ADHD Stimulant May Decrease Substance Abuse in Girls

Treatment with stimulant drugs does not increase the risk that girls with ADHD will begin smoking cigarettes.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have determined that “treatment with stimulant drugs does not increase and appears to significantly decrease the risk that girls with ADHD will begin smoking cigarettes or using alcohol or drugs.” The report, which appears in the October Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, has echoed the same results that were found in similar studies with boys. Timothy Wilens, MD, director of the Substance Abuse Program in the MGH Pediatric Psychopharmacology Department and leader of the study, has helped conduct several studies in boys and young men with ADHD, the overall conclusions of which imply that “the onset of substance abuse in adolescence but neither increases nor [reductions in] the risk of using tobacco, alcohol or drugs in adulthood” with the use of these stimulants. Until this study, similar evidence on the impact of stimulant treatment on girls with ADHD had been limited and conflicting.

Wilens and his colleagues analyzed information from 114 children age 6-18 years (at the time of enrollment) who had ADHD, and assessed them for use, abuse, and dependence on tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs after five years in the study’s. They found that comparing “results from the 94 participants who received stimulant treatment with the 20 who had not been treated indicated that treatment cut in half the risk of smoking, drinking alcohol or drug abuse,” and that “participants who did develop substance abuse, whether or not they had received stimulant treatment had no effect on factors like when they began using substances and the level of dependence.”

“We can confidently say that stimulant treatment does not increase the risk of future substance abuse or smoking in girls with ADHD and at least delays the onset of cigarette smoking and substance abuse,” Wilens stated.