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ADHD Meds Do Not Increase Risk of Drug Abuse

Update Date: May 29, 2013 04:22 PM EDT

A research team from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) previously found a relationship between children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and an increased risk of substance abuse later on in life. This study done in 2011 found that children with ADHD were two to three times more likely to abuse drugs. In this new study, the research team wanted to find out if the risk factor could potentially be due to ADHD medications, Ritalin and Adderall. The research team, headed by Kathryn Humphreys, a doctoral candidate in the UCLA's Department of Psychology and senior author, Steve S. Lee, a UCLA associate professor of psychology, discovered that taking these medications did not increase the chances of abusing drugs later in life.

The research team reviewed 15 long-term studies composed of around 2,500 children. The studies followed these children and their ADHD from childhood to adolescence and young adulthood. The mean age at the beginning of the studies was eight and the mean age at the last follow up was 20. The children were from California, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Germany and Canada. The researchers found that Ritalin and Adderall did not pose any extra risks of developing substance abuse. The most commonly abused drugs are alcohol, marijuana, nicotine and cocaine.

Even though the researchers did not find that the medications increased a child's chances, the team stressed the importance of consulting with the doctor in finding the best way in treating ADHD. Knowing these statistics, parents should also be more aware of their children's behaviors and start preventative measures early.

"For any particular child, parents should consult with the prescribing physician about potential side effects and long-term risks," said Lee according to the press 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."

ADHD affects around five to 10 percent of children in the United States and it is three and a half times more frequent in boys than girls.

"The majority of children with ADHD - at least two-thirds - show significant problems academically, in social relationships, and with anxiety and depression when you follow them into adolescence," Lee said. Therefore, parents should be more adamant about substance abuse with children who have ADHD.

The research team plans to continue following the children, now young adults from these long-term studies. The study was published in JAMA Psychiatry.

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