school," says Brooke S.G. Molina, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and an author of that report. But they were more likely than other children to experiment, she says.

Her team compared delinquency and substance use among 487 children from the MTA study and 272 control students not diagnosed with ADHD. While 27.1% of the ADHD children exhibited delinquent behavior, 7.4% of the comparison group did. Substance use was reported by 17.4% of the ADHD children but 7.8% of the comparison group.

Study Limitations

The study has many limitations, the authors note. The three-year follow-up portion of the study looking at the four treatment approaches did not have an untreated group for comparison. After the first 14 months of the study, children were free to pick and choose among treatments, so the original four treatment groups later received a mix of therapies. Children who took medication for the first 14 months, for instance, may have stopped taking it later.

Some ADHD symptoms may actually subside naturally over time, without treatment, some other research suggests. Experts call this the "clock-setting cure."

Guidance for Parents

The reports are mostly good news, the researchers say. "The main message is, there is improvement [with treatment]," says Benedetto Vitiello, MD, chief of the Child and Adolescent Treatment and Preventive Intervention Research Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health at the National Institutes of Health and a co-author of the studies.

Parents should not ease up or think treatment can become less intensive, however, he adds. "You cannot go on cruise control. The data seem to indicate you will need to continue more intense treatments."

Getting treatment is crucial, adds Molina. "Get treatment that works for you. Treatment helps. This is a chronic disorder, and parents need to view it as that."

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