ADHD and Substance Abuse
Does Taking Stimulants for ADHD Lead to Substance Abuse Problems?
Many parents are concerned that giving their children stimulants to treat ADHD might lead the children to start experimenting with other types of drugs. Several studies have set out to investigate the possible link between ADHD stimulant medication and substance abuse problems, and there doesn't appear to be any connection.
One of the longest-term studies, which followed 100 boys with ADHD for 10 years, showed no greater risk for substance abuse in boys who took stimulant drugs compared to those who didn't take the drugs. An earlier study by the same authors even suggested that stimulant use might protect against later drug abuse and alcoholism in children with ADHD by relieving the ADHD symptoms that often lead to substance abuse problems. The earlier the stimulants are started, the lower the potential for substance abuse down the road.
How are Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Treated in People with ADHD?
It's important to remember that not everyone with ADHD will develop an alcohol or substance abuse problem. In adults who do develop a problem, doctors suggest treatment with nonstimulant medications, including antidepressants such as Norpramin and Wellbutrin.
Whether Ritalin and other stimulants are effective treatments for ADHD patients with substance abuse problems is less clear. These drugs may be useful when prescribed in a long-acting form and in a controlled way so that patients don't become too dependent on or misuse them. Therapy, including a 12-step program, can also be an important part of the substance abuse program for people with ADHD.