Without Substance: ADHD Meds Don't Up Kids' Drug Abuse Risk

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, April 5, 2008 | Go to article overview

Without Substance: ADHD Meds Don't Up Kids' Drug Abuse Risk


Bower, Bruce, Science News


Stimulants have long been prescribed to children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Over the past decade, child psychiatrists have debated the long-term potential for these medications to trigger drug abuse. Two new studies indicate that the stimulants do not increase children's risk of abusing cocaine, nicotine, and other drugs as adults.

Although these findings come as a relief to child psychiatrists, not all the news is good. The new investigations, already published online and slated to appear in the May American Journal of Psychiatry, underscore earlier evidence that youngsters with ADHD frequently become drug abusers, whether or not they take prescribed stimulants.

"It is still critical that young people with ADHD be screened for substance abuse," says Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Md.

Boys with ADHD who start stimulant treatment early, at age 6 or 7, face a lower risk of later drug abuse than do those who begin taking medication later, between ages 8 and 12, report psychologist Salvatore Mannuzza of New York University's Child Study Center and his colleagues.

In the 17-year study, 27 percent of early-treated participants abused drugs by their mid-20s. That roughly equaled the drug abuse rate among young men who had never had any psychiatric ailments.

In contrast, 44, percent of late-treated boys became drug abusers by young adulthood, a rate comparable to earlier estimates for ADHD kids regardless of their treatment. Most of these late-treated children were diagnosed as grown-ups with another psychiatric ailment--antisocial personality disorder, a condition often accompanied by drug abuse. …

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