A study conducted by UCLA researchers and published in the May 29 JAMA Psychiatry, suggests that children taking stimulant medications to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do not face an increased risk of abusing drugs as adults.
Because research has shown that children with ADHD are more likely than other kids to develop substance abuse problems as adolescents and adults, UCLA psychologists conducted a comprehensive assessment to determine if stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall contributed to abuse of alcohol, marijuana, nicotine or cocaine later in life.
According to a UCLA news release, researchers analyzed data on more than 2,500 children from 15 long-term studies published from January 1980 to February 2012. The children assessed in the study had a mean age of 8 years when the studies began and were 20 at the most recent follow-up assessment. The studies included kids from a broad geographical range, including the United States, Canada and Germany.
Based on the data in the studies, researchers calculated the odds of those who had taken stimulants to treat ADHD going on to become substance abusers by comparing them with children who had not taken ADHD drugs.
“Previously, there was evidence for both increased risk and decreased risk for substance problems related to stimulant medicine in the treatment of ADHD,” study lead author Kathryn Humphreys, a doctoral student in psychology at UCLA, told HealthDay News.
“The present study suggests that, on average, children who received stimulant medication treatment for ADHD are at no differential risk for these substance outcomes than their counterparts who did not receive medication treatment,” added Humphreys.
However, while the study may put to rest concern that medicines like Ritalin and Adderall are gateway drugs to future substance abuse, they do carry side effects, including appetite and growth suppression and sleep disturbance.
“For any particular child, parents should consult with the prescribing physician about potential side effects and long-term risks,” said Steve S. Lee, UCLA associate professor of psychology and senior author of the study, in the UCLA news release.
“Saying that all parents need not be concerned about the use of stimulant medication for their children is an overstatement; parents should have the conversation with the physician. As with other medications, there are potential side effects, and the patient should be carefully evaluated to, for example, determine the proper dosage,” said Lee.