Taking ADHD Medication Linked to Reduced Risk of Early Death

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March 13, 2024 – People who take medication to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may have lower odds of early death than people with ADHD who don’t take drugs to help manage symptoms such as distraction, restlessness, and disorganization.

The findings were published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association and are important because past research has shown that people with ADHD have a more than doubled increased risk of early death due to unnatural causes.

In this latest study, researchers compared the risk of death among more than 148,000 people living in Sweden, 57% of whom took ADHD medication for 2 years after diagnosis, and 43% of whom did not start taking medication within the first 3 months of diagnosis. The people in the study ranged in age from 6 to 64, and the diagnoses were made between 2007 and 2018.

People in the medication group took any of six ADHD medications: Adderall, Concerta, guanfacine, Ritalin, Strattera, or Vyvanse. The median age at diagnosis among all people in the study was just over 17 years old.

The researchers found that people who took medication from the start of their diagnoses had more than a 20% lower risk of death due to any cause as well as from unnatural causes, compared to people newly diagnosed but who weren’t prescribed medication. Of particular note was the decrease in risk of unnatural death, such as from accidental injuries, accidental poisoning, or suicide.

There were 26 deaths due to unnatural causes per 10,000 people in the medication group, compared to 33 deaths per 10,000 people in the non-medication group, the analysis showed.

The decreased risk of unnatural death was highlighted in a commentary published alongside the study, which noted that “this condition still goes undiagnosed and undertreated at high rates, particularly in adults with co-occurring substance use disorders, and in marginalized groups, including immigrants.” The commentary authors wrote that the latest findings raise important questions about why treatment was linked to reduced risk of death.

“Is ADHD treatment directly reducing impulsive behaviors that increase the risk of premature death?” the commentary stated. “Or is the treatment of ADHD symptoms indirectly reducing accidental poisonings by reducing substance use (through better implementation of protective strategies) or reducing suicides by improving depressive symptoms associated with ADHD?”

About 1 in every 20 children in the U.S. are taking medication to treat ADHD, according to the CDC. About 10% of U.S. children and 4% of adults are diagnosed with ADHD, the study authors noted. They said the risk of early death linked to ADHD is as high as the risk that comes with having type 2 diabetes.

“ADHD medication may reduce the risk of unnatural-cause mortality by alleviating the core symptoms of ADHD and its psychiatric [co-occurring conditions], leading to improved impulse control and decision-making, ultimately reducing the occurrence of fatal events, in particular among those due to accidental poisoning,” the authors summarized. They said early diagnosis and treatment could “alter the trajectory” of conditions that commonly occur among people with ADHD, like mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders.