Drug therapy lowers substance abuse risk in ADHD kids

NEW YORK, Aug 02 (Reuters Health) -- Treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with Ritalin and other stimulant medications may help protect children against substance abuse in later life, researchers report.

``While some clinicians have expressed concern about giving stimulants to children with ADHD because they fear it might increase the risk that these children will abuse stimulants and other drugs when they get older, this study shows exactly the opposite,'' explained Dr. Alan Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which helped fund the study. The report is published in the August issue of Pediatrics.

Experts estimate that between 3% to 5% of children are affected by ADHD, which is characterized by a short attention span and excessive fidgeting. Treatment with Ritalin or other medications can reduce children's symptoms, resulting in improvements in grades as well as interpersonal relationships.

Some experts have expressed concern, however, that use of ADHD stimulants might encourage later substance abuse. In their investigation, Dr. Joseph Biederman and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, compared rates of drug and/or alcohol use among three groups of boys over 15 years of age. One group of 56 boys had undergone ADHD drug therapy for at least 4 years, a second group of 19 boys were diagnosed with the disorder but had never received medication, and a third group of 137 boys were unaffected by ADHD.

According to the researchers, children who received Ritalin or other drugs to control ADHD symptoms were at an 85% lower risk of substance abuse compared with ADHD children who went without medication.

These results mirror previous findings from studies conducted in adults. Those studies found that adults receiving drug therapy for ADHD symptoms had lower rates of substance abuse compared with their untreated peers.

The results of the Boston study ``have extraordinary public health implications and should reassure the families of children receiving these therapies,'' said Biederman in a statement from Massachusetts General Hospital. He speculated that ``children with ADHD who are medically treated will have fewer problems resulting from their disorder and more successful lives, probably giving them fewer reasons to experiment with substance abuse.''

Biederman and his colleagues caution, however, that only a large, follow-up study that includes a diverse patient population can confirm these early findings.

SOURCE: Pediatrics 1999;104. Article appeared on Yahoo Daily News

Several other studies have been conducted. Results continue to indicate that stimulant therapy is associated with a reduced risk of substance abuse problems. Research Review Report.
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