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ADHD & Risk of Adult Drug Use: July 5, 2013

It is a difficult decision for a parent. Deciding whether or not to go with drug therapy for a child with ADHD.

“Medication is often needed to allow the child to be able to focus. We’ve got good research that shows children who are appropriately diagnosed and appropriately treated with medication can do very well, can succeed in school,” says Dr. Elena Reyes, clinical psychologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Common medications include Adderall and Ritalin, part of a class of drugs called psycho-stimulants.

“What the medication is doing is enabling your brain to actually focus. You’re stimulating the brain to do what you’re supposed to do; focus on one thing at a time,” says Dr. Reyes.

A chief concern for parents is whether children on ADHD meds are more likely to use drugs as an adolescent or adult. For years, there was disagreement. But now decades of research seems to converge: the conclusion- these kids face no greater risk of drug use.

“We are finding just the opposite. Children who don’t get the treatment end up self- medicating. So they are really more likely to use things like marijuana to bring themselves down,” says Dr. Reyes.

The National Institutes of Health reviewed 15 different studies; analyzing thousands of patients during a 22-year period and found ADHD drugs had no link to later drug use or addictive behaviors.

“Any medication that is prescribed needs to be taken appropriately. I have a lot of students in college now doing very, very well,” says Dr. Reyes.

Understanding there is nothing to suggest ADHD meds are gateway drugs may give parents peace of mind.