ADHD News & Research

Does Taking ADHD Meds Lead to Substance Abuse?

No – but medication for attention deficit doesn’t protect against substance abuse, either, as researchers once believed.

July 11, 2013

Among the many medication questions that parents ask – and worry about – is “Will ADHD meds increase my child’s risk for substance abuse?” Up until last month, the answer was absolutely not. In fact, taking ADHD medication, studies showed, actually lowered the risk of substance abuse by almost 50 percent.

A new study published last month by researchers at UCLA undercuts the conclusion that meds protect against substance abuse. Researchers analyzed 15 long-term studies, and followed thousands of children from age 8 to 20, finding that taking stimulant medication didn’t increase or decrease the risk for substance abuse.

“We found that children were neither more likely nor less likely to develop alcohol and substance abuse disorders as a result of being treated with stimulants,” says Steve S. Lee, Ph.D., senior author of the study, a psychology professor at UCLA.

So how does this all square with the research that indicates that adolescents and young adults with ADHD are two to three times more likely to develop serious alcohol or drug abuse compared with non-ADHD kids? The new study concluded that substance abuse is linked to the disorder and its symptoms, not the stimulant.

“For parents whose major concern about Ritalin and Adderall is about the future risk for substance abuse, this study may be helpful to them,” says Lee.