Does medication for ADHD lead to drug abuse? An ADHD specialist child psychiatrist speaks out.


“Is there an association between ADHD and drug abuse?”  
Yes.  But the association is with the ADHD itself — NOT the medications we use to treat it.  Untreated ADHD clearly leads to higher rates of substance use.   Kids with ADHD are also more likely to also have conduct problems such as lying, stealing, and skipping school, and all these are are known to contribute to substance abuse.

But not one study has ever shown that treatment with stimulant medication leads to substance abuse.In fact, research shows the opposite. In large, prospective studies conducted at SUNY Upstate Medical University, adolescents with ADHD who were NOT treated with stimulant medications had a 2 fold increased risk of developing a substance abuse disorder compared to adolescents treated with stimulants.

Another recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that people with severe ADHD symptoms were less likely to commit crimes when they were taking medications. People with ADHD in this study who took their medication had lower rates of criminal activity and were more likely to stay out of prison.

Cutting the crime rate . . keeping adults out of jail. Now that’s effective pharmacotherapy! And for all my patients who just need some help studying for exams or organizing their lives — it’s not quite as dramatic, but it’s often life-changing.

Let’s make sure the media conveys this important information — that ADHD treatment reduces substance use and crime.  And let’s put to rest the wrongful idea that ADHD medication causes drug abuse.

It’s just not so.