Adults who took commonly prescribed psychiatric medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) had significantly less criminal behavior than during periods where they were off of their medication.
This according to researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, who looked at over 25,000 people with ADHD during the course of the four-year study.
Commonly prescribed psychiatric medications for ADHD include stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall. Daytrana, Concerta, Dexedrine, Vyvanse, and Strattera are other medications often prescribed for attention deficit disorders.
Previous research has suggested that a person with ADHD is at greater risk for engaging in criminal behavior. Men with ADHD are 37 percent more likely to commit a crime, and among women with ADHD, they are 15 percent more likely to commit a crime.
The new research demonstrates that as long as a person is being successfully treated for their ADHD symptoms with medication, the rates of being convicted of a crime were reduced by 32 to 41 percent, than when they were off their medication for a period of 6 months or more.
Estimates suggest that between 7 to 40 percent of people in the criminal justice system may have ADHD and other similar disorders, though it is often not diagnosed in adults.
Other conclusions drawn by the study are that the observed association is not different between males and females, and applies as much to petty crime as to serious and violent crime.
“We have shown that ADHD medication very probably reduces the risk of crime,” says Henrik Larsson, Associate Professor at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet.
“However, we need to point out that most medical treatments can have adverse side effects, so risks must be weighed up against benefits and the individual patient’s entire life situation taken into consideration before medications are prescribed.”
“It’s said that roughly 30 to 40 percent of long-serving criminals have ADHD,” notes co-author Professor Paul Lichtenstein. “If their chances of recidivism can be reduced by 30 percent, it would clearly effect total crime numbers in many societies.”
Researchers say the benefits of the drugs must be weighed against harms, but that providing better access to screening for ADHD and treatment may ultimately help reduce crime rates.
Approximately 5 percent of school-aged children and about half as many adults have ADHD. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is characterized by symptoms of inattentiveness, distractedness and impulsivity.
Research has shown that ADHD is a relatively stable condition and many of those who are diagnosed as children also meet the criteria for ADHD as adults. Individuals with ADHD can be treated with stimulant medications, which are thought to act by enhancing alertness and mood and activating the brain which in turn improve attention and impulse control.
The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).
Source: Karolinska Institutet