ADHD Medication Is Associated With a Lower Risk of Substance-Related Problems

Alison Rodriguez

There is an association between the use of medication in treating attention deficient/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a lower risk for the development of substance abuse problems in adolescents and adults with ADHD.
 
A study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry analyzed commercial healthcare claims from 2005 to 2014 of 2,993,887 adolescent and adult ADHD patients. The researchers compared risks of substance-related events during months the patients received a prescribed medication to the risk during the months that they were not on a medication.
 
"This study contributes to growing evidence that ADHD medication is linked to lower risk for many types of harmful behavior, including substance abuse," Patrick D. Quinn, a postdoctoral researcher in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, who led the study, said in a statement. "The results also highlight the importance of careful diagnosis and compliance with treatment."
 
When compared to patients who did not receive ADHD medication, male patients who did receive medication had 35% lower odds of experiencing concurrent substance-related events, while female patients had 31% lower odds of concurrent substance-related events.  Furthermore, 2 years after medication periods, men had 19% lower odds, while women had 14% lower odds of substance-related events.
 
"Many factors can influence who receives ADHD treatment, including socioeconomic factors, health care access, the strength of support networks and disorder severity," Quinn said. "Although no single study of real-world treatment practices can definitively show whether medication use lowers risk, studying the same people at different points in their medical history helps us control for these factors and isolate the role of medication in their behavior."
 
Most of the medication used to treat ADHD in the study included stimulants, like Adderall, an amphetamine, and Ritalin, or methylphenidate. A small minority of the patients used a nonstimulant ADHD medication, such as Strattera or atomoxetine. 
 
"While concerns about prescribing medications to treat ADHD that have the potential for abuse are understandable, this study provides further evidence that the use of these medications is not associated with increased risk of substance use problems in adolescence or adulthood," Quinn said. "Rather, this and other recent studies find that the risk of such problems is lower during and after periods of use of these medications."
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