ADHD News & Research

ADHD Medication May Lower Risk of Children’s Dangerous Behaviors

ADHD medications have long been shown to help with the symptoms of ADHD. Now, a new study offers evidence of their long-term benefits outside of simple symptom management.

July 28, 2016

ADHD medications — if used as prescribed for the treatment of ADHD — may actually make children and teens less likely to contract STDs, abuse illicit substances, or suffer injuries than kids who are diagnosed with ADHD but don’t use medications, according to a new study by Princeton University. The research, if it’s able to be replicated, begins to paint a picture of the long-term benefits of taking ADHD medications — an area of study where evidence has sometimes been perceived as lacking.

Researchers analyzed Medicaid claims for nearly 150,000 children, spanning a time frame from 2003 to 2013, to look for the presence of attention deficit — as well as diagnoses of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), substance abuse disorders, or injuries of any kind. Overall, approximately 14,000 subjects had been diagnosed with ADHD, and 70 percent of them were treated with medication.

Teens with ADHD who were treated with medication were 3.6 percent less likely to contract an STD, 2.3 percent less likely to sustain an injury, and a whopping 7.3 percent less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. That means, say the researchers, that nearly 1,000 fewer children abused drugs or alcohol than would have if ADHD medications were never used. The resulting Medicaid savings were $88.40 per child per year, the authors write, so while the results are highly skewed towards low-income patients, the economic savings would in theory reverberate throughout the nation.

Other studies have tried to untangle to long-term effects of ADHD medication, with varying results. One, published in 2013, found that children who were treated with medication had less hospital visits than their untreated peers; another, from 2014, found that academic outcomes were worse for kids on medication. With these potential positives and negatives in mind, researchers are in the process of designing further studies to get a clearer sense of how ADHD medication can help — or harm — our kids.

“ADHD is such a major issue, but no one seemed to be able to give a very definite answer to the long-term effect of the medication,” said Anna Chorniy, a postdoctoral associate and Princeton and a co-author of the study. “Given that disadvantaged children and teens enrolled in Medicaid, a public insurance program, are disproportionately diagnosed with ADHD, these are important policy questions to address: why are there more children taking ADHD drugs today than a decade ago, what benefits do they deliver and at what cost.”

The study was published July 5 in Labour Economics.