Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Stimulant treatment for ADHD may not increase risk of substance abuse

In Brief

Stimulant treatment for ADHD may not increase risk of substance abuse

A study published in March 2008 provides more evidence that children who take stimulants to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are not at increased risk for developing substance abuse problems later on.

Researchers at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital reassessed 112 young men, ages 16 to 27, a decade after they were diagnosed with ADHD. At the time of the reassessment, 73% of the young men said they had been treated with stimulants in the past, and 22% were still on a stimulant medication. The researchers also used standard tools to assess psychiatric symptoms and asked whether the men had ever used alcohol, tobacco, and a variety of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, sedatives, and steroids.

The researchers compared outcomes for men who had ever been treated with stimulants for childhood ADHD with those who had not. They found no relationship between past or current stimulant therapy and use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. The age at which the young men began stimulant treatment also had no effect on using alcohol, tobacco, or drugs of any kind.

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