Can ADHD Drugs Help Keep People Law-Abiding?

People With ADHD Less Likely to Break Law When on Medication

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 21, 2012
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 21, 2012 -- People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who are taking medication to help control the symptoms of this illness may be less likely to commit crimes, a new Swedish study suggests.

ADHD symptoms include:

  • Impulsiveness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Difficulty paying attention

Previous research has suggested that people with ADHD may be more likely to experience difficulty in school, holding down jobs, and sustaining relationships. They are also at greater risk for alcohol or substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and may be more likely commit crimes.

But taking their ADHD medication may help keep them on the right side of the law.

Researchers tapped into a Swedish registry of more than 25,650 people with ADHD. They compared medication history with criminal records from 2006 to 2009.

During times when they were taking medication for ADHD, men were 32% less apt to commit a crime and women were 41% less likely to do so compared to when they were not taking ADHD medication. The type of ADHD medication did not affect the results.

The majority of crimes were non-violent, with burglary being the most common.

Less Likely to Break the Law

Study researcher Paul Lichtenstein, PhD, of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, says in an email that the findings would likely apply to any ADHD patients, regardless of where they are from.

“The most probable interpretation would be that medication reduces symptoms like impulsivity, and that would be similar regardless of country or culture,” Lichtenstein says.

While the study didn’t examine why, he says it’s likely because medication reduces symptoms related to ADHD, such as impulsivity, restlessness, and irritability, that could lead to criminal acts.

He adds that anyone with ADHD needs to think about the pros and cons of taking medication.

“What this study adds is that this probable reduction in the risk of crime should now also be taken into account in this evaluation,” Lichtenstein says. “So, I guess it might be taken as a motivation for parents as well as young adults to consider to take medication."

Andrew Adesman, MD, says the findings may help ease concerns that medications are overprescribed. “This is further affirmation that medication, when indicated, is part of the solution, not part of the problem,” says Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York.

The findings are interesting, says Howard Abikoff, PhD. He is a professor in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at the New York University Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center.

‘”There is some evidence to suggest that while on medication, a person with ADHD is less likely to get involved in criminal behavior,” he says. “They may be less impulsive, or perhaps they are better organized in their life.” Some may have poor judgment when they are not taking medicine to control their symptoms.

Show Sources


Howard Abikoff, PhD, professor, department of child and adolescent psychiatry, New York University Child Study Center,  NYU Langone Medical Center.

Lichtenstein, P. New England Journal of Medicine, 2012, study received ahead of print.

Andrew Adesman, MD, chief, developmental and behavioral pediatrics, Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, New Hyde Park.

Paul Lichtenstein, PhD, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

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