ADHD Stimulant Meds Cut Young Girls' Drug Abuse Risk

MONDAY Oct. 6, 2008 -- Stimulant treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) significantly cuts the odds that adolescent girls will smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs, a new Massachusetts General Hospital study shows.

The finding parallels previous studies in boys, the team note.

People with ADHD are at significantly increased risk for cigarette smoking and substance abuse. In the past, there were concerns that treatment of ADHD with stimulant drugs such as Ritalin might increase the risk of drug or alcohol abuse.

But in several studies of boys and young men with ADHD, researchers have found that stimulant treatment actually decreases the risk and delays the onset of substance abuse in adolescence. It does not affect the risk of using tobacco, alcohol, or drugs in adulthood, however.

The same researchers set out to see how stimulant treatment for ADHD affects the risk of substance abuse in adolescent girls.

"Girls with ADHD actually tend to get into trouble with substance abuse earlier than do boys with the disorder, so confirming those results was not simply academic," lead researcher Timothy Wilens, director of the Substance Abuse Program in Massachusetts General's Pediatric Psychopharmacology Department, said in a hospital news release.

For their study, the researchers examined data from 114 girls with ADHD who had enrolled in a study investigating the impact of ADHD on the risk of substance abuse. The girls were between the ages of six and 18 when the study began. They were assessed for tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and other drug use five years after they enrolled in the study. The researchers compared the 94 participants who received stimulant treatment with the 20 who had not been treated.

The girls who had been treated with stimulants had half the risk of smoking, drinking alcohol, and drug abuse as those who had not received treatment. In the participants who did develop substance abuse, stimulant treatment did not affect when they began using substances or the level of dependence.

"We can confidently say that stimulant treatment does not increase the risk of future substance abuse or smoking in girls with ADHD and at least delays the onset of cigarette smoking and substance abuse," said Wilens.

But more research is needed to determine the long-term impact of the stimulants on substance abuse.

"Right now, we can't say if the observed protective effect of stimulant treatment will continue into adulthood or disappear as it did in our studies in young men," he said.

Posted: October 2008


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