A new study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), has found that the use of stimulant drugs to treat kids with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has no effect on their future risk of substance abuse.
The study, in which the researchers assessed more than 100 young men 10 years after they had been diagnosed with ADHD, is the most methologically rigorous analysis of any potential relationship between stimulant treatment and drug abuse.
"Because stimulants are controlled drugs, there has been a concern that using them to treat children would promote future drug-seeking behaviour," said Joseph Biederman, MD, director of Pediatric Psychopharmacology and Adult ADHD at MGH, the study's lead author.
"But our study found no evidence that prior treatment with stimulants was associated with either increased or decreased risk for subsequent drug or alcohol abuse," he added.
For the study, the researchers analyzed patterns of substance use in a group of young men 10 years after their original diagnosis with ADHD.
Out of the 112 study participants, who ranged in age from 16 to 27 at the time of their reassessment, 73 percent had been treated with stimulants at some time, and 22 percent were currently receiving stimulant treatment.
An interview session of the study participants was conducted using standard tools for assessment of psychiatric disorders and additional questions about their use of alcohol, tobacco products and a wide variety of psychoactive drugs.
After controlling for the presence of conduct diagnosis in the original diagnosis, the results showed no relationship between whether a participant ever received stimulant treatment and the risk of future tobacco use or alcohol or other substance abuse.
The researchers also found that the age at which stimulant treatment began and how long it continued also had no effect on substance use.
"Our current results, combined with other investigations, should help reduce the concerns that clinicians and parents may have about the use of stimulants to treat ADHD in children," Biederman said.
The study will appear in the American Journal of Psychiatry.