Teen ADHD therapy doesn’t increase drug use risk

Cocaine and methamphetamine use in young adults after adolescent ADHD.

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Over the past two decades, there has been a dramatic rise in the diagnosis of ADHD and the use of stimulant therapy. Despite prescription stimulants’ effectiveness, issues still surround their abuse by US youth and adolescents. 

According to a University of Michigan research, high school seniors who received stimulant therapy to address ADHD were no more likely as young adults to use cocaine or methamphetamine than their friends who did not receive stimulant therapy as teenagers.

The findings comfort parents concerned that their children’s use of ADHD stimulants as teenagers would lead to illicit drug use later in life. However, the study discovered that youth who abused prescription stimulants were considerably more likely as young adults to consume cocaine or methamphetamine.

Lead researcher Sean Esteban McCabe, U-M professor of nursing and director of the Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking, and Health, said, “These findings should be comforting to parents who have teenagers taking stimulants for ADHD, who worry that these medications may lead to the use of illicit stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine as their children enter young adulthood and become more independent.”

The frequency of misuse is important, with 20% of teens who misused prescription stimulants in high school beginning to use cocaine or methamphetamine as young adults and 34% of kids who misused prescription stimulants ten or more times beginning to use cocaine or methamphetamine as young adults.

The findings highlight the necessity of risk-reduction techniques such as monitoring and carefully storing stimulant prescriptions and screening teenagers for drug use, including self-administration of prescription stimulants.

He said, “Those overdose deaths are driven primarily by illicit stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine, calling into question the role that prescription stimulants might play in initiating illicit stimulants. We wanted to study this association to identify and address drug use before major problems develop.”

Prescriptions for stimulant drugs have more than doubled in the last two decades, and the number of stimulant-related overdose deaths has more than tenfold increased in the last decade. The study aimed to detect and handle drug use before severe issues arose. Prior study has linked ADHD to an increased risk of illegal drug use, so the fact that researchers found no such link in youth who received stimulant medication to address their ADHD was reassuring.

Researchers analyzed data from the University of Michigan‘s Monitoring the Future research, which included over 5,000 high school seniors between 2005 and 2017. They followed these youngsters into early adulthood between 2011 and 2021. The MTF study is a national survey financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health that assesses drug and alcohol use and related attitudes among teenage students nationwide.

The conclusion shows that the risk of using cocaine and methamphetamine as a young adult does not rise in response to ADHD stimulant medication in adolescents. However, the misuse of prescription drugs suggests possible usage and necessitates monitoring and screening.

Journal Reference:

  1. McCabe SE, Schulenberg JE, Wilens TE, Schepis TS, McCabe VV, Veliz PT. Cocaine or Methamphetamine Use During Young Adulthood Following Stimulant Use for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder During Adolescence. JAMA Network Open.DOI:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.22650