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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Kids With ADHD More Likely to Abuse Drugs: Analysis

But researchers also found that medications used to treat disorder not part of increased risk

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, June 30, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Children suffering from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more than twice as likely to try and abuse drugs, a new analysis finds.

However, that does not mean that the medications that are prescribed to treat the most common childhood disorder in the United States play a part in that increased risk.

In fact, "one of the main points [of the finding] is that treating ADHD both with behavioral techniques and medications seems to lower the risk of substance abuse," said analysis co-author Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the adolescent substance abuse program at Boston Children's Hospital.

Although stimulants used to treat ADHD can be addictive, there is no evidence that using them increases the risk of substance abuse, Levy said.

These medications include amphetamines, such as Adderall or Dexedrine, and methylphenidates, like Concerta, Metadate CD or Ritalin.

Levy did caution that these stimulant medications can sometimes be misused. As much as 23 percent of school-aged children are approached to sell, buy or trade their ADHD medications, the researchers noted.

"Pediatricians need to make a careful diagnosis before prescribing and use safe prescribing practices and counseling to minimize diversion and misuse of these drugs," Levy said.

The analysis of existing medical literature was published online June 30 and in the July print issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Dr. Michael Duchowny, a pediatric neurologist at Miami Children's Hospital, said, "Children with ADHD need to be counseled about the risk of substance abuse."

Although the association between ADHD and the risk of substance abuse is known, the reasons for the increased risk aren't, he said. And while the new study found an association, it did not prove cause-and-effect.

"Obviously, the medications that are used to treat ADHD have the potential for abuse, but the vast majority of children with ADHD do not develop a substance abuse problem," Duchowny said. "More research has to be done to find out why some children are more susceptible than others."

It is possible that the same biology that causes ADHD also puts some children at a higher risk for substance abuse, he added.

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