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    What ADHD therapies increase drug abuse risk?

    Choosing medication therapy to treat their child’s attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be a tough call for parents, and many express concerns over whether stimulant medications open the door to future drug use.

    A new study found, however, that children with ADHD who begin stimulant medication regimens earlier and stay on those routines for longer periods are less likely than even peers without ADHD to engage in future drug use.

    The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, reveals that generally substance abuse was highest in children and adolescents with the latest onset and shortest duration of stimulant therapy. Those who reported only nonstimulant therapy also reported higher levels of substance abuse.

    Recommended: What groups are seeing an increase in ADHD diagnoses?

    More than 1 in 10 children aged 4 to 17 years—6.4 million children—have been diagnosed at some point with ADHD and roughly 75% are on medication to treat the disorder.

    Clinical evidence supports the observation that children with ADHD are at higher risk of developing substance abuse problems. A 2013 study from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) reveals that 35% of teenagers with ADHD had tried 1 or more drugs by age 15 years, compared with just 20% of teenagers without ADHD. For some, the problems become significant, with 10% of teenagers with ADHD progressing to substance abuse or dependence disorders compared with just 3% of adolescents without ADHD.

    The study found that alcohol use was prevalent in both groups, but that cigarette and marijuana smoking were more prevalent among teenagers with ADHD. The UPMC study, however, found no difference in substance abuse rates between those being treated for ADHD and those who were not receiving treatment.

    Researchers of the newest study, however, sought to prove the hypothesis that substance abuse increased risk is not tied to the stimulant therapy used to treat ADHD, according to the report.

    The goal of the study was to determine to what extent ADHD medications play a role in the development of substance abuse. Researchers polled more than 40,000 high school seniors and found that teenagers who started stimulant medication for ADHD later (aged 10 to 14 years and 15 years and older) and for a shorter duration (less than 5 years) and those who used nonstimulant medications for ADHD had significantly higher odds of substance abuse compared with those who began stimulant therapy before age 9 years and used the medication for more than 6 years.

    NEXT: Looking at gender differences

    Rachael Zimlich, RN
    Ms Zimlich is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio. She writes regularly for Contemporary Pediatrics, Managed Healthcare Executive, and ...

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