Timing of ADHD Medications Influence Potential Risk of Substance Abuse

A new study provides salient insights on the use of stimulant medications and the potential for substance abuse among adolescents.

University of Michigan researchers discovered youth who take Ritalin, Adderall, or other stimulant medications for ADHD over an extended period of time early in life are no more at risk for substance abuse in later adolescence than teens without ADHD.

However, teens who start using stimulant medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder for a short time later in adolescence — during middle or high school — are at high risk of substance use.

The University of Michigan research is believed to be the first national study to compare early-use and longer-duration stimulant medication therapy with nonstimulant therapy for ADHD.

The study is ground breaking as more than 40,000 individuals from 10 cohorts nationwide answered questions about ADHD medication use and recent substance use. The assessment was part of the Monitoring the Future study with researchers analyzing response obtained over the time frame 2005 to 2014.

The study is widely generalizable as the large sample size of high school seniors allowed researchers to separate doctor-prescribed ADHD medication use by gender.

The results show no gender differences in the overall associations between stimulant medication therapy for ADHD and risk of substance use, said Sean Esteban McCabe, a research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Research on Women and Gender.

Among the findings:

  • Nearly one in eight high school seniors in the U.S. have used stimulant or nonstimulant medication therapy for ADHD.
  • Males are more likely to use stimulant medication therapy for ADHD, while no gender differences were found for nonstimulant medication therapy.
  • Given that higher substance-use behaviors are associated with later initiation of stimulant medications for ADHD during adolescence, the researchers recommend monitoring this later initiation subgroup carefully for pre-existing risk factors or the onset of substance use behaviors.

The findings appear in the current issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Source:University of Michigan