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ADHD Medications May Actually Lower Substance Abuse Risk

It has been a concern among parents that stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, which are often prescribed to treat their children’s Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), might increase their children's risk of substance abuse later on, but it turns out that the opposite is actually true, provided the child is diagnosed sooner and that his or her treatment lasts longer.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Research on Women and Gender evaluated a sample of 40,000 high school seniors, 3,500 of which were prescribed stimulants and 1,300 who were prescribed non-stimulant medication. The researchers then compiled information on the teens’ debaucherous habits insofar as if they participated in things like binge drinking, cigarette smoking, and whether or not they used illicit drugs, like cocaine.

Interestingly, the number of teens who did participate in the debaucherous behavior was greater among those who took non-stimulant medication than those who were prescribed stimulants. Taking prescribed stimulants later in life and using those stimulants for a shorter amount of time also contributed to whether or not the teens went on to abuse illicit substances later in life.

Correlation does not always equal causation, however, so what we should take away from this study is not the type of medication that the teens were on (since one in every eight teens has used both stimulant and non-stimulated medication to treat ADHD), but the fact that early detection and treatment of the condition is more critical than the drug that is used to treat it.

You may be asking yourself how that can be possible. Well, simply put, early diagnosis and treatment can mitigate the symptoms of ADHD, which include aggression, excitability, and impulsivity. And the earlier a child can learn to adapt to these kinds of behaviors while being guided with the appropriate medications, then the less likely that child will be to turn to illicit drugs to quell the symptoms, and the better equipped the child will be to cope with the symptoms overall.

In the past, parents have feared drugs like Ritalin and Adderall could potentially be “gateway drugs”; that is, drugs that lead to other stronger drugs down the line. However, the results of this research experiment have proven that this is not the case and that parents should seek out and be open to the possibility of treating their children’s ADHD conditions with prescribed stimulants.

In addition to seeking early intervention if a parent suspects that his or her child may be afflicted with ADHD, Sean Esteban McCabe, the leader of the study mentioned here, suggests that parents can do more to ensure that their children do not end up addicted to illicit substances later in life. Mainly, parents can serve as role models for their children insofar as being responsible when it comes to taking their own medicines.

That is to say that adults should see their doctors regularly, for well visits as well as sick, and should they be prescribed medication by their doctors that they should take that medication responsibly. Parents should not take more medication than is prescribed to them, and they should not seek out alternative medications to treat their conditions without first speaking to their doctors.