Study: Stimulant Medication Significantly Decreases Negative ADHD-Related Behaviors and Symptoms in Children
Boys and girls with ADHD who take stimulant medication at a young age experience significant long-term health benefits including better emotional regulation, improved concentration in school, and a diminished risk of experiencing other consequences associated with ADHD, such as mental illness.
July 26, 2019
Early treatment of ADHD with stimulant medication may not only help manage inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and other hallmark symptoms of ADHD, but also lower a child’s risk for the following long-term conditions and ADHD-related dangers:
- generalized anxiety disorder
- oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- conduct disorder
- bipolar disorder
- substance abuse
- driving problems
- poor performance in school
These findings, from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, were published in the Journal of Adolescent Health1 as part of a study investigating the positive effects of stimulant medications on functional outcomes in boys and girls with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD).
Researchers reviewed three studies to collect data: two were long-term studies of children with and without ADHD, wherein some of the children with ADHD were treated with stimulant medication and some were not. The average age of participants at the beginning was 11 and 20 at the follow up. The third study analyzed the driving performance of young adults with ADHD ages 18 to 26 before taking stimulant medication and six weeks after starting treatment.
Based on this data, the researchers built a regression model that used participants’ gender and treatment status to calculate the following statistical relationships:
- When three participants were treated with ADHD medication, one child was prevented from repeating a grade or developing anxiety, conduct disorder, or oppositional defiant disorder.
- When four participants received ADHD treatment, one person was prevented from having major depression or an accident during the driving simulation.
- Five participants needed treatment to prevent bipolar disorder.
- Six participants had to be treated with ADHD medication to prevent one from smoking cigarettes, and 10 participants needed treatment for one to avoid a substance use disorder.2
Though a clear cause-and-effect was not established, Dr. Alan Geller, a psychiatrist at Gracie Square Hospital in New York, said the research shows that “if you treat a child with medications that help them control their ADHD symptoms, there’s less risk of marginalization or of seeking stimulation in things like cigarettes or driving recklessly.”
1 Biederman, Joseph et al. “Quantifying the Protective Effects of Stimulants on Functional Outcomes in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Focus on Number Needed to Treat Statistic and Sex Effects.” Journal of Adolescent Health (May 2019). https://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(19)30305-2/fulltext
2 Gordon, Serena. “ADHD Meds Help Keep Kids Out of Trouble.” HealthDay (Jul. 2019) https://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(19)30305-2/fulltext
Updated on December 5, 2019