Strong stimulant medications used in the treatment of ADHD are controversial, and many parents worry about the long term effects of the drugs. While the issues surrounding the usage of medications such as Ritalin are many, parents can now know that medicated ADHD kids are far less likely to develop addictions later in life.
I’ve got two kids, and thankfully neither of them has ADHD, and if they did I know that I would agonize over whether to give them powerful stimulant drugs for symptoms control. I’m not an expert on the pharmacology of drugs such as Ritalin, and I can’t say conclusively whether these drugs do more good than harm…but at the very least, in the area of substance abuse, the research is now overwhelmingly clear that medicated ADHD sufferers are far less likely to develop substance abuse and dependency problems later in life.
Clinical studies funded out of the National Institute for Drug Addiction (NIDA) have pretty conclusively shown that ADHD patients given stimulant medications for symptoms control end up developing far fewer problems with addiction and substance use than unmedicated sufferers. Unmedicated ADHD teens use drugs earlier and they use them more often; and they may even be using stimulant style drugs such as crystal meth and cocaine or crack for symptoms relief as self medication.
The issue is pretty serious, and with estimates placing as many as 30% of all drug or alcohol dependent people as ADHD sufferers (lower estimates report a still greatly over represented 10%) the need to minimize the risks to abuse for this group of people is substantial. A lot of parents worry that giving strong stimulant style medications such as Ritalin to their kids may be increasing their vulnerability to addiction later in life, and it seems that the opposite is in fact true, and that by not medicating these kids the risks of drug and alcohol abuse go up. I’m thankful I don’t need to make the decision, and the issue is unfortunately more complex than the simple consideration of substance abuse later in life; but at the very least, parents should be aware that medications such as Ritalin do seem to decrease the risks of later addiction.
Deciding when and how much medication to give to our kids is never easy, and all we can hope to do is get informed and make the best decision we can with the interest of our children at heart.