ADHD Meds Do Not Decrease Chance of Later Drug Abuse, Says Study

New research out of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) contradicts a widely held belief about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

A decade ago, a study published in the journal Pediatrics found that using stimulant medication in children would provide a protective effect for drug abuse later in life. This theory has been repeated by doctors and pharmaceutical reps over the last 10 years to help ease parents’ fears about medicating their children, by implying the drugs would not only calm the ADHD symptoms, but also buffer them from harm later in life.

The recent UCLA research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that use of ADHD medications in childhood actually had no impact one way or the other on future abuse of the following drugs:

Further Research Needed Due to Limitations With Data

The UCLA research teams analyzed 15 previous studies to come to their final conclusion. Research from 1980 through 2012 was included in the literature review and had more than 2,500 children with a diagnosis of ADHD included from the US, Germany and Canada.

Lead author, Steve S. Lee, recognizes that the team was working with a limited data set. They did not know the following information about each subject’s use of ADHD stimulant medications:

  • Which medication was used
  • What age they started using stimulant meds
  • What dosages they were prescribed
  • How long they took the drugs

Subgroups May Be Hidden in the Data That Would Change the Outcome of the Study

Because there was so much missing information, Lee admits there could be different groups of subjects whose responses averaged out to a net zero effect on future drug and alcohol use. Certain groups, if we were able to define them with more in-depth data, may either benefit or be harmed by the use of stimulant medications in childhood. For example, in the data, there could have been a subset of subjects who took stimulants for the long-term and therefore did not abuse drugs because they had no impulse to self-medicate. While, on the other hand, it is also possible there was a subset who were primed for the abuse of stimulants and other mind-altering substances in the future because as children they took these medications. One of these groups would have been more prone to use because of their ADHD meds and the other less likely, but when seen as one large group, the two extreme responses would balance each other out and no impact would be seen in the data.

This is why numerous studies have to be completed before anyone can say definitively if the effect of ADHD meds on kids provides a negative, positive or neutral impact on a child’s future drug abuse.

Do you think the UCLA researchers are correct and ADHD meds do not impact future drug abuse? Share your opinion below.

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